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United Kingdom

United Kingdom and Gibraltar (England, Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland) US Consular Information Sheet
October 09, 2008
COUNTRY DESCRIPTION:
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is a highly developed constitutional mon
rchy composed of Great Britain (England, Scotland, and Wales) and Northern Ireland.
Read the Department of State Background Notes on the United Kingdom for additional information.
Gibraltar is a UK Overseas Territory bordering Spain, and is located at the southernmost tip of Europe at the entrance to the Mediterranean Sea.
It is one of 13 former British colonies that have elected to continue their political links with London.
Tourist facilities are widely available throughout the United Kingdom and Gibraltar.

ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS:
A UK visa/entry clearance is not required for tourist or business visits to the United Kingdom of less than six months in duration.
Visitors wishing to remain longer than one month in Gibraltar should regularize their stay with Gibraltar immigration authorities.
Those planning to visit the United Kingdom for any purpose other than tourism or business, or who intend to stay longer than six months, should consult the website of the British Embassy in the United States at http://ukinusa.fco.gov.uk/en for information about current visa/entry clearance requirements.
Those who are required to obtain a visa/entry clearance and fail to do so may be denied entry and returned to their port of origin.
The U.S. Embassy cannot intervene in UK immigration matters.

In the past year, the British government has completely restructured its immigration system, tightening visa/entry clearance regulations and enforcement at its borders.
All American travelers to the United Kingdom are urged to check the web site of the British Embassy in the United States at http://ukinusa.fco.gov.uk/en or the web site of the UK Border Agency at http://www.bia.homeoffice.gov.uk/ to determine whether they must have a visa/entry clearance before traveling to the United Kingdom.
Students should be especially alert to UK visa/entry clearance requirements.
Under no circumstances should Americans seeking to study or work in the United Kingdom attempt to enter the country without the appropriate visa/entry clearance from a British Consulate in the United States.
If you do so, you are likely to be detained by UK immigration officials at the port of entry and held in an immigration detention facility until you can be returned to the United States.
Again, the U.S. Embassy cannot intervene in UK immigration matters.

In addition to the British Embassy web site at http://ukinusa.fco.gov.uk/en, those seeking current UK visa/entry clearance information may also contact UK consular offices in the United States via their premium rate telephone service at 1-900-656-5000 (cost $3/minute) or 1-212-796-5773 ($12 flat fee).
There is also a no-fee website for visa information at www.visainfoservices.com.

Information about dual nationality or the prevention of international child abduction can be found on our website.
For further information about customs regulations, please read our Customs Information sheet.

SAFETY AND SECURITY:
The United Kingdom is politically stable, with a modern infrastructure, but shares with the rest of the world an increased threat of terrorist incidents of international origin, as well as the potential, though significantly diminished in recent years, for isolated violence related to the political situation in Northern Ireland (a part of the United Kingdom).

Like the United States, the United Kingdom shares its national threat levels with the general public to keep everyone informed and explain the context for the various increased security measures that may be encountered. UK threat levels are determined by the UK Home Office and are posted on its web site at http://www.homeoffice.gov.uk/security/current-threat-level/.

Information from the UK Security Service, commonly known as MI5, about the reasons for the increased threat level and actions the public can take is available on the MI5 web site at http://www.mi5.gov.uk/.
American citizens are advised to check with the UK Department for Transport at http://www.dft.gov.uk/transportforyou/airtravel/airportsecurity/ regarding the latest security updates and carry-on luggage restrictions.

The British Home Secretary has urged UK citizens to be alert and vigilant by, for example, keeping an eye out for suspect packages or people acting suspiciously at subway (called the Tube or Underground) and train stations, as well as at airports, and reporting anything suspicious to the appropriate authorities.
Americans are reminded to remain vigilant with regard to their personal security and to exercise caution.
For more information about UK public safety initiatives, consult the UK Civil Contingencies Secretariat web site at http://www.ukresilience.gov.uk.

The political situation in Northern Ireland has improved dramatically.
The potential remains, however, for sporadic incidents of street violence and/or sectarian confrontation.
American citizens traveling to Northern Ireland should therefore remain alert to their surroundings and should be aware that if they choose to visit potential flashpoints or attend parades, sporadic violence remains a possibility.
Tensions may be heightened during the summer marching season (April to August), particularly during the month of July (around the July 12th public holiday).

The phone number for police/fire/ambulance emergency services – the equivalent of 911 in the United States – is 999 in the United Kingdom and 112 in Gibraltar.
This number should also be used for warnings about possible bombs or other immediate threats.
The UK Anti-Terrorist Hotline, at 0800-789-321, is for tips and confidential information about possible terrorist activity.

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 current Travel Warnings and Travel Alerts, as well as the Worldwide Caution, can be found.
Recent communications from U.S. Embassy London to the local American citizen community, called Warden Messages, can be found on the U.S. Embassy's American Citizens Services web page at http://london.usembassy.gov/cons_new/acs/index.html.

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:
The United Kingdom and Gibraltar benefit from generally low crime rates, which decreased slightly in 2007 in significant categories, including violent crime.
The crime situation in the United Kingdom is similar to that in the United States: typical incidents include pick pocketing; muggings; “snatch and grab” thefts of mobile phones, watches and jewelry; and thefts of unattended bags, especially at airports and from cars parked at restaurants, hotels, and resorts.
Pickpockets target tourists, especially at historic sites and restaurants, and on buses, trains, and the London subway (known as the Tube or Underground).
Thieves often target unattended cars parked at tourist sites and roadside restaurants, looking for laptop computers and handheld electronic equipment, especially global positioning satellite equipment.
Walking in isolated areas, including public parks, especially after dark, should be avoided, as these are advantageous venues for muggers and thieves.
At night or when there is little foot traffic, travelers should be especially careful using the underground pedestrian tunnels.
As a general rule, either walk the extra distance to use a surface crossing or wait until there are other adult pedestrians entering the tunnel.

In London, travelers should use only licensed Black Cabs or car services recommended by their hotel or tour operator.
Unlicensed taxis or private cars posing as taxis may offer low fares, but are often uninsured and may have unlicensed drivers.
In some instances, travelers have been robbed and raped while using these cars.
You can access 7,000 licensed Black Cabs using just one telephone number: 087-1871-8710.
This taxi booking service combines all six of London’s radio taxi circuits, allowing you to telephone 24 hours a day if you need a cab.
Alternatively, to find a licensed minicab, text HOME to 60835 on your mobile phone to get the telephone number to two licensed minicab companies in the area.
If you know in advance when you will be leaving for home, you can prebook your return journey.
The Safe Travel at Night partnership among the Metropolitan Police, Transport for London, and the Mayor of London maintains a web site with additional information at http://www.cabwise.com/.
Travelers should not leave drinks unattended in bars and nightclubs.
There have been some instances of drinks being spiked with illegal substances, leading to incidents of robbery and rape.

Americans should take steps to ensure the safety of their U.S. passports.
Visitors in England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, and Gibraltar are not expected to produce identity documents for police authorities and thus may secure their passports in hotel safes or residences.
Abundant ATMs that link to U.S. banking networks offer an optimal rate of exchange, and they preclude the need to carry a passport to cash travelers’ checks.
Travelers should be aware that U.S. banks might charge a higher processing fee for withdrawals made overseas.
Common-sense personal security measures taken in the United States when using ATMs should also be followed in the United Kingdom.
ATM fraud in the United Kingdom is becoming more sophisticated, incorporating technologies to surreptitiously record customer ATM card and PIN information.
Travelers should avoid using ATMs that look in any way temporary in structure or location, or are located in isolated areas.
Travelers should be aware that in busy public areas, thieves use distraction techniques, such as waiting until the PIN number has been entered and then pointing to money on the ground, or attempting to hand out a free newspaper.
When the ATM user is distracted, a colleague will quickly withdraw cash and leave.
If distracted in any way, travelers should press the cancel transaction button immediately and collect their card before speaking to the person who has distracted them.
If the person’s motives appear suspicious, travelers should not challenge them but remember the details and report the matter to police as soon as possible.
In addition, travelers should not use the ATM if there is anything stuck to the machine or if it looks unusual in any way.
If the machine does not return the card, report the incident to the issuing bank immediately.

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 at the opening of the next business day.
The U.S. Embassy or Consulate issues replacement passports only during regular business hours.
If you are the victim of a crime while overseas, report it to local police.
The nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate will also be able to assist by helping you to find appropriate medical care, contacting family members or friends, and explaining 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.

Visit the Victim Support web site, maintained by an independent UK charity to help people cope with the effects of crime: http://www.victimsupport.org.uk/.

See our information for Victims of Crime.
MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION:
While medical services are widely available, free care under the National Health System is allowed only for UK residents and certain EU nationals.
Tourists and short-term visitors will be charged for medical treatment in the United Kingdom.
Charges may be significantly higher than those assessed in the United States.

Hiking in higher elevations can be treacherous.
Several people die each year while hiking, particularly in Scotland, often due to sudden changes in weather.
Visitors, including experienced hikers, are encouraged to discuss intended routes with local residents familiar with the area, and to adhere closely to recommendations.

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 from 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.

MEDICAL INSURANCE:
The Department of State strongly urges Americans to consult with their medical insurance companies prior to traveling abroad to confirm whether their policy applies overseas and whether it will cover emergency expenses such as a medical evacuation.
If your medical insurance policy does not provide overseas coverage, you may want to purchase a short-term policy for your trip.
The Department of State provides an online list of travel insurance companies that can provide the additional insurance needed for the duration of one’s trip abroad.

Remember also that most medical care facilities and medical care providers in the United Kingdom do not accept insurance subscription as a primary source of payment.
Rather, the beneficiary is expected to pay for the service and then seek reimbursement from the insurance company.
This may require an upfront payment in the $10,000 to $20,000 range

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 the United Kingdom is provided for general reference only and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.

UK penalties for driving under the influence of even minimal amounts of alcohol or drugs are stiff and often result in prison sentences.
In contrast to U.S. and continental European traffic, which moves on the right side of the road, UK traffic moves on the left.

The maximum speed limit on highways/motorways in the United Kingdom is 70 mph.
Motorways generally have a hard shoulder (breakdown lane) on the far left, defined by a solid white line.
It is illegal to stop or park on a hard shoulder unless it is an emergency.
In such cases, you should activate your hazard lights, get out of your vehicle, and go onto an embankment for safety.

Emergency call boxes (orange telephone booths with SOS printed on them) may be found at half-mile intervals along the motorway.
White and blue poles placed every 100 yards along the motorway point in the direction of the nearest call box.
Emergency call boxes dial directly to a motorway center.
It is best to use these phones rather than a personal cell phone, because motorway center personnel will immediately know the location of a call received from an emergency call box.

Roadside towing services may cost approximately £125 (as of 10/08, approximately $225).
However, membership fees of automotive associations such as the RAC (Royal Automobile Club) or AA (Automobile Association) often include free roadside towing service.

Visitors uncomfortable with or intimidated by the prospect of driving on the left-hand side of the road may wish to avail themselves of the United Kingdom’s extensive bus, rail, and air transport networks.
Roads in the United Kingdom are generally excellent but are narrow and often congested in urban areas.
If you plan to drive while in the United Kingdom, you may wish to obtain a copy of the Highway Code, available at http://www.direct.gov.uk/en/TravelAndTransport/Highwaycode/index.htm.

Travelers intending to rent cars in the United Kingdom should make sure that they are adequately insured.
U.S. auto insurance is not always valid outside the United States, and travelers may wish to purchase supplemental insurance, which is generally available from most major rental agents.
A congestion charge of £8 (as of 10/08, approximately $15) is imposed on all cars entering much of central London Monday through Friday from 7:00 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.
Information on the congestion charge can be found at http://www.tfl.gov.uk/roadusers/congestioncharging/.
Public transport in the United Kingdom is excellent and extensive.
However, poor track conditions may have contributed to train derailments, resulting in some fatalities.
Repairs are under way and the overall safety record is excellent.
Information on disruptions to London transportation services can be found at http://www.tfl.gov.uk/tfl/livetravelnews/realtime/tube/default.html and information about the status of National Rail Services can be found at http://nrekb.nationalrail.co.uk/service_disruptions/today.html.
Many U.S. pedestrians are injured, some fatally, every year in the United Kingdom because they forget that oncoming traffic approaches from the opposite direction than in the United States.
Extra care should be taken when crossing streets; remember to remain alert and look both ways before stepping into the street.

Driving in Gibraltar is on the right-hand side of the road, as in the United States and continental Europe.
Persons traveling overland between Gibraltar and Spain may experience long delays in clearing Spanish border controls.
Please refer to our Road Safety Overseas page for more information.
For specific information concerning UK driving permits, vehicle inspection, road tax, and mandatory insurance, refer to the UK Department of Environment and Transport web site at http://www.dft.gov.uk/ or the Driving Standards Agency web site at http://www.dsa.gov.uk/.
The U.S. Embassy London’s web site at http://london.usembassy.gov/ also provides information.

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

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SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES:
The legal drinking age in the United Kingdom is generally lower than that in the United States, and social drinking in pubs is often seen as a routine aspect of British life.
Parents, organizers of school trips, and young travelers should be aware of the impact that this environment may have when combined with the sense of adventure that comes with being abroad.
Please see our Students Abroad web site as well as Studying Abroad to help students plan a safe and enjoyable adventure.

The United Kingdom has strict gun-control laws, and importing firearms is extremely complicated.
Travelers should consider leaving all firearms in the United States.
Restrictions exist on the type and number of weapons that may be possessed by an individual.
All handguns, such as pistols and revolvers, are prohibited, with very few exceptions.
Licensing of firearms in the United Kingdom is controlled by the police.
Applicants for a license must be prepared to show “good reason” why they require each weapon.
Applicants must also provide a copy of their U.S. gun license, a letter of good conduct from their local U.S. police station, and a letter detailing any previous training, hunting, or shooting experience.
Background checks will also be carried out.
Additional information on applying for a firearm certificate and/or shotgun certificate can be found on the Metropolitan Police Firearms Enquiry Teams web site at http://www.met.police.uk/firearms-enquiries/index.htm.

A number of Americans are lured to the United Kingdom each year in the belief that they have won a lottery or have inherited from the estate from a long-lost relative.
Americans may also be contacted by persons they have “met” over the Internet who now need funds urgently to pay for hospital treatment, hotel bills, taxes, or airline security fees.
Invariably, the person contacted is the victim of fraud.
Any unsolicited invitations to travel to the United Kingdom to collect winnings or an inheritance should be viewed with skepticism.
Also, there are no licenses or fees required when transiting a UK airport, nor is emergency medical treatment withheld pending payment of fees.
Please see our information on International Financial Scams.

Please read ourCustoms Information.

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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 protections available to the individual under U.S. law.
Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses.
Persons violating British law, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested, or imprisoned.
Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in the United Kingdom 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.

Many pocket knives and other blades, and mace or pepper spray canisters, although legal in the United States, are illegal in the United Kingdom and will result in arrest and confiscation if detected.
A UK Metropolitan Police guide to items that are prohibited as offensive weapons is available at http://www.met.police.uk/youngpeople/guns.htm.
A UK Customs Guide, detailing which items visitors are prohibited from bringing into the United Kingdom, is available at http://customs.hmrc.gov.uk/channelsPortalWebApp/downloadFile?contentID=HMCE_CL_001734.

Air travelers to and from the United Kingdom should be aware that penalties against alcohol-related and other in-flight crimes (“air rage”) are stiff and are being enforced with prison sentences.
Please also see our information on customs regulations that pertain when returning to the United States.

CHILDREN'S ISSUES:
Visit our web site for information on intercountry adoption and international parental child abduction.

REGISTRATION / EMBASSY LOCATION:
Americans living or traveling in the United Kingdom are encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate through the State Department’s travel registration web site, and to obtain updated information on travel and security within the United Kingdom.
By registering, Americans make it easier for the Embassy or Consulate to contact them in case of emergency, and to relay updated information on travel and security within the United Kingdom.
The Embassy and Consulates regularly send security and other information via email to Americans who have registered.
Americans without Internet access may register directly with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate.
The Consular Section also disseminates a newsletter every month.
Those wishing to subscribe to the monthly consular newsletter in London should send a request by email to LondonACSNewsletter@state.gov.

The U.S. Embassy is located at 24 Grosvenor Square, London W1A 1AE; telephone: in country 020-7499-9000, from the United States 011-44-20-7499-9000 (24 hours). Consular Section fax: in country 020-7495-5012, from the United States 011-44-20-7495-5012, and on the web at http://london.usembassy.gov.

The U.S. Consulate General in Edinburgh, Scotland, is located at 3 Regent Terrace, Edinburgh EH7 5BW; telephone: in country 013-1556-8315, from the United States 011-44-13-1556-8315.
After hours: in country 012-2485-7097, from the United States 011-44-12-2485-7097.
Fax: in country 013-1557-6023, from the United States 011-44-13-1557-6023.
Information on the Consulate General is included on the Embassy’s web site at http://london.usembassy.gov/scotland.

The U.S. Consulate General in Belfast, Northern Ireland, is located at Danesfort House, 228 Stranmillis Road, Belfast BT9 5GR; telephone: in country 028-9038-6100, from the United States 011-44-28-9038-6100.
Fax:
in country 028-9068-1301, from the United States 011-44-28-9068-1301.
Information on the Consulate General is included on the Embassy’s web site at: http://london.usembassy.gov/nireland.

There is no U.S. consular representation in Gibraltar.
Passport questions should be directed to the U.S. Embassy in Madrid, located at Serrano 75, Madrid, Spain; telephone: 34-91-587-2200 and fax 34-91-587-2303.
The web site is http://madrid.usembassy.gov.
All other inquiries should be directed to the U.S. Embassy in London.
* * *
This replaces the Consular Information Sheet dated May 8, 2008 and updates the sections on Entry Requirements, Safety and Security, and Registration/Embassy Location.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Fri, 27 Mar 2020 12:37:54 +0100 (MET)

London, March 27, 2020 (AFP) - British police faced criticism on Friday for using "over-the-top" methods to maintain a coronavirus lockdown, after officers armed with sweeping new powers deployed drones to detect walkers far from home.   Civil liberties group Big Brother Watch said the police must behave within the rule of law after it also emerged that road checkpoints had been set up to quiz drivers about their journeys.   "It's understandable why police are dispersing parties and barbecues but demanding drivers give journey details at road checkpoints is over-the-top," said director Silkie Carlo.     "It's critical we protect public health and critical we protect basic democratic norms too. Arbitrary policing will not help the country to fight this pandemic."

The drone incident happened in the Peak District National Park in Derbyshire, central England, while roadblocks were used in other parts of the country.   Social media users compared their actions to "the Stasi", East Germany's notorious state police.    Another civil liberties group, Liberty, said in a statement: "We need a response in terms of public health rather than a response in terms of criminal justice to this epidemic."   Britons have been told since the beginning of the week that they are only allowed to leave their homes for limited reasons such as going to work, essential food shopping, or for exercise once a day.   But they are not allowed to travel for recreational purposes.

To enforce the new rules, police were officially handed powers which prevents people leaving their home "without reasonable excuse".   Those ignoring the tougher restrictions on movement could be hit with a £60 fine doubled to £120 (133 euros,$147) for any second offence.   The measures will be in place for at least six months, with a review every three weeks.   Derbyshire police defended their actions, claiming in a tweet that "we will not be apologetic for using any legal and appropriate methods to keep people safe".   It added: "Our actions and the government's advice are there to keep you and others safe."   A total of 11,658 coronavirus cases have so far been confirmed in Britain, and 578 deaths.
Date: Thu, 26 Mar 2020 17:27:21 +0100 (MET)
By David HARDING, Phil HAZLEWOOD

London, March 26, 2020 (AFP) - Hospital bosses and doctors on Thursday warned of being swamped with a "tsunami" of COVID-19 patients in London, as Britain braced for a peak in cases and the government faced calls to urgently provide specialist kit and tests for frontline health workers.   Scientists also warned thousands of new ventilators may come too late and Prime Minister Boris Johnson was criticised for not cooperating with European countries to boost capacity.

Britain initially adopted a light-touch approach to the outbreak but has since imposed tougher measures, including a three-week lockdown, as confirmed cases and deaths climbed.   According to the latest figures, 463 people have died from the virus and more than 9,500 people have been infected, with London accounting for about one-third of all cases.   The chief executive of NHS Providers, which represents the heads of hospital trusts in the state-run National Health Service, said there had been an "explosion of demand" in the capital.

Chris Hopson told BBC radio that hospital bosses said there had been "wave after wave after wave" of admissions of seriously ill patients, with numbers predicted to surge further in the next two weeks.   "The word that's often used to me is a sort of continuous tsunami," he added.   Official statistics are thought to represent only a fraction of the real number of infections across Britain, as only those taken to hospital with severe symptoms of COVID-19 are tested.

- Mixed messages -
Johnson on Monday imposed a shut-down of non-essential shops and services, and banned gatherings of more than two people to cut close-contact transmission of the virus.   In a sign of an expected rise in cases, 500 beds will be available from next week in a new 4,000-bed field hospital set up at the giant ExCeL exhibition centre in east London.   The government is looking at creating 10 other centres around the country.

But despite urging people to stay at home, London Underground trains and platforms have been packed with people unable to work remotely, particularly non-contract construction workers.   London's Mayor Sadiq Khan, whose powers include transport in the capital, has been urged to run more services but he has said that is impossible because of staff illness and shortages.   Public transport use was down 13 percent on Thursday, Khan said.

- 'Lambs to the slaughter'  -
Britain has unveiled a raft of measures to help businesses and individuals as the economy slumps, with more expected on Thursday for the self-employed.    But frontline healthcare workers say a lack of personal protective equipment (PPE) as well as insufficient testing of staff for COVID-19 is putting them and patients at risk.   "If hospitals are to survive this, we urgently need adequate protective clothing. Otherwise we are lambs to the slaughter," one doctor wrote in the Daily Mail newspaper.

The chairman of the British Medical Association said the lack of equipment was "totally unacceptable".    The government says it has shipped 7.5 million pieces of PPE in the last 24 hours.   Hopson of NHS Providers said an "unprecedented" staff absence rate of 30 to 50 percent in some places was exacerbating the crisis in London while there was also a "real problem" with ventilator capacity.   The NHS has access to some 8,000 ventilators and the government has ordered 8,000 more. Johnson's spokesman said they were expected to arrive in the coming weeks and months.

But Imperial College epidemiology professor Neil Ferguson, a government scientific advisor, has said most would be needed "in approximately two to three weeks" time as demand peaked.   Entrepreneur James Dyson said the government had ordered 10,000 ventilators from his firm but Downing Street said that depended on the machines passing safety and regulatory checks.   Opposition political parties meanwhile criticised the government for not taking part in a European Union scheme to increase the number of ventilators.   But Johnson's spokesman told reporters: "We are no longer members of the EU... This is an area where we're making our own efforts."
Date: Mon, 23 Mar 2020 21:51:32 +0100 (MET)

London, March 23, 2020 (AFP) - Britain on Monday ordered a three-week lockdown to tackle the spread of coronavirus, shutting "non-essential" shops and services, and banning gatherings of more than two people.    "Stay at home," Prime Minister Boris Johnson said in a televised address to the nation, as he unveiled unprecedented peacetime measures after the country's death toll climbed to 335.   The announcement came after outrage in government that recommendations about reducing social contact to minimise close-contact transmission of the virus were being ignored.

Crowds of people were seen enjoying weekend spring sunshine in parks and countryside across the country, prompting calls for tougher action to be imposed.    "From this evening (Monday) I must give the British people a very simple instruction -- you must stay at home," Johnson said.    "Because the critical thing we must do is stop the disease spreading between households."   Under the new measures, Johnson said going out to shop for basic necessities was still allowed, as was exercise, medical need, and travel to and from work.    But shops selling items such as clothes or electronics, libraries, playgrounds and places of worship would be shut, with a ban also extending to weddings and baptisms but not funerals.

Parks will remain open but Johnson warned: "If you don't follow the rules the police will have the powers to enforce them, including through fines and dispersing gatherings."  He called the outbreak "the biggest threat this country has faced for decades" and said the already overstretched state-run National Health Service (NHS) would be unable to cope if the pace of transmission continued.    "I urge you at this moment of national emergency to stay at home, protect our NHS and save lives," he said.

The restrictions, similar to those in place in other countries, would be "under constant review", he added.    "We will look again in three weeks, and relax them if the evidence shows we are able to," he said.     "But at present there are just no easy options. The way ahead is hard, and it is still true that many lives will sadly be lost."
Date: Thu, 19 Mar 2020 10:59:54 +0100 (MET)

London, March 19, 2020 (AFP) - Transport officials in the British capital closed dozens of London Underground stations on Thursday, as the city tries to stem the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic.   The move, alongside other measures to scale back public transport across London, came as the government placed 20,000 troops on standby to help in the fight against COVID-19.    The official death toll in Britain from the virus reached 104 on Wednesday, up from 71 the previous day, with London the epicentre of the outbreak.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who on Wednesday ordered schools to close at the end of the week, had already urged people to limit social contact, work from home where possible and only make essential journeys.   Transport for London (TfL), the agency responsible for London Underground -- nicknamed "The Tube" -- said it was reducing services but maintaining the system to enable "critical workers to make essential journeys".    "Up to 40 London Underground (LU) stations that do not interchange with other lines will be closed until further notice," it said.

The agency said the weekend overnight underground services would end and the rail and bus system would be further pared back from Monday.    "People should not be travelling, by any means, unless they really, really have to," London Mayor Sadiq Khan said.    "London will get through these extraordinarily challenging times, and ensuring the capital's critical workers can move around the city will be crucial."

Londoners are bracing for further measures and on Wednesday evening, the Ministry of Defence said 20,000 military personnel were being placed at "higher readiness" to help public services.    Reservists would be called in and 150 military personnel trained to drive oxygen tankers to support the health service if needed, defence minister Ben Wallace said.
Date: Thu, 19 Mar 2020 01:07:19 +0100 (MET)
By Alice RITCHIE, Joe JACKSON, Phil HAZLEWOOD

London, March 19, 2020 (AFP) - Britain announced Wednesday it would be closing schools in the coming days and placing 20,000 troops on standby in efforts to stem the spread of coronavirus, as the death toll topped 100.   Prime Minister Boris Johnson had held off following the lead of other European countries because of the impact it would have on the workforce.   But as the outbreak spreads and the death toll reached 104, up from 71 in a day, he said schools would be closed indefinitely later this week.   "After schools shut their gates from Friday afternoon, they will remain closed," he told his daily news conference.   Exceptions will be made for the children of key workers -- including healthcare staff, police and delivery drivers -- and for the most vulnerable children.

Johnson earlier this week advised people to work from home and avoid unnecessary social contact and travel, warning the infection rate was starting to spike.   On Wednesday he said this was having an effect but repeated advice for people with symptoms to self-isolate for between one and two weeks, depending on circumstances.    "We will not hesitate to bring forward further and faster measures," he added.   On Wednesday evening the Ministry of Defence (MoD) announced that 20,000 military personnel were being placed at "higher readiness" to help public services as part of a "COVID Support Force".   Defence secretary Ben Wallace said the armed forces "stand ready to protect Britain".

The MoD said reservists would be called up and 150 military personnel trained to drive oxygen tankers to support the health service, if needed.   Speculation is rife that London in particular could soon be subject to more draconian measures, as the capital records the most number of cases.   "We know London is ahead of the rest of us so we may see more stringent measures than even those that we have announced so far," Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said in Edinburgh earlier.   The government will on Thursday introduce legislation giving it emergency powers to deal with the outbreak, including to close premises and restrict gatherings.

- Parliamentary hotspot -
Lawmakers were earlier told to stay away from Johnson's weekly question time in parliament amid warnings that Westminster is a particularly infectious area.   Some 25 MPs, including a cabinet minister, are already thought to have isolated themselves.    "There's a lot of COVID-19 in Westminster," tweeted epidemiologist Professor Neil Ferguson, a government adviser, as he announced that he had also developed symptoms.   But MPs will gather on Thursday to debate new emergency legislation to deal with the coronavirus outbreak, which ministers hope to push through within days.   The government says its powers will only be used when "absolutely necessary" and the bill has support from opposition parties.   But some MPs voiced concern at the sweeping nature and duration of the proposals, and the effect on civil liberties.

- Rent support -
Johnson's government has come under pressure to do more to tackle the outbreak of COVID-19, given the tough lockdowns imposed in other European countries.   But he insisted all action was driven by the science, adding: "We're going to do the right measures at the right time."   So far Britain has around 2,600 cases, but chief scientific adviser Patrick Vallance this week warned that 55,000 Britons could have the virus at a "reasonable" estimate.   The new social distancing advice sparked warnings that many businesses, particularly in the hospitality industry, could go bust.

The FTSE 100 slumped again Wednesday, dropping as much as 5.0 percent in morning trade, while the pound hit its lowest level since 1985 against the dollar, touching $1.1828.   Finance minister Rishi Sunak on Tuesday announced a package of support for businesses, including government-backed loans of at least £330 billion ($395 billion, 360 billion euros).   On Wednesday, Johnson also promised legislation to protect individuals unable to pay their rent because of job losses caused by the crisis from evictions.

In other developments:
- The government said it was working to increase the number of people in hospital being tested for COVID-19 to 25,000 a day and ensure frontline health workers get the protective kit they need.   - Johnson said there was a "massive effort" to build enough ventilators to treat the worst-hit patients, after concern about a shortage.    - Supermarkets, whose supplies have been hit by panic-buying, said they would safeguard supplies for the elderly and most vulnerable, including dedicated opening times only for older customers.   - The 50th Glastonbury music festival became the latest casualty of the outbreak, with this year's event pushed to 2021.
More ...

Laos

Laos - US Consular Information Sheet
March 27, 2008
COUNTRY DESCRIPTION: The Lao People's Democratic Republic (Laos) is a poor, developing country ruled by an authoritarian, Communist, one-party government. Political power is centralized in the
Lao People's Revolutionary Party. Services and facilities for tourists are adequate in the capital, Vientiane, and the UNESCO World Heritage town of Luang Prabang, but are extremely limited in other parts of the country. Read the Department of State Background Notes on Laos for additional information.

ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS:
A passport and visa are required. The Lao Ministry of Foreign Affairs states that visas can be issued upon arrival in Laos to U.S. citizen tourists with two passport-size photographs and $35 at the following ports of entry: Wattay Airport, Vientiane; Friendship Bridge, Vientiane, Pakse and Luang Prabang Airports; Boten-Bohan and Vangtao-Chong Mek. Persons who obtain entry visas prior to their arrival in Laos may also enter at the following international entry points: Huaixay, Khammouane-Nakhonphanom, Savannakhet-Mukdahan, Daensayanh-Laobao, Namphao-Kaopae, and Namkan. Foreign tourists are generally admitted to Laos for 30 days. The Department of Immigration in Vientiane will extend 30-day tourist visas up to an additional 60 days for a fee of $2 per day. Foreigners who overstay their visas in Laos risk arrest and upon departure will be fined $10 for each day of overstay.
The Lao government requires payment of visa fees and fines in U.S. dollars. Thai baht and Lao kip may sometimes be accepted for the fees, but at unfavorable exchange rates.

Foreign tourists who wish to obtain a visa in advance may contact a Lao embassy or consulate. In the United States, visas and further information about Lao entry requirements can be obtained directly from the Embassy of the Lao People's Democratic Republic, 2222 S St. NW, Washington DC 20008, tel: 202-332-6416, fax: 202-332-4923.

Business visas can only be arranged in advance; a company or individual “sponsor” must contact the Lao Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) in Vientiane and request a visa for the traveler by offering a “guarantee.” Once this request is approved by the MFA, the approval will be communicated to the Lao Embassy in Washington, DC and the U.S. traveler may then apply for the business visa. This process normally takes 1-3 months. After the traveler’s arrival, these visas can usually be extended for one month.

U.S. citizens should not attempt to enter Laos without valid travel documents or outside of official ports of entry. Travelers should not cross the border between Laos and Thailand along the Mekong River except at official immigration check crossings. Unscrupulous travel agents have sold U.S.-citizen travelers false Lao visas, which have resulted in those travelers being denied entry into Laos. Persons attempting to enter Laos outside of official ports of entry risk arrest or other serious consequences.
Immigration offices at some of the less-used land border crossing points are not well marked. Travelers should make sure that they complete immigration and customs formalities when they enter Laos. Travelers who enter Laos without completing these formalities may be subject to fine, detention, imprisonment, and/or deportation.

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

At Wattay Airport (Vientiane), Pakse Airport and the Luang Prabang Airport, there is an international airport departure tax of US$10. This tax may be included in the price of the airline ticket, depending on the carrier.
At the Friendship Bridge (Vientiane, Laos - Nong Khai, Thailand border crossing) there is an overtime fee after 4:00 pm weekdays and during weekends. Visit the web site of the Embassy of Laos in the Untied States at: http://www.laoembassy.com for the more visa information.

Information about dual nationality or the prevention of international child abduction can be found on our web site.
For further information about customs regulations, please read our Customs Information sheet.

SAFETY AND SECURITY:
In recent years (2003-2005), there were periodic incidents of attacks on buses and other vehicles that killed 22 people; small bombings in public places; and other incidents of violence by anti-government forces. In 2007, the Embassy received reports from multiple sources of sporadic fighting between Lao Government forces and unidentified opponents in the area of Vang Vieng in northern Vientiane Province and in Bokeo Province. The Department of State recommends that U.S. citizens traveling or residing in Laos exercise caution in public places and be alert to their surroundings, since the locations of future violent incidents are unpredictable.
Travelers are advised to be cautious when traveling the roads of Laos and to check with local authorities, transport companies, other travelers, and/or the Embassy regarding any recent developments prior to travel. Road obstacles such as changes in surface conditions due to the weather occur frequently.

The Lao Government security forces often stop and check all transport on main roads. Travelers should comply with requests to stop at checkpoints and roadblocks.
U.S. citizens, especially those considering travel outside urban centers, are advised to contact relevant Lao government offices, such as Lao Immigration Police Headquarters in Vientiane, the Lao Tourist Police, local police and customs offices, or contact the U.S. Embassy for the most current security information. To avoid trouble with the authorities, U.S. citizens traveling outside of normal tourist areas or contemplating any unusual activity (including, but not limited to, engaging in business, extensive photography, or scientific research of any kind) should consider seeking advance permission from the Village Chief, District Head, Provincial Governor, or National Tourism Authority, as appropriate.

More than 100 casualties per year are caused by the large amount of unexploded ordnance (UXO) in Laos left over from the Indochina War. Savannakhet, Xieng Khouang, Saravane, Khammouane, Sekong, Champassak, Houaphan, Attapeu, and Luang Prabang Provinces and parts of Vientiane Province are severely contaminated by UXO. In addition, numerous mine fields are left over from the war, including mine fields along Route 7 (from Route 13 to the Vietnam border), Route 9 (Savannakhet to the Vietnam border), and Route 20 (Pakse to Saravane). While traveling in Laos, U.S. citizens should never pick up unknown metal objects and should avoid traveling off of well-used roads, tracks and paths.

U.S. citizens considering travel by air, road or river within Laos are advised to carefully evaluate the relative risks of the three modes of transport (see sections on Aviation Safety Oversight, Traffic Safety, and River Travel below). Travelers should also exercise caution if contemplating swimming in rivers in Laos. Currents can be deceptive and strong.

The whereabouts of three Hmong-American men who went missing in August 2007 after reportedly going on a business trip to Xieng Khouang Province remains unknown. The Government of Laos stated that the three departed Laos, but none of the three has contacted family members in the U.S. since they were last seen in 2007.

U.S. citizens are also advised to exercise caution in remote areas along the Lao border with Burma. Bandits, drug traffickers, and other people pursuing illegal activities operate in these border areas, as do armed insurgent groups opposed to the government of Burma.
Travelers should be aware that from 2004 to 2006, seven Lao- and Hmong-American citizens have been murdered in northern and northeastern Thailand near the border with Laos.
During the same period, a number of non-Americans with ties to Laos have also been murdered in this region of Thailand. In addition, in March 2006 a Hmong-American disappeared from his residence in Chiang Mai along with seven other individuals. In most of these cases, no arrests have been made.
If U.S. citizens, particularly Lao-Americans or Hmong-Americans, must travel to these areas, they should exercise caution and remain vigilant with regard to their personal security. It is also recommended that persons wishing to travel to border areas check first with the Thai Police and the U.S. Consulate General in Chiang Mai or the U.S. Embassy in Bangkok or the U.S. Embassy in Vientiane.
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:
While Laos generally has a low rate of violent crime, it is not immune from crime. While in Laos, Americans should remain aware of their surroundings and exercise appropriate security precautions. With the introduction of methamphetamines and other illicit drugs, thefts and assaults in Vientiane have increased and some have turned violent.
Bag-snatching is increasingly frequent and sexual assaults have also occurred. Residential burglary is commonplace. Expatriates attempting to report burglaries in progress to the police often find that police telephones are not answered or they are informed that the police are not authorized to respond to criminal activity at night or that they have no transportation. U.S. citizens who move to Vientiane are encouraged to contact the U.S. Embassy for security advice.

Travelers in Vientiane should exercise caution, particularly after dark, at roadside restaurants and stalls near the banks of the Mekong River. Foreigners are often the victims of purse snatchings while sitting down to eat or while riding bicycles or motorcycles in this area. To help ensure the security of valuables and documents carried on their person, travelers may wish to carry them in bags that cannot be easily stolen. U.S. citizens traveling to Vang Vieng should be aware that some tourists have been robbed and assaulted while walking alone to the caves on the far side of the Nam Song River.
Camping at night anywhere except in authorized campgrounds in national parks is dangerous.
Many restaurants in popular tourist locations in the Vang Vieng area offer menu items, particularly “pizzas,” “shakes” or “teas” which may contain unknown substances or opiates. These products are often advertised as “happy” or “special” items. These unknown foods and drinks can be dangerous, causing illness and death.

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 and services in Laos are limited and do not meet Western standards. In Vientiane, U.S. citizens may wish to contact the Primary Care Center also known as the Centre medical de L’Ambassade de France (CMAF), which is supported by the French Embassy.
The CMAF is located on Khou Vieng Road across the street from the Green Park Hotel, Tel. +856-21-214-150, or +856-20-558-4617, email: cmafloa@gmail.com.
U.S. citizens in Laos often seek medical care in Thailand. The Friendship Bridge linking Vientiane, Laos, to Nong Khai, Thailand, is open daily 6:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. Officials generally will allow travelers to cross after hours in cases of medical emergency. AEK International Hospital (tel: 66-42-342-555) and North Eastern Wattana General Hospital, both in Udorn, Thailand (tel: 66-1-833-4262) have English-speaking staff accustomed to dealing with foreign patients. Nong Khai Wattana Hospital in Nong Khai, Thailand (tel: 66-1-833-4262) can handle most simple medical procedures. Ambulances for both AEK International Hospital and Nong Khai Wattana Hospital have permission to cross the Friendship Bridge to collect patients from Vientiane. In Vientiane, the Setthatirat Hospital ambulance (tel: 021-413-720) can take patients to Thailand. The Department of State assumes no responsibility for the professional ability or reputation of these hospitals.

Avian Influenza:
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the World Health Organization (WHO), and Lao authorities have confirmed the presence in Laos of the H5N1 strain of avian influenza, commonly known as “bird flu.” In 2007, two Lao nationals died after contracting the H4N1 virus. Travelers to Laos and other countries affected by the virus are cautioned to avoid poultry farms, contact with animals in live food markets, and any surfaces that appear to be contaminated with feces from poultry or other animals. In addition, the CDC and WHO recommend eating only fully cooked poultry and eggs. The Lao government’s avian influenza hotline may be reached by calling 166 from anywhere in Laos.
This hotline may be used to report suspected cases of avian influenza in animals or humans, or to obtain information on areas in Laos where avian influenza may have been recently detected.
Operators speak Lao and English.
For the most current information and links on avian influenza in Laos, see the State Department’s Avian Influenza Fact Sheet or visit the website of the U.S. Embassy in Laos.

There is a problem with counterfeit pharmaceuticals throughout Southeast Asia. American citizens should be aware of this problem and purchase pharmaceuticals only through the most reputable pharmacies with a physician’s prescription.

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 Laos is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.

The number of road accidents and fatalities in Laos has risen sharply in the last decade as the number of motor vehicles has increased. U.S. citizens involved in traffic accidents have been barred from leaving Laos before paying compensation for property damage or injuries, regardless of who was at fault.
A driver involved in a traffic accident should remain at the scene and attempt to contact the police or wait for them to arrive to prepare an accident report.
If renting a car or motorcycle, contact the rental company and its insurance agent.
If there is major damage, injury or death, contact the Consular Section or Embassy Duty Officer.

Traffic in Laos is chaotic and road conditions are very rough. Few roads have lane markings. Where lane markings, road signs, and stoplights do exist, they are widely ignored. Many drivers are unlicensed, inexperienced and uninsured. Driving under the influence of alcohol or illegal drugs is not uncommon, and penalties for such offenses may not be enforced. Theoretically, traffic moves on the right, but vehicles use all parts of the road. Motorcyclists pay little or no heed to cars. Motorcycles carry as many as five people, greatly impeding the drivers' ability to react to traffic. The evening hours are particularly dangerous. Road construction sites are poorly marked, appear with no advance warning, and can be difficult to see at night. Roads are poorly lit, many vehicles have no operating lights, few bicycles have reflectors, and trucks without reflectors commonly park on unlit roads.

Public transportation is unreliable and is limited after sunset. The most common form of public transport is three-wheeled, open-sided taxis called "tuk-tuks.” Automobile taxis or cars for hire are available at the airport, the Friendship Bridge, and most major hotels, and near the Morning Market in Vientiane. Tuk-tuks and taxis are frequently in poor repair, and drivers generally speak little or no English. Inter-city transport is provided by buses, pickups, and trucks, which are also often in poor repair.

Emergency services in Laos are either unreliable or non-existent. Lao road traffic regulations require any driver coming upon a road accident to assist in transporting injured persons to a hospital. Emergency telephone numbers in Vientiane are Fire: 190, Ambulance: 195 or 021-413-720, Traffic Police: 191, Tourist Police: 021-251-128 (only for incidents involving tourists). Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information.

AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT:
As there is no direct commercial air service to the United States by carriers registered in Laos, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not assessed the Lao Civil Aviation Authority for compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards. For more information, travelers may visit the FAA’s web site at http://www.faa.gov/safety/programs_initiatives/oversight/iasa.

SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES:
TRAVEL OF FOREIGNERS WITHIN LAOS:
The Lao tourist police have informed foreign tourists that a licensed Lao tour guide must accompany any group of more than 5 foreign tourists; however, this regulation does not appear to be strictly enforced.
The authorities may restrict travel in rural areas outside of popular tourist destinations. Restricted areas may not be marked or even widely known by local citizens. If traveling without a reputable tour guide who is aware of local conditions, travelers should consult with local authorities before entering remote areas away from obvious tourist destinations.
Lao citizens who wish to have a foreign citizen -- including a family member -- stay in their home must obtain prior approval from the village chief. The foreigner may be held responsible if the Lao host has not secured prior permission for the visit. American citizens are strongly advised to ensure that such permission has been sought and granted before accepting offers to stay in Lao homes.
Security personnel may at times place foreign visitors under surveillance. Hotel rooms, telephones and fax machines may be monitored, and personal possessions in hotel rooms may be searched. Taking photographs of anything that could be perceived as being of military or security interest may result in problems with the local authorities. See Section below on Photography and Other Restrictions.

RELATIONSHIPS WITH LAO CITIZENS:
Lao law prohibits sexual contact between foreign citizens and Lao nationals except when the two parties have been married in accordance with Lao Family Law. Any foreigner who enters into a sexual relationship with a Lao national risks being interrogated, detained, arrested, or fined. Lao police have confiscated passports and imposed fines of up to $5000 on foreigners who enter into disapproved sexual relationships. The Lao party to the relationship may also be jailed without trial. Foreigners are not permitted to invite Lao nationals of the opposite sex to their hotel rooms; police may raid hotel rooms without notice or consent.

Foreign citizens intending to marry Lao nationals are required by Lao law to obtain prior permission from the Lao Government. The formal application process can take as long as a year. American citizens may obtain information about these requirements from the U.S. Embassy in Vientiane. The Lao Government will not issue a marriage certificate unless the correct procedures are followed. Any attempt to circumvent Lao regulations may result in arrest, imprisonment, a fine of $500-$5000, and deportation. A foreigner who cohabits with or enters into a close relationship with a Lao national may be accused by Lao authorities of entering into an illegal marriage and be subject to these same penalties.
A foreign citizen who wishes to become engaged to a Lao national is required to obtain prior permission from the chief of the village where the Lao national resides. Failure to obtain prior permission can result in a fine of $500-$5000. Lao police may impose a large fine on a foreign citizen a few days after he or she holds an engagement ceremony with a Lao citizen based on the suspicion that the couple subsequently had sexual relations out of wedlock.

MARRIAGE:
A Lao Prime Ministerial decree requires that marriages of Lao citizens abroad be registered with Lao embassies in order to be legal in Laos. If an American citizen marries a Lao citizen in the U.S. and then the couple comes to Laos, the American could be subject to penalties under the Lao law governing sexual relationships (above) if the marriage has not been registered beforehand with a Lao Embassy.

RELIGIOUS WORKERS:
Religious proselytizing or distributing religious material is strictly prohibited. Foreigners caught distributing religious material may be arrested or deported. The Government of Laos restricts the importation of religious texts and artifacts. While Lao law allows freedom of religion, the Government registers and controls all associations, including religious groups. Meetings, even in private homes, must be registered and those held outside of established locations may be broken up and the participants arrested.

RIVER TRAVEL:
River travel is common in Laos, but safety conditions do not conform to U.S. standards. In particular, travel by speedboat (local term “fast boat”) is dangerous and should be avoided, particularly during the dry season, which generally occurs from December through April. Travel on or across the Mekong River along the Thai border should be avoided at night. Lao militia forces have shot at boats on the Mekong after dark. Several people have drowned during the rainy season while inner-tubing or swimming in the Nam Song River near Vang Vieng.

PHOTOGRAPHY AND OTHER RESTRICTIONS:
Taking photographs of anything that could be perceived as being of military or security interest — including bridges, airfields, military installations, government buildings, or government vehicles — may result in problems with authorities, including detention or arrest and confiscation of the camera. Tourists should be cautious when traveling near military bases and strictly observe signs delineating the military base areas. Military personnel have detained and questioned foreigners who have unknowingly passed by unmarked military facilities.
Because of the prohibition on religious proselytizing, travelers should use caution when taking photographs or videotaping non-Buddhist religious services. If attending public services or religious gatherings, foreigners should ask permission from the local police and civil authorities to photograph or videotape. See section above on Religious Workers. Local police may suspect persons using any kind of very sophisticated still or video camera equipment of being professional photographers or possibly photojournalists which may lead to questioning, detention, arrest or deportation by the police.

FINANCIAL TRANSACTIONS:
There are network-connected ATMs in Vientiane, including those operated by the Foreign Commercial Bank of Laos, also know as the Banque Pour le Commerce Exterieur de Laos (BCEL). BCEL also has network-connected ATMS in Vang Vieng, and the Provincial capital cities, or “Muang”, of Luangnamtha, Oudomxay, Luangprabang, Khammouan, Savannakhet, and Champasak Provinces.
These machines are generally limited to withdrawals of the equivalent of about $100.00 in Lao kip only. Credit cards are accepted at major hotels and tourist-oriented businesses. Credit card cash advances and/or Western Union money transfers are available at banks in most provincial capitals and other tourist centers. While the government requires that prices be quoted in Lao kip, prices are often given in U.S. dollars or Thai baht, especially in tourist areas or at markets. The Lao Government requires payment in U.S. dollars for some taxes and fees, including visa fees and the airport departure tax.

CUSTOMS/CURRENCY REGULATIONS:
Lao customs authorities may enforce strict regulations concerning temporary importation into or export from Laos of items such as firearms, religious materials, antiquities, foreign currency, cameras and other items. It is advisable to contact the Embassy of the Lao People's Democratic Republic in Washington for specific information regarding customs requirements. (Please also see section on “Religious Workers” above). There are prohibitions against importing or exporting more than $2500 (U.S. dollar equivalent) of currency without authorization. Contact the Lao Embassy or Lao customs authorities for more details. In many countries around the world, counterfeit and pirated goods are widely available. Transactions involving such products are illegal and bringing them back to the United States may result in forfeitures and/or fines.
Please see our Customs Information.

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

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

REGISTRATION/EMBASSY LOCATION:
Americans living or traveling in Laos are encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate through the State Department’s travel registration web site so that they can obtain updated information on travel and security within Laos. 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 on Rue Bartholonie (near Tat Dam), in Vientiane; from the U.S., mail may be addressed to U.S. Embassy Vientiane, Unit 8165, Box V, APO AP 96546; Telephone (856-21) 267-000, recorded emergency information for American citizens (856-21) 267-111; duty officer emergency cellular telephone (856-20) 550-2016; Embassy-wide fax number (856-21) 267-190; Consular Section e-mail: CONSLAO@state.gov, Embassy web site: http://laos.usembassy.gov/.
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This replaces the Country Specific Information for Laos dated September 5, 2007, to update sections on Entry/Exit Requirements, Safety and Security, Traffic Safety and Road Conditions, and Financial Transactions.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Thu, 21 Nov 2019 01:34:32 +0100 (MET)

Bangkok, Nov 21, 2019 (AFP) - A 6.1-magnitude earthquake hit north-western Laos near the Thai border early Thursday, the United States Geological Survey reported.    The shallow quake hit at 6:50 am local time (2350 Wednesday GMT), USGS said. 
Date: Thu, 31 Oct 2019 09:40:50 +0100 (MET)

Loei, Thailand, Oct 31, 2019 (AFP) - The once-mighty Mekong river has been reduced to a thin, grubby neck of water in stretches of northern Thailand -- record lows blamed on drought and a recently completed dam far upstream.   The $4.47 billion Thai-owned Xayaburi hydro-electric power plant went into operation this week in Laos after years of warnings over the potential impact on fish flow, sediment and water levels on a river which feeds tens of millions.

Along parts of Thailand's northeastern border at Loei, the kilometre-wide (3,300-foot) river has shrivelled to a few dozen metres, with boulders and bedrock encasing muddy pools of water.   From above, the encroaching banks of Laos and Thailand are now a thread of water apart, restricting fishing grounds to a slim channel.   Fishermen blame a combination of this year's weak monsoon and the Xayaburi dam, around 300 kilometres (185 miles) to the north.   "I don't want any more dam construction," said fisherman Sup Aunkaew, who tossed a meagre catch into his boat, adding that the fish spawning habits have been "confused" by the unseasonally low water levels.   "But we can't really oppose their plans if they want to do it."

Landlocked and impoverished Laos has set its sights on becoming "the battery of Asia", with 44 operating hydro plants and 46 more under construction many on key tributaries of the Mekong, according to monitor International Rivers.  The Mekong River Commission (MRC), a body governing regional water diplomacy, said the water levels from June to October are the lowest in nearly 30 years.   In Nong Khai, which faces the Laos' capital Vientiane, the water dropped to around one metre (3.2 feet) on Tuesday, several times shallower than average, the MCR said.   Measurements across the river "are significantly below the minimum levels for this time of year and are expected to decreases further", it said in a statement to AFP.   "The concern is for the upcoming dry season."

- 'Death of a thousand cuts' -
Experts say the dam-building frenzy in China and Laos has compounded the drought.   "These are causing the Mekong to die a death of a thousand cuts," said Brian Eyler, author of "The Last Days of the Mighty Mekong".   He said the lower part of the river is at a "crisis point" until rains come again next year.   The Mekong, which rises on the Tibetan plateau and courses through China, Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam -- sustains tens of millions of people along its banks through fishing and agriculture. 

The 1,285-megawatt Xayaburi dam was built by CKPower -- a subsidiary of the Thai builder and majority shareholder CH Karnchang -- which went ahead with construction despite protests in Thailand, which is buying most of the electricity.   As it began operations the company plastered Thai newspapers with advertising this week referring to the "greatness of the Mekong" and calling the dam "fish riendly".   It did not respond to several requests for comment but the company has trumpeted its commitment to clean, sustainable energy.   In July the dam operator denied tests on the mega-structure were responsible for the river drying up downstream in northeastern Thailand.
Date: Tue, 20 Aug 2019 05:21:07 +0200 (METDST)

Bangkok, Aug 20, 2019 (AFP) - At least 13 Chinese tourists were killed and dozens injured when their bus skidded off the road and plunged 30 metres into a ravine in Laos, a police officer said Tuesday.   The bus was carrying more than 40 Chinese nationals heading towards the tourist town of Luang Prabang when the accident occurred late on Monday.   "At this moment, 13 bodies have been recovered... while two are still missing," police officer Xaiyaphon Chitavong told AFP, blaming brake failure for the accident.   He added that 31 people were receiving medical treatment.    Chinese state media showed photos of rescuers wading through ankle-deep floodwaters.

Traffic accidents in Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Myanmar are common, with safety regulations often flouted and law enforcement low.    The monsoon season from June to October also drenches rural roads with heavy rains creating slippery conditions.   Tourism to communist-run Laos has grown in recent years, and visitors from China increased by 13 percent in the first half of 2019 compared to the year before, according to the state-backed Vientiane Times.
Date: Sat, 28 Jul 2018 13:48:53 +0200

Attapeu , Laos, July 28, 2018 (AFP) - Rescuers battled thick mud and flood waters across a swathe of remote southern Laos to find survivors of a deadly dam burst that submerged entire villages, as an official suggested faulty construction may have led to the disaster.   The exact number of dead and missing from Monday's dam collapse remains a mystery because of the complexity of the rescue operation in an inaccessible area and the secretive reflexes of Laos's Communist authorities in the face of an unprecedented crisis.

"The search is very complicated, many areas cannot be accessed by cars or boats. Also we have limited modern equipment to bring to the field," deputy secretary of Attapeu province committee Meenaporn Chaichompoo told reporters Friday.   The head of the rescue mission Kumriang Authakaison said Saturday that eight people are confirmed dead, down from 27 reported by officials earlier this week. He added that 123 were confirmed missing.    But conflicting information swirled about how many remain unaccounted for after Chaichompoo said Friday "we can't find 1,126 people", without elaborating. 

Makeshift shelters are packed with thousands of people who fled their homes in panic with just a few hours' notice of the impending disaster, now spending their days on plastic mats waiting for news of missing neighbours.    All karaoke bars and entertainment venues were ordered tone down loud music and celebrations in the province as the nation mourned the calamity, the most devastating to hit Laos's contentious hydropower sector.

A stretch of land dozens of kilometres long and wide was submerged when the Xe-Namnoy dam collapsed after heavy rains.    Slowly retreating floodwaters have cut off access to villages and covered much of the area with thick, sticky mud.      "This is one of the worst (disasters) I've ever seen. Especially because we're not a very strong country in terms of rescue operations," a volunteer rescue worker told AFP, requesting anonymity as he was not authorised to speak to media.

- Poor construction? -
Days into the treacherous search for survivors, questions are being raised about the quality of the construction of the $1.2 billion dam, a joint venture between South Korean, Laotian and Thai firms.    Operators said it burst after heavy rains in a country regularly battered by monsoons.

But Laos Minister of Energy and Mines Khammany Inthirath said poor design may have contributed to the accident, according to state media and Radio Free Asia.   "It might be construction technique that led to the collapse after it was affected by the rain," he told RFA in an interview broadcast Friday.    One of the Korean firms involved in the project, SK Engineering & Construction, said it was investigating the cause of the dam break and would donate $10 million in relief aid.   The accident has kicked up criticism of Laos' ambitious dam-building scheme as it bids to become a major power exporter, billing itself the "battery of Asia" with more than 50 projects set to o online by 2020.     The majority of energy generated in the tiny, landlocked country is sold to its neighbours, mostly to Thailand where much of it is sucked up in the sweaty, energy-hungry capital Bangkok.

Villagers have complained of being relocated -- sometimes repeatedly -- while river waters crucial for fishing and farming have been diverted, destroying livelihoods in one of Asia's poorest countries.    Downstream countries like Cambodia and Vietnam also fret that their waterways and fishing stocks could be damaged by the hydopower boom in Laos.    The accident has prompted fears over the safety of other dams in the country.   "Most of the dams are built by foreign companies and Laos authorities don't have expert knowledge and management to check for weaknesses or problems, that's our worry," villager Si Wonghajak told AFP.
Date: Thu, 26 Jul 2018 13:09:09 +0200

Attapeu , Laos, July 26, 2018 (AFP) - The torrent of water unleashed in a deadly Laos dam collapse has drained into Cambodia, forcing thousands to evacuate, as rescuers on Thursday battled monsoon rains to find scores of Laotians still missing after entire villages were washed away.   Twenty-seven people have been confirmed dead, with 131 still missing, after the Xe-Namnoy dam collapsed on Monday in a remote southern corner of Laos, leaving villagers with little time to escape.   It is an unprecedented accident to strike the hydropower industry in Laos, where the Communist government has dammed large sections of its myriad waterways to generate electricity that is mostly sold to its neighbours.

The search and rescue effort entered a third day Thursday, with China, Vietnam and Thailand sending in specialists, while villagers picked through their wrecked, mud-caked homes for possessions as the flood waters receded.   Carcasses of livestock floated in the knee-deep waters in a devastated village visited by AFP, as heavy rain pounded the area.   Thousands of villagers downstream in Cambodia have also been forced to flee as the water once held back by the dam flowed south.   "Water is still rising, so more people will be evacuated," Men Kong, a government spokesman in Cambodia's Stung Streng province, told AFP.   Cambodian soldiers ferried villagers and motorbikes from flooded zones on wooden boats, while supplies were handed out to some who found refuge on dry land.

In Laos, Chinese rescuers in life jackets and helmets joined local soldiers searching for the missing Thursday, according to an AFP reporter at the scene, while community volunteers pitched in with private boats to return to villages still submerged.   Residents recalled their terror as water rushed through their homes.   Tran Van Bien, 47, from Ban Mai village close to the ruined dam said he was told to evacuate just two hours before the dam burst on Monday evening, running to a neighbour's house with his family as his home quickly filled with water.   "We were on the roof of that house the whole night, cold and scared. At 4:00 am a wooden boat passed and we decided to send my wife and my kid out," he told AFP from a nearby town where he eventually found dry land.   "My wife tied our child to her body, saying if they died, they would die together rather than being alone."

- 'Insufficient warning' -
The $1.2 billion Xe-Namnoy dam, a joint venture between Laos, Thai and Korean companies, was still under construction in southern Attapeu province when it collapsed after heavy rains pounded the area earlier this week.   Two South Korean companies involved in the project's construction and operation said damage was reported a day before the auxiliary "Saddle D" dam collapsed.   However a timeline from operator Korea Western Power Co. obtained by AFP said 11 centimetres (four inches) of subsidence was spotted at the dam's centre as early as Friday.   The company told AFP it could not yet determine the cause of the collapse.   "It is too early to define whether it was a natural disaster or a manmade disaster," a spokesman told AFP Thursday.

Thailand issued new regulations for its hydro plant operators in Laos this week, ordering companies to report on dam conditions every week and communicate closely with residents.    "If a dam plans to release water they must coordinate with local officials to warn people and to prevent people from panic at least seven days (in advance)," Thailand's Energy and Mining Minister Khammany Inthirath announced Wednesday.   Southeastern Laos is frequently lashed by monsoon rains, and dam operators regularly release water from reservoirs in order to avoid overflow -- or collapse.   The 410 MW Xe-Namnoy project is one of more than 50 hydropower plans underway in Laos, which has billed itself as the "battery of Asia" in its ambitious bid to become a major power exporter in the region.

Laos has said it wants to double its power generation capacity to 28,000 MW by 2020 and has opened its doors to foreign investors -- mainly from China, Thailand and Vietnam -- to build dams across the country.   But the projects have come under fire from rights groups who say local communities are forcibly moved and lose key access to river waters for farming and fishing.   "This tragedy has compounded their suffering," International Rivers said in a statement Thursday.   "Communities were not given sufficient advanced warning to ensure their safety and that of their families. This event raises major questions about dam standards and dam safety in Laos."
More ...

World Travel News Headlines

Date: Fri, 27 Mar 2020 12:37:54 +0100 (MET)

London, March 27, 2020 (AFP) - British police faced criticism on Friday for using "over-the-top" methods to maintain a coronavirus lockdown, after officers armed with sweeping new powers deployed drones to detect walkers far from home.   Civil liberties group Big Brother Watch said the police must behave within the rule of law after it also emerged that road checkpoints had been set up to quiz drivers about their journeys.   "It's understandable why police are dispersing parties and barbecues but demanding drivers give journey details at road checkpoints is over-the-top," said director Silkie Carlo.     "It's critical we protect public health and critical we protect basic democratic norms too. Arbitrary policing will not help the country to fight this pandemic."

The drone incident happened in the Peak District National Park in Derbyshire, central England, while roadblocks were used in other parts of the country.   Social media users compared their actions to "the Stasi", East Germany's notorious state police.    Another civil liberties group, Liberty, said in a statement: "We need a response in terms of public health rather than a response in terms of criminal justice to this epidemic."   Britons have been told since the beginning of the week that they are only allowed to leave their homes for limited reasons such as going to work, essential food shopping, or for exercise once a day.   But they are not allowed to travel for recreational purposes.

To enforce the new rules, police were officially handed powers which prevents people leaving their home "without reasonable excuse".   Those ignoring the tougher restrictions on movement could be hit with a £60 fine doubled to £120 (133 euros,$147) for any second offence.   The measures will be in place for at least six months, with a review every three weeks.   Derbyshire police defended their actions, claiming in a tweet that "we will not be apologetic for using any legal and appropriate methods to keep people safe".   It added: "Our actions and the government's advice are there to keep you and others safe."   A total of 11,658 coronavirus cases have so far been confirmed in Britain, and 578 deaths.
Date: Fri, 27 Mar 2020 11:59:09 +0100 (MET)

Madrid, March 27, 2020 (AFP) - The death toll in Spain soared over 4,800 Friday after 769 people died in 24 hours, in what was a record one-day figure for fatalities, the government said.    Health ministry figures showed the number of deaths reaching 4,858, while cases jumped to 64,059, although the rate of new infections appeared to be slowing, registering a 14 percent increase compared with 18 percent a day earlier.
Date: Fri, 27 Mar 2020 11:53:09 +0100 (MET)

Jakarta, March 27, 2020 (AFP) - Indonesia's coronavirus crisis is far worse than being officially reported and the government's response is "in tatters", the country's doctors association warned Friday as the death toll climbed to 87.   The world's fourth-most populous country only reported its first confirmed infection this month but by Thursday, that had ballooned to over 1,000.

Indonesia's 87 confirmed coronavirus deaths are the highest toll in Southeast Asia, with public health and diplomatic officials warning that its weak health system is being rapidly overwhelmed.   "The government's plans are in tatters and they appear to be avoiding a lockdown," said Indonesian Doctors' Association spokesman Halik Malik.   "Our health system is not as strong as other countries."

A London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine study warned this week that cases in Indonesia -- with a population of more than 260 million people -- could be vastly underreported.   The government's virus task force has estimated as many as 700,000 people were at risk of infection nationwide.   But the rate of testing has been low compared with many other countries -- only 2,300 tests were conducted before the government stopped announcing nationwide figures.

Authorities have come under heavy criticism for not imposing lockdowns in major cities, including the capital Jakarta, a vast city home to about 30 million where most of the deaths have been reported.   "The COVID-19 situation in Indonesia is very serious and getting worse quickly," the Canadian embassy in Jakarta said Thursday, saying it was urgently advising citizens to leave.    "The health care system in Indonesia will soon be overwhelmed. The ultimate number of fatalities will be very high."   Indonesia had fewer than four doctors for every 10,000 people, according to World Health Organization data from 2017.

In comparison, neighbouring Malaysia had about 15 doctors and Australia had 35 per 10,000 people.   Images shared on social media have shown Indonesian doctors threatening to go on strike if resources aren't beefed up, with concerns about a lack of ventilators, protective gear and other equipment needed to handle coronavirus cases.   At least seven doctors have died of the virus, according to the official figures.

In a tweet that went viral, the brother-in-law of one of those doctors slammed the Indonesian government's handling of the crisis.   "You were infected as you actively served people. Many health workers have been infected and left. The limited amount of protective equipment is hard to forgive," wrote Pandu Riono, a University of Indonesia public health expert.   The government has pledged to boost testing to upwards of one million checks as extra equipment and test kits are flown in from China.   It has also turned an athletes village built for the 2018 Asian Games into an emergency treatment centre to help ease the pressure on hospitals.
Date: Fri, 27 Mar 2020 10:46:26 +0100 (MET)

Budapest, March 27, 2020 (AFP) - Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban on Friday ordered a nationwide lockdown for two weeks to fight the spread of the new coronavirus.   "We are introducing curfew restrictions throughout Hungary between March 28 and April 11," he told public radio.   "For two weeks we can all leave our homes or places of residence only for work or for managing basic needs."

Exemptions include trips to shops and pharmacies for necessities, with infringements liable to police fines of up to 500,000 forints (1,400 euros, $1,550).   Shops will be open exclusively for those aged over 65 between 9 am and 12 noon to "separate youth from elderly in a bearable way," said Orban.   The move is the latest in a series of government decrees including school closures introduced after a state of emergency was announced March 11.

Hungary closed its borders to non-nationals from March 17, which led to chaos for travellers and freight hauliers at border crossings and Budapest airport.   Parliament is set Tuesday to grant Orban sweeping powers of decree until the government declares an end to the state of emergency.   Hungary, which has a population of almost 10 million, has so far recorded 300 infections from the virus and 10 deaths.
Date: Fri, 27 Mar 2020 09:24:46 +0100 (MET)

Jakarta, March 27, 2020 (AFP) - Indonesia's most active volcano Mount Merapi erupted Friday, shooting a column of ash some 5,000 metres (16,000 feet) into the air in its second major eruption this month.   Ash and sand covered areas several kilometres (miles) away from the peak of the rumbling crater near Indonesia's cultural capital Yogyakarta.   But authorities did not raise Merapi's alert level.   "There has been no reports of damage from the  eruption. We urge people to stay calm and not panic," national disaster mitigation agency spokesman Agus Wibowo said.   Merapi erupted earlier this month, shooting a massive ash cloud some 6,000 metres in the air.    That eruption coated Yogyakarta and neighbouring city Solo with grey dust and forced an airport closure.

Mount Merapi's last major eruption in 2010 killed more than 300 people and forced the evacuation of 280,000 residents.  That was Merapi's most powerful eruption since 1930, which killed around 1,300 people, while another explosion in 1994 took about 60 lives.    The Southeast Asian nation -- an archipelago of more than 17,000 islands and islets -- has nearly 130 active volcanoes.    It sits on the Pacific "Ring of Fire", a vast zone of geological instability where the collision of tectonic plates causes frequent quakes and major volcanic activity
Date: Fri, 27 Mar 2020 06:34:10 +0100 (MET)

Sydney, March 27, 2020 (AFP) - The Australian military will help enforce the quarantine of travellers returning to the country, with the prime minister unveiling strict new measures and door-to-door checks Friday to rein in the spread of COVID-19.   With some two-thirds of Australia's 3,000 COVID-19 cases still linked to overseas travel, Scott Morrison said 14-day home quarantines would now be actively policed with the help of the military.

Thousands of citizens and residents are still arriving in Australia every day and there have been instances of return travellers repeatedly breaking a promise to stay at home.   Morrison said all returnees arriving after midnight Saturday would now be kept in hotels in the city of arrival for the duration of their quarantine.   Those already on Australian soil and under orders to self-quarantine for two weeks will face active checks, he said.

Quarantine measures will be getting "a lot tougher and a lot stricter," Morrison said, adding the Australian Defence Force would "assist in the compliance with these arrangements."   Police in New South Wales this week said they found a 65-year-old woman breaking quarantine twice after returning from Bali. She was slapped with two $1,000 (US$610) fines.

Australia has struggled in particular to deal with returning cruise ship passengers.   Around 200 of the 2,700 passengers who were allowed to disembark one ship in central Sydney without testing have subsequently tested positive for COVID-19. The presence of three other cruise ships off the coast of Western Australia has sparked an intense debate about whether they should be allowed to dock.

Tens of thousands of Australians are still believed to be overseas and Morrison said it would become harder for them to come home.   He indicated efforts would be made to return some trapped in locations like Peru, but those who departed after the government advised against all foreign travel may be on their own.
Date: Fri, 27 Mar 2020 05:52:43 +0100 (MET)

Singapore, March 27, 2020 (AFP) - Singaporeans could be jailed for up to six months if they intentionally stand close to someone else, under tough new rules announced Friday to halt the spread of the coronavirus.   The city-state has introduced a series of new measures to tackle the virus, including closing bars and cinemas as well as banning large events.   One step aimed at ensuring "social-distancing" -- a key approach being used worldwide to halt the spread of the contagious disease -- is a ban on individuals standing less than one metre (three feet) apart in certain settings.

People are barred from intentionally standing too close to someone else in a queue, or sitting on a seat less than one metre from another individual in a public place, according to the regulations.    Those found guilty of breaking the rules face a jail term of up to six months and a maximum fine of Sg$10,000 (US$7,000).    Business owners are also required to take steps such as putting seats not fixed to the ground at least one metre apart, and making sure that people keep their distance when queueing.   They face the same punishments if found to have broken the rules.

Singapore, known for having a low crime rate and a tough approach to law and order, introduced stricter curbs after a spike in infections being brought in from overseas.   The health ministry said earlier this week that "we must implement tighter safe distancing measures now to minimise activities and exposure".   The city-state has reported 683 virus infections and two deaths, but has won praise for its approach and has so far avoided going into a total lockdown.   The rapidly spreading pandemic has infected over half a million people worldwide and killed more than 23,000.
Date: Thu, 26 Mar 2020 20:22:40 +0100 (MET)

Abidjan, March 26, 2020 (AFP) - Almost all of Africa's airlines are currently grounded because of the coronavirus pandemic and several could go bankrupt, the African Airlines Association (AFRAA) warned Thursday.   "Today, 95 percent of African planes are grounded owing to the pandemic, save for cargo flights," AFRAA secretary general Abderrahmane Berthe told AFP.

A large number of African states have closed their airports and borders because of the virus, forcing carriers to scrap inter-African as well as inter-continental flights.   "If the African carriers do not receive support they will find themselves insolvent come the end of June," warned Berthe, who calculated that the sector would require a bailout of between $2.5 to 3 billion (2.3 to 2.8 billion euros) in emergency aid or tax concessions.

"African carriers were already in a precarious state well before the COVID-19 pandemic. They have been making losses for a decade while other companies elsewhere were making money," Berthe said.   "The past fortnight has been catastrophic for African carriers whose planes are grounded. They have no revenue while at the same time they face costs they cannot squeeze" such as plane hire, maintenance, insurance and parking fees.   AFRAA's 45 member carriers account for 85 percent of inter-African traffic totalling 93 million passengers a year.   Although Africa accounts for just a two percent share of global air traffic, passenger numbers on the continent have been doubling every 15 to 20 years.
Date: Thu, 26 Mar 2020 20:08:34 +0100 (MET)

Kinshasa, March 26, 2020 (AFP) - The Democratic Republic of Congo capital Kinshasa will go into "total confinement" for four days from Saturday to help contain the spread of coronavirus, authorities said on Thursday.   Governor Gentiny Ngobila on Thursday decreed intermittent four-day confinements over three weeks, according to a speech seen by AFP. The city will be on lockdown for four days followed by two days to allow residents to shop followed by another four-day lockdown, in a rotation continued for the three-week period.
Date: Wed 25 Mar 2020
Source: UPI [edited]

A man in China has died after testing positive for the hantavirus, according to Chinese state media. Global Times reported the patient, a migrant worker from southwestern Yunnan Province, died while travelling on a chartered bus to Shandong Province for work on Monday [23 Mar 2020].

There is more than one strain of hantavirus, some more harmful than others, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. There is no approved cure or vaccine against hantaviruses in the United States. An inoculation may be available in China.

The group of diseases is spread primarily among rodents, and from rodents to humans. Humans may become infected with hantaviruses through contact with rodent urine, saliva, or feces. The fatality rate is 36%.  "New World" hantaviruses are known to cause hantavirus pulmonary syndrome, or HPS. Symptoms include fatigue, fever, and muscle aches, followed by coughing and shortness of breath, according to the CDC and other health authorities.

Human-to-human transmission is extremely rare. A case of person-to-person transmission was recorded in Argentina in 1996, according to the CDC [several cases of person-to-person transmission of Andes hantavirus have been reported in Chile and Argentina. - ProMED Mod.TY].

Malaysian Chinese-language newspaper China Press reported Wednesday [25 Mar 2020] the patient, [T], was traveling on a bus with 30 migrant workers. It is unclear whether they were also infected. When [T] developed a fever, emergency staff may have suspected a case of the novel coronavirus, according to the report.

Southern Metropolis Daily, a Chinese newspaper published in the city of Guangzhou, said T's home province of Yunnan has reported a total of 1231 hantavirus cases from 2015 to 2019. China developed a vaccine against the virus 20 years ago, which may have lowered fatalities, according to reports.

The hantavirus is named after the Hantaan River in South Korea, where Lee Ho-wang, a South Korean scientist, 1st isolated the virus in 1976, according to South Korean news service News 1.  [Byline: Elizabeth Shim]
===================
[Although no symptoms were reported for this fatal case, a hantavirus infection was laboratory confirmed as the etiological agent. There is no indication if the 30 other passengers in the bus were tested for infection, but no additional illnesses or fatalities were mentioned, which would have likely been indicated had they occurred. The specific hantavirus involved in this case is not stated. In Asia, the 5 recognized hantaviruses, with their main rodent reservoir species, are Hantaan virus (_Apodemus agrarius_), Amur virus (_A. peninsulae_), Thailand virus (_Bandicota indica_), Seoul virus (widely distributed worldwide in _Rattus norvegicus_), and Muju virus (_Myodes regulus_). Hantaan virus and Seoul virus cause cases of hemorrhagic fever with renal syndrome (HFRS) frequently in China. A bunyavirus, severe fever with thrombocytopenia syndrome (SFTS) virus, is unlikely, as during the winter season, ticks, the vectors of this virus, will not be active.

Hantaan virus has several (up to 5 have been reported) subtypes and is transmitted by the field mouse _Apodemus agrarius_, whereas Seoul virus is less variable and is transmitted by the rat _Rattus norvegicus_. A 3rd hantavirus that causes HFRS, Muju virus, has been reported from the Korean peninsula. Since Yunnan province has many rural areas, either Hantaan or Seoul virus could be involved. It has been reported that during 1990-1997, there were recorded in China nearly 400 000 cases of HFRS, of which 1.6% were fatal.

An image of _Apodemus agrarius_ can be seen at

Coincidentally, another report from northeastern India states that people in Nagrijuli and Kumarikata of Baksa district are panic-stricken after they learned that a man died in Yunnan province of China after testing positive to hantavirus (<https://nenow.in/north-east-news/fear-of-hantavirus-outbreak-sets-panic-button-along-indo-bhutan-border-in-assam.html>).  It is not clear why there is fear along the individuals in the Indo-Bhutan border in Baksa district of Assam, since this locality is about 900 km (560 mi) distant from Yunnan province in China. This additional report appears to be incorrect as it also mentions that 32 individuals who were passengers on the bus with the fatal Yunnan case were positive for hantavirus infections. This is not substantiated in the above report of the fatal case that mentions that there were 30 passengers, not 32, without any indication that they have been tested. - ProMED Mod.TY]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map:
Yunnan Province, China: <http://healthmap.org/promed/p/351>]