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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: Sat 8 Feb 2020
Source: Food Safety News [edited]

Almost 200 people have fallen ill after eating oysters in the United Kingdom in recent months. Since November 2019 there have been at least 180 reported cases of gastroenteritis associated with oyster consumption linked to multiple food outlets and oyster producers. A Public Health England spokeswoman told Food Safety News that norovirus had been identified as the cause of a number of these outbreaks.

"Public Health England is working with the Food Standards Agency and Food Standards Scotland as well as affected local authorities to investigate outbreaks of gastrointestinal illness reported since November 2019 associated with consumption of oysters."

Officials say there is no connection to the norovirus outbreaks from oysters in Europe. In Sweden, 70 people fell sick after eating oysters, some of which came from domestic production and others from France. In Denmark, 180 people were ill after eating oysters from France. In France, 1033 people have been sickened and 21 needed hospital treatment. Italy and Netherlands also reported outbreaks linked to live oysters from France. Products were also recalled due to potential norovirus contamination in Belgium, Luxembourg, Switzerland, Hong Kong, and Singapore.

A spokeswoman for the Food Standards Agency told Food Safety News that it has identified that the outbreaks appear to be linked to consumption of oysters from several different harvesters. "We have identified from our investigations that there are numerous sites around the UK where oysters are produced and harvested. We have identified producers in East and South West of England and in Scotland that have supplied oysters that were eaten by a number of people reporting illness."

Two harvesters in the South and West of England voluntarily ceased production in mid-November [2019], and a harvester in the East of England decided to stop harvesting in early January 2020. When asked why there haven't been any product recalls when illnesses have been reported from November 2019, the spokeswoman said: "Oysters have a short shelf-life, and by the time cases of illness are reported, the affected oysters have normally been consumed. The official advice to consumers remains the same as usual: people should be aware of the risks of eating raw oysters. Elderly people, pregnant women, very young children, and people who have a weakened immune system should avoid eating raw or lightly cooked shellfish to reduce their risk of getting food poisoning. To prevent passing norovirus on to family and friends, it's vital to follow good personal hygiene practices."

The main symptoms of norovirus illness are diarrhea, vomiting, nausea, and stomach cramps. Symptoms can also include low-grade fever, headache, chills, muscle aches, and fatigue. People who are ill should drink plenty of liquids to replace lost body fluids and prevent dehydration.

Symptoms appear 1-2 days after being infected and typically last for 2-3 days. Norovirus is transmitted by having contaminated food or water or from person to person through contact with the skin, objects, or inhaling airborne particles.  [Byline: Joe Whitworth]
=================
[Researchers have analyzed the genetic sequences of 1077 samples of noroviruses found in oysters. Some sequences had been stockpiled in genetic databases since 1983. The scientists found that 80% of the known human noroviruses matched those found in oysters. The majority of the matches were in oysters from coastal waters, more likely to be contaminated with human sewage.

Noroviruses mutate very quickly, as do influenza viruses, and big outbreaks usually begin after a new strain emerges. There was a "convergence" between new strains circulating in oysters and those circulating in humans, the researchers also found.

Yongjie Wang, a food science specialist at Shanghai Ocean University and lead author of the study, concluded that oysters were an important reservoir for human noroviruses, a place where they can hide between outbreaks and mutate. They also can be transmitted back to humans, presumably when oysters are eaten raw.

Citation: Yongxin Yu, et al. Molecular Epidemiology of Oyster-Related Human Noroviruses and Their Global Genetic Diversity and Temporal-Geographical Distribution from 1983 to 2014. Appl Environ Microbiol. 2015; 81(21): 7615-7624. DOI: 10.1128/AEM.01729-15. - ProMED Mod.LL]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map:
Date: Wed 15 Jan 2020
Source: Lancs [abridged, edited]

Cases of suspected mumps rocketed in Lancashire last year [2019].

In 2019, 314 suspected cases were reported in the area to Public Health England (PHE). That's almost triple the 120 suspected cases in 2018.

It is also the highest number since comparable records began in 2011. The figures include 64 suspected cases in West Lancashire, 32 in Lancaster, 31 in Preston, and 30 in Blackpool.

The area also saw 30 suspected cases of measles last year [2019], the same number as in 2018. Doctors are required to report any suspected cases of certain infectious diseases to their local authority or local health protection team, although not all cases will be confirmed.  [Byline: Claire Miller Ruth Ovens]
Date: Wed 15 Jan 2020
Source: Devon Live [abridged, edited]

An outbreak of 19 new cases of mumps has been reported across Devon in the last week. The contagious viral disease particularly affects under 25s. The new mumps figures have been released in the official Government weekly Statutory Notifications of Infectious Diseases report, with the highest number in Exeter.

It follows a warning that mumps is on the rise, particularly in university towns. Traditionally known as the "kissing disease" because it spreads fast between groups of young people, mumps is a contagious viral infection recognisable by the painful swellings in the side of the face under the ears (the parotid glands), giving a person a distinctive "hamster face" appearance.

In severe cases, it can develop into viral meningitis if it moves in the outer layer of the brain. Other complications include swelling of the testicles or ovaries (if the affected person has gone through puberty), which may affect a person's fertility.  [Byline: Colleen Smith]
Date: Thu 2 Jan 2020 18:18 GMT
Source: Somerset Live [abridged, edited]

People across Somerset and Bath have been urged to be aware of the symptoms of scarlet fever after a huge outbreak of the illness across the county over the Christmas period. A total of 25 cases were confirmed across the county in the final 2 weeks of December [2019], according to figures released by Public Health England.

It represents a huge rise in the number of cases seen across Somerset -- which had seen 14 people diagnosed with the bacterial infection in the previous 2 weeks. 10 people caught the infection in Bath and North East Somerset alone over Christmas, with a further 5 cases being reported in North Somerset and 5 in Mendip. There were 2 cases in South Somerset and Taunton Deane, with a single case of scarlet fever reported in Sedgemoor.

During the festive period, 6 people caught scarlet fever in Wiltshire while there were 4 fresh confirmed cases in Dorset. A further 7 people have been diagnosed with the illness in Bristol.  [Byline: Stephen D'Albiac]
=====================
[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map of England, United Kingdom:

Somerset is a county in South West England, which borders Gloucestershire and Bristol to the north, Wiltshire to the east, Dorset to the south-east and Devon to the southwest (<https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Somerset>). A map showing the location of these counties can be found at (<https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ceremonial_counties_of_England>). The city of Bath (<https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bath,_Somerset>), North East Somerset (<https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/North_East_Somerset_(UK_Parliament_constituency)>), North Somerset (<https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/North_Somerset>), Mendip (<https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mendip_District>), Sedgemoor (<https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sedgemoor>), and Taunton Deane (<https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taunton_Deane>) are located in Somerset County.

ProMED-mail has posted multiple reports since 2013 on outbreaks of scarlet fever, a non-invasive form of group A streptococcus (GAS) disease, throughout England and Wales (see list below). ProMED-mail also posted reports of an outbreak of invasive GAS infection since February 2019 that is occurring in Essex, a county in southeast England (<https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Essex>). See ProMED-mail posts Streptococcus, group A, invasive - UK (02): (England) fatal, WGS http://promedmail.org/post/20190807.6611267 and Streptococcus, group A, invasive - UK: (England) fatal, RFI http://promedmail.org/post/20190628.6542184.

One particular _emm_ type of GAS, _emm_1, has become increasingly common among isolates from both non-invasive and invasive GAS disease in England and Wales over the past several years. Whole genome sequencing of _emm_1 identified an outbreak strain, called M1UK, that by 2016 accounted for about 84% of _emm_1 strains. M1UK was also found to produce 9 times more toxin responsible for the characteristic rash in scarlet fever (<https://www.thelancet.com/journals/laninf/article/PIIS1473-3099(19)30446-3/fulltext>). - ProMED Mod.ML]
Date: Mon, 2 Dec 2019 16:12:47 +0100 (MET)

London, Dec 2, 2019 (AFP) - Union members on one of Britain's busiest railway networks walked out on Monday, on the first day of a planned 27-day strike that could affect hundreds of thousands of commuters.   The Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) stopped work on lines run by South Western Railway, which operates lines in and around London, and to towns and cities in southwest England.   Passengers have been warned to face disruption in the run-up to Christmas, as only half of services will run, including to and from Britain's busiest railway station Waterloo.

The planned stoppage -- one of the longest in living memory -- was called after talks broke down between unions and bosses about the role of guards on trains.   South Western wants to hand responsibility for closing doors on trains from guards to drivers, but the RMT says that reduces the role of guards and comprises safety.   RMT general secretary Mick Cash said the guard would become "little ore than a passenger in the longer term" and put their jobs at risk "at some point down the line".

South Western called the union's demands "outdated" and said it had offered a "safety-critical role" for train guards.   "Unfortunately, it is clear to us that the RMT is unclear on what this dispute is about and intent on striking no matter what," it said.   Britain's partly privatised rail network is often criticised for scheduling problems and high ticket prices.    On Monday, the main opposition Labour party pledged to slash fares by a third from January next year, and make travel free for under-16s if it is elected at polls on December 12.   Train companies last weekend confirmed they would raise fares by an average of 2.7 percent next year.
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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 ...

Syria

Syria US Consular Information Sheet
August 13, 2008

COUNTRY DESCRIPTION:
Since March 1963, the Syrian Arab Republic has been ruled by an authoritarian regime dominated by the Socialist Ba'ath Party.
While the ruling Ba'ath party
spouses a largely secular ideology, Islamic traditions and beliefs provide a conservative foundation for the country's customs and practices.
Syria has a developing, centrally-planned economy with large public (30%), agricultural (25%), and industrial (20%) sectors.
Tourist facilities are available, but vary in quality depending on price and location.
Read the Department of State Background Note http://www.state.gov/r/pa/ei/bgn/3580.htm on Syria for additional information.
ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS:
A passport and a visa are required.
Visas must be obtained prior to arrival in Syria from a Syrian diplomatic mission located in the traveler’s country of residence, although the Syrian visa policy with respect to American diplomats and citizens is currently under review.
Foreigners who wish to stay 15 days or more in Syria must register with Syrian immigration authorities by their 15th day.
Syrian-American men or American men of Syrian origin, even those born in the United States, may be subject to compulsory military service unless they receive a temporary or permanent exemption from a Syrian diplomatic mission abroad prior to their entry into Syria.
(Please see the section on Special Circumstances below.)
Syria charges a departure tax for all visitors except those on diplomatic passports.
As of July 1, 2008, the tax is 1,500 Syrian Pounds if departing from the airport; 500 Syrian Pounds if departing via one of the land borders.

The Syrian government rigidly enforces restrictions on prior travel to Israel, and does not allow persons with passports bearing Israeli visa or entry/exit stamps to enter the country.
Syrian immigration authorities will not admit travelers with Israeli stamps in their passports, Jordanian entry cachets or cachets from other countries that suggest prior travel to Israel.
Likewise, the absence of entry stamps from a country adjacent to Israel, which the traveler has just visited, will cause Syrian immigration officials to refuse admittance.
Entry into Syria via the land border with Israel is not possible.
American-citizen travelers suspected of having traveled to Israel have been detained for questioning.

Syrian security officials are also sensitive about travel to Iraq.
There have been instances in which Americans, especially those of Arab descent, believed to have traveled to Iraq were detained for questioning at ports of entry/exit.
Americans seeking to travel to Iraq through Syria have also on occasion been turned around and/or detained.
On a number of occasions the border between Iraq and Syria has been closed without notice, stranding Americans on either side of the border.
Children under the age of eighteen whose fathers are Syrian or of Syrian descent must have their fathers' permission to leave Syria, even if the parents are separated or divorced and the mother has been granted full custody by a Syrian court.
Women in Syria are often subject to strict family controls.
On occasion, families of Syrian-American women visiting Syria have attempted to prevent them from leaving the country.
This can be a particular problem for young single women of marriageable age.
Although a woman does not need her husband's explicit consent every time she wishes to leave Syria, a Syrian husband may take legal action to prevent his wife from leaving the country, regardless of her nationality.
Once such legal orders are in place, the U.S. Embassy cannot help American citizens leave Syria.
Visit the Embassy of the Syrian Arab Republic, 2215 Wyoming Ave. NW, Washington, DC
20008, telephone (202) 232-6313 or check the Syrian Embassy's home page at http://www.syrianembassy.us for the most current 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: Syria is included on the Department of State's List of State Sponsors of Terrorism.
A number of the terrorist groups that have offices in Syria oppose U.S. policies in the Middle East.
On September 12, 2006, the U.S. Embassy in Damascus was attacked by assailants using improvised explosives, gunfire, and two vehicles laden with explosives.
On February 4, 2006, mobs protesting caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed destroyed the Norwegian and Chilean embassies and severely damaged the Danish and Swedish diplomatic missions.
On April 27, 2004 there was a violent clash in which three people died in an area of Damascus where many foreign citizens reside.
It has never been clear whether the shootout with Syrian security forces involved common criminals or terrorists.
In 1998 and 2000, mobs attacked the U.S. Ambassador’s Residence and the U.S. Embassy, respectively.
In 1997, twenty-two people were killed when a public bus was bombed in downtown Damascus.
All of these attacks serve as reminders that Syria is not immune from political or purely criminal violence.
Americans traveling through the area should remain aware that U.S. interests and citizens might be targeted.
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 authorities.
Additionally, Americans should be aware that conversations on the topics of political, religious and other freedoms are not seen as merely healthy debate in Syria and could lead to arrest.
Note that possession of specific-use electronic devices including GPS, short-wave or handheld radio equipment, or similar devices in Syria is illegal.

For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs’ website at http://travel.state.gov, where the current Travel Warnings, including the Travel Warning for Syria, 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 a few cases of theft, burglary and assault have been reported to the Embassy, crime is generally not a serious problem for travelers in Syria.
It is important to note, however, that Syria is not crime free. Specifically, incidents of credit card and ATM fraud, and physical harassment of women, are on the rise.

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

The local equivalents for the “911” emergency line in Syria are:
110 for ambulance, 113 for fire and 112 for the police.
See our information on Victims of Crime.
MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION:
Basic medical care and medicines are available in Syria's principal cities, but not necessarily in outlying areas.
Serious illnesses and emergencies may require evacuation to a Western medical facility.
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.
Some HIV/AIDS entry restrictions exist for visitors to or foreign residents of Syria.
There are no special immunizations required for entry to Syria.
AIDS tests are mandatory for foreigners’ ages 15 to 60 who wish to reside in Syria.
The AIDS test must be conducted in Syria at a facility approved by the Syrian Ministry of Health.
A residence permit will not be issued until the absence of the HIV virus has been determined.
Foreigners wishing to marry Syrian nationals in Syria must also be tested for HIV.
Syria usually will not give visas or residency permits to students wishing to study religion or Arabic in private religious institutions.
Please verify this information with the Embassy of Syria at http://www.syrianembassy.us/ before you travel.
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 Syria is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.
Driving in Syria is hazardous and requires great caution.
Although drivers generally follow traffic signs and signals, they often maneuver aggressively and show little regard for vehicles traveling behind or to the sides of them.
Lane markings are usually ignored.
Vehicles within Syrian traffic circles must give way to entering traffic, unlike in the United States.
At night, it is very hard to see pedestrians, who often walk into traffic with little warning.
Outside major cities it is common to find pedestrians, animals and vehicles without lights on the roads at night.
Pedestrians must also exercise caution.
Parked cars, deteriorating pavement, and guard posts obstruct sidewalks, often forcing pedestrians to walk in the street.
Vehicles often do not stop for pedestrians, and regularly run red lights or “jump” the green light well before it changes.

Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information.
For specific information concerning Syrian driving permits, vehicle inspection, road tax and mandatory insurance, contact the Syrian Embassy in Washington, D.C. at 2215 Wyoming Avenue NW, Washington, DC
20008, tel. 202-232-6313.
AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT:
Sanctions resulting from the passage of the Syria Accountability Act prohibit aircraft of any air carrier owned or controlled by the Syrian government to take off from or land in the United States.
As there is no direct commercial air service to the United States by carriers registered in Syria, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not assessed Syria's Civil Aviation Authority for compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards.
For more information, travelers may visit the FAA’s web site at http://www.faa.gov/safety/programs_initiatives/oversight/iasa.
The U.S. Embassy in Damascus has advised its employees to avoid travel on Syrian Arab Airlines (Syrian Air or SAA) whenever possible due to concerns regarding the airline's ability to maintain its airplanes.
SAA has, on its own initiative, grounded individual aircraft with significant maintenance or service issues; however, concerns persist that some planes still being flown may lack certain safety equipment or may have undergone repairs that have not been reviewed by the manufacturer.

SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES:
Syrian customs authorities may enforce strict regulations concerning temporary importation into or export from Syria of items such as weapons, narcotics, alcohol, tobacco, cheese, fruits, pharmaceuticals, modems, cosmetics, and some electrical appliances.
It is advisable to contact the Embassy of Syria in Washington, D.C. for specific information regarding customs requirements.
Please see our Customs Information.
U.S. citizens are encouraged to carry a copy of their U.S. passports with them at all times so that, if questioned by local officials, they will have proof of identity and U.S. citizenship readily available.
Although Syria is a signatory to the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, Syrian officials generally do not notify the American Embassy when American citizens are arrested. When the American Embassy learns of arrests of Americans and requests consular access, individual police officials have, on their own initiative, responded promptly and allowed consular officers to visit the prisoners.
However, security officials have also in the past denied Embassy requests for consular access, especially in the case of dual citizens.
Foreign currencies can be exchanged for Syrian pounds only at government-approved exchange centers and licensed private banks.
Syrian pounds cannot be changed back into foreign currency.
Very few places in Syria accept credit cards.
Foreigners visiting Syria are required to pay hotel bills in US dollars or Euros.
Travelers’ checks are not accepted for payment in Syria, and banks will not cash them unless the traveler has an account at the bank in question.
There are no US-based banks operating in Syria.
There are six private banks operating in Syria, with branches and ATMs in most major cities.
These ATMs usually honor major debit/credit systems.
Funds may be transferred into Syria through Western Union.
Wiring of funds through private banks is possible only if the traveler already holds an account with the bank in Syria;, transferring funds through the Commercial Bank of Syria is not possible due to U.S. sanctions.
Syrian-American and Palestinian-American men who have never served in the Syrian military and who are planning to visit Syria are strongly urged to check with the Syrian Embassy in Washington, D.C. prior to traveling concerning compulsory military service. American men over the age of 18, even those who have never resided in or visited Syria, whose fathers are of Syrian descent, are required to complete military service or pay to be exempted.
Possession of a U.S. passport does not absolve the bearer of this obligation.
The fee for exemption from military service ranges from $5,000 to $15,000 USD, depending upon circumstances, for Syrian-American and Palestinian-American men who live abroad.
In January 2005 the Syrian government reduced mandatory military service from 30 months to 24 months.
It also announced that Syrians born outside of Syria and residing abroad until the age of 18 have the option of being exempted from their service by paying $2,000 USD.
Those born in Syria who left the country before reaching the age of 11, and have resided abroad for more than 15 years can be exempted by paying $5,000 USD.
Contact the Syrian Embassy in Washington, DC, for more information (See Entry/Exit Requirements section above).
President Bush signed an executive order on May 11, 2004, implementing sanctions in accordance with the Syria Accountability Act.
These sanctions prohibit the export to Syria of products of the United States other than food or medicine, and prohibit any commercial aircraft owned or controlled by the Syrian government from taking off from or landing in the United States.
Under the authority provided in Section 5(b) of the Act, the President has determined that it is in the national security interest of the United States to waive the application of these sanctions in certain cases and for certain products, as specified in the Department of Commerce's General Order No. 2.
For additional information about implementation of the Syria Accountability Act, consult the Department of Commerce web site at (http://www.bis.doc.gov/).
Since 1979, the United States has designated Syria a State Sponsor of Terrorism due to its support for groups such as Hizbollah and Palestinian terrorist groups.
The Terrorism List Government Sanctions Regulations prohibit U.S. persons from receiving unlicensed donations from the Syrian government.
Additionally, U.S. persons are prohibited from engaging in financial transactions which a U.S. person knows or has reasonable cause to believe pose a risk of furthering terrorists' acts in the United States.
For additional information about the Terrorism List Government Sanctions Regulations, consult the terrorism brochure on the U.S. Department of the Treasury, Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) home page on the Internet at http://www.treas.gov/offices/enforcement/ofac/ or via OFAC's info-by-fax service at (202) 622-0077.
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 Syrian laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned.
Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Syria are strict and convicted offenders can expect prison sentences and heavy fines.
Penalties for possession of even small amounts of illegal drugs for personal use are severe in Syria.
Persons convicted in Syria for growing, processing, or smuggling drugs face the death penalty, which may be reduced to a minimum of 20 years’ imprisonment.
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 Syria 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 Syria.
Americans without Internet access may register directly with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate.
By registering, American citizens make it easier for the Embassy or Consulate to contact them in case of emergency.
The U.S. Embassy is located at 2 Al-Mansour St., Abu Roumaneh, Damascus.
The international mailing address is PO Box 29, Damascus.
Mail may also be sent via the U.S. Postal Service to: American Embassy Damascus, Department of State, Washington, DC
20521-6110.
Telephone numbers are (963) (11) 3391-4444, fax number is (963)(11) 3391-3999, e-mail: acsdamascus@state.gov.
The government workweek in Syria is Sunday through Thursday; the private sector generally works Saturday through Thursday.
The U.S. Embassy is open Sunday through Thursday.
Additional information may be found on the Embassy web site at http://damascus.usembassy.gov
*

*

*
This replaces the Country Specific Information dated November 20, 2007 to update the sections on Entry/Exit Requirements, Safety and Security, Crime, Information for Victims of Crime, Medical Facilities and Health Information, Special Circumstances, and Registration/Embassy Location.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Thu 5 Dec 2019 6:11 PM EET
Source: Enab Baladi [edited]

[Leishmaniasis] is spreading widely among residents of Deir ez-Zor, and especially children. Some of the areas affected are controlled by the Kurdish self-administration while others are under the control of the Syrian regime. Medical sources counted hundreds of infected civilians and confirmed the disease's rapid spread.

According to Atef al-Tawil, a manager of the Leishmania & Environmental Health Programme at the Syrian regime's Ministry of Health, most infections in eastern Deir ez-Zor are spread among school children.

In a Facebook comment on a post by Twasol agency, al-Tawil claimed that cases of leishmaniasis were detected, at the end of November [2019], in primary schools in eastern Deir ez-Zor and its surrounding villages (al-Jalaa, al-Salihiyah, al-Tawtha, al-Abbas, al-Mujawdeh, al-Hasarat, al-Saial, al-Ghabrah).

According to al-Tawil, 455 infections of children were detected. A treatment team of 10 members was formed in the affected locations, to help control the disease to aid in early detection.

The Syrian Ministry of Health acted after several appeals by civilians residing in the area as they noticed the disease spreading among their children. Al-Tawil said that this rapid spread was due to the fact that all the infected people have lately returned to their original areas which lack medical centers.

Autonomous administration areas
-------------------------------
According to Euphrates Post network, leishmaniasis is also widely spread in areas controlled by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). In its post on [Sun 1 Dec 2019], the network claimed that the spread of leishmaniasis is mostly concentrated in the eastern countryside of Deir ez-Zor.

According to the network, unofficial statistics by the SDF-affiliated local council shows more than 7000 leishmaniasis infections among children in al-Baghouz, Hajin, Diban, al-Sha'afa, al-Kishkiye, Abu Hamam, and Gharanij. The local councils' attempts of controlling the disease are still substandard, according to the Euphrates Post.

The network also quoted doctors and nurses calling for international organizations to interfere and provide hospitals and clinics with the required vaccine [there is no vaccine for leishmaniasis; ed.], and to train specialized medical staff in each clinic to deal with the disease.

The autonomous-administration-affiliated media center in Deir ez-Zor also confirmed the spread of leishmaniasis and pointed out that the authorities took actions, by the end of November [2019], to provide treatments.

According to the media center, special medical teams and cadres were distributed among the clinics to provide 12,000 ampoules of the required [medicine] to treat leishmaniasis with the support of the World Health Organization.

Leishmaniasis is a parasitic disease transmitted by the bite of infected female phlebotomine sandflies -- a very small yellow fly that is active at night and makes no sound when it bites -- and the main cause for its spread is dirt and lack of hygiene.  [Byline: Enab Baladi]
========================
[Deir ez-Zor is east and south of the locations in the previous ProMED reports (see below), indicating further increase in cases of cutaneous leishmaniasis beyond its historical concentration in western Syria (<https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4861536/>) and beyond the area of the MENTOR initiative in northern Syria (<https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/eid/article/24/11/17-2146_article>).

Cutaneous leishmaniasis is endemic in Syria with its reservoir in rodents. It has been a problem throughout the Syrian civil war and in ISIS controlled areas during the war due to a breakdown in rodent and vector control. - ProMED Mod.EP]

[Maps of Syria:
Date: Mon, 2 Dec 2019 11:19:53 +0100 (MET)

Beirut, Dec 2, 2019 (AFP) - Regime air strikes Monday killed 10 civilians in Syria's last major opposition bastion, where deadly clashes between regime forces and armed groups have escalated in the past two days, a monitor said.   The raids also wounded 15 civilians in a market in the town of Maaret al-Numan in the jihadist-run province of Idlib, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human rights said.
Date: Fri 21 Jun 2019
Source: WHO/EMRO (Regional Office for the Eastern Mediterranean) [edited]

Situation reports on Al-Hol camp, Al-Hasakah
--------------------------------------------
- Over the past 2 weeks, a total of 633 people have left the camp. This number includes 107 people who returned to their homes in north-east Syria. There were no new arrivals during the reporting period.
- 9 medical points are reporting regularly to the disease Early Warning And Response System (EWARS). Leishmaniasis, acute diarrhoea, bloody diarrhoea, and severe acute malnutrition (SAM) remain the most commonly reported diseases.
- 38 new cases of leishmaniasis were detected. All patients are being treated by a WHO-supported mobile team in coordination with the Al-Hasakeh Directorate of Health.
- 7 suspected cases of measles were reported. No new cases of tuberculosis were detected during the reporting period.
- 30 children with severe acute malnutrition with medical complications were admitted to Al-Hikmah hospital during the reporting period, of whom 22 were discharged, one died, and the remainder are still under treatment. Mortality rates related to severe acute malnutrition remain below the emergency threshold.
- 2 new static health care points have been established, bringing the total number to 12. There is still an acute shortage of health care points in the Foreign Annex.
- 35 water sources were tested for microbial contamination in Al-Hasakeh water national laboratory during the reporting period. All 35 samples tested negative for contamination. WHO continues to test the quality of water from different sources in the camp.
- Stool samples from patients with diarrhoea were tested for
_Salmonella_, _E. coli_, and cholera, with all samples testing negative. Blood samples from patients with suspected measles were also sent for testing, and all samples tested negative.
- Following intensive negotiations by WHO, the local authorities have given their approval in principle to evacuate a patient requiring advanced mental health treatment
===================
[Leishmaniasis has surged throughout Syria during the civil war on all sides and continues to be a health problem in the refugee population. - ProMED Mod.EP]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map of Syria:
Date: Wed, 22 May 2019 16:52:39 +0200
By Nazeer al-Khatib with Hashem Osseiran in Beirut

Maaret al-Numan, Syria, May 22, 2019 (AFP) - Syrian government air strikes killed 18 civilians, including a dozen people at a busy market, as fierce fighting raged for the jihadist-held northwest, a war monitor said on Wednesday.   Regime forces battled to repel a jihadist counteroffensive around the town of Kafr Nabuda that has left 70 combatants dead in 24 hours, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.   The Hayat Tahrir al-Sham alliance, led by Syria's former Al-Qaeda affiliate, controls a large part of Idlib province as well as adjacent slivers of Aleppo, Hama and Latakia provinces.   The jihadist-dominated region is nominally protected by a buffer zone deal, but the government and its ally Russia have escalated their bombardment in recent weeks, seizing several towns on its southern flank.   At least 12 people were killed and another 18 wounded when regime warplanes hit the jihadist-held Idlib province town of Maarat al-Numan around midnight (2100 GMT) on Tuesday, the Observatory said.

The market was crowded with people out and about after breaking the daytime fast observed by Muslims during the holy month of Ramadan.   The bombardment blew in the facades of surrounding buildings, and ripped through the flimsy frames and canvas of stalls in the market square, an AFP photographer reported.    The bodies of market-goers were torn apart.   "Residents are still scared," stallholder Khaled Ahmad told AFP.   Three more civilians were killed on Wednesday by air strikes in the nearby town of Saraqib, the Observatory said.    Two others were killed in strikes on the town of Maaret Hermeh, it added.    Another civilian was killed in air raids on the town of Jisr al-Shughur, the monitor said.   The Britain-based Observatory relies on a network of sources inside Syria and says it determines whose planes carried out strikes according to type, location, flight patterns and munitions.

- 'Worst fears'-
The strikes came as heavy clashes raged in neighbouring Hama province after the jihadists launched a counterattack on Tuesday.   Fresh fighting on Wednesday took the death toll to 70 -- 36 regime forces and militia and 34 jihadists, the Observatory said.   It said the jihadists had recaptured most of Kafr Nabuda from government forces, who had taken control of the town on May 8.   State news agency SANA on Wednesday however said the army repelled a jihadist attack in the area, killing dozens of insurgents.

Russia and rebel ally Turkey inked the buffer zone deal in September to avert a government offensive on the region and protect its three million residents.   But President Bashar al-Assad's government upped its bombardment of the region after HTS took control in January.   Russia too has stepped up its air strikes in recent weeks.   The Observatory says nearly 200 civilians have been killed in the flare-up since April 30.   The United Nations said Wednesday that Idlib's civilian population once again faced the threat of an all-out offensive.   "A full military incursion threatens to trigger a humanitarian catastrophe for over 3 million civilians caught in the crossfire, as well as overwhelm our ability to respond," said David Swanson, a spokesman for the UN humanitarian office.   Swanson said more than 200,000 people have been displaced by the upsurge of violence since April 28.   A total of 20 health facilities have been hit by the escalation -- 19 of which remain out of service, Swanson said.   Collectively they served at least 200,000 people, he added.

- 'Break the status quo' -
The September deal was never fully implemented as jihadists refused to withdraw from a planned buffer zone around the Idlib region.   But it ushered in a relative drop in violence until earlier this year, with Turkish troops deploying to observation points around the region.   The Syrian government has accused Turkey of failing to secure implementation of the truce deal by the jihadists.   But Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar accused the Syrian regime late Tuesday of threatening the ceasefire deal.   "The regime is doing all that it can to break the status quo including using barrel bombs, land and air offensives," Akar told reporters.   "Turkish armed forces will not take a step back from wherever they may be", he however added.   Earlier, the US State Department said it was assessing indications that the government had used chemical weapons on Sunday during its offensive in Idlib.   HTS accused government forces of launching a chlorine gas attack on its fighters in the northern mountains of Latakia.   But the Observatory said Wednesday it had "no proof at all of the attack".

7 May 2019, Cairo, Egypt: The World Health Organization (WHO) strongly condemns continuing attacks on health facilities in north-western Syria. Since 29 April, in just nine days, twelve health structures have been hit. 

On 5 May, three facilities were struck in one day alone, including two major hospitals that provide secondary healthcare in the area.  One of the structures, a surgical unit, was supported by WHO. Three health care workers lost their lives as a result of these attacks.  There are now no functioning hospitals in northern Hama, and emergency care is provided by only three surgical units supported by WHO.  Close to 300,000 civilians are affected.   

“These attacks against health facilities and other civilian infrastructure are a grave and totally unacceptable development,” said Dr. Ahmed Al-Mandhari, WHO Regional Director for the Eastern Mediterranean Region. “International humanitarian law safeguards civilians, even in the most violent of conflicts. And according to the Geneva Convention, health facilities and civilians – especially the most vulnerable – must be protected.  Parties to the conflict in northern Hama and in Idleb are flagrantly disregarding those rules; and it is women, children, the elderly and other vulnerable groups who are suffering as a result.”   

The health facilities that were hit in northern Hama and southern Idleb provided a total of 30,000 consultations, 860 hospital admissions and 700 surgeries per month to a highly vulnerable population. 

“We are also deeply concerned about the people who have had to flee their homes and now have no access to basic health services. Over 150,000 people were displaced from northern Hama and southern Idleb in between 29 April and 4 May, doubling the total number of people displaced in the area in the last three months. Saving their lives is our main priority and this requires further strengthening available health services. What is of particular concern is the increasing risk for infectious disease outbreaks due to overcrowding in temporary settlements,” Dr Al-Mandhari added.

WHO continues – with health partners – to ensure the provision of key primary and secondary healthcare and has released emergency health supplies for almost 92,200 treatment courses, including for surgical and trauma care, secondary healthcare, and primary healthcare.

As the conflict in north-western Syria intensifies, WHO reminds all parties to the conflict that attacks on health facilities are a blatant violation of international humanitarian law. Health facilities must never be attacked or damaged, and health workers should be allowed to provide medical treatment and services to all people in need wherever they are.

More ...

World Travel News Headlines

Date: Mon, 17 Feb 2020 11:56:28 +0100 (MET)

Tokyo, Feb 17, 2020 (AFP) - Organisers said Monday they are cancelling the amateur portion of the Tokyo marathon, affecting around 38,000 runners, on fears about the spread of the new coronavirus in Japan.   "We reached the conclusion that unfortunately it is difficult to organise the event... after several cases (of the virus) were confirmed in Tokyo," the Tokyo Marathon Foundation said in a statement.
Date: Mon, 17 Feb 2020 10:59:27 +0100 (MET)

Cairo, Feb 17, 2020 (AFP) - Egypt's Sharm el-Sheikh has welcomed the first British charter flights since 2015, when the Islamic State group's bombing of a Russian airliner dealt a devastating blow to the Red Sea resort.   Britain halted flights to Sharm el-Sheikh following the attack, which killed all 224 people on board the plane that took off from the resort, long popular with British tourists.

After multiple airport inspections and visits by aviation security experts, Britain announced in October that it was lifting the flight restrictions.   "Sharm el-Sheikh airport received the first two direct charter flights... from London's Gatwick airport carrying 184 passengers and Manchester airport carrying 190 passengers," Egypt's civil aviation ministry said in a statement late Sunday.    The flights were operated by Britain's biggest travel agency, TUI.

The company has scheduled three flights a week between London's Gatwick Airport and Sharm el-Sheikh until late March, the statement said.   British budget airline easyJet said in January it would restart flights to the resort town in June.   On Sunday, flag carrier EgyptAir said it would start operating a weekly flight between London and Sharm el-Sheikh later this month.   British tourists have long been vital to the tourism industry in Sharm el-Sheikh, which was left reeling after the airliner bombing.

Egypt has since sought to lure tourists back, boosting airport security and allowing international inspections of security procedures there.   Russia, another major source of tourists to Egypt, initially suspended all direct flights to the North African country following the attack.   It resumed direct flights to Cairo in 2018 but has yet to restart them to popular Red Sea resorts.   Egypt's tourism industry has shown signs of recovery in recent years with arrivals reaching 11.3 million in 2018, compared with 5.3 million in 2016.
Date: Mon, 17 Feb 2020 10:43:58 +0100 (MET)

Hong Kong, Feb 17, 2020 (AFP) - A gang of knife-wielding men jumped a delivery driver in Hong Kong and stole hundreds of toilet rolls, police said Monday, in a city wracked by shortages caused by coronavirus panic-buying.   Toilet rolls have become hot property in the densely packed business hub, despite government assurances that supplies remain unaffected by the virus outbreak.   Supermarkets have found themselves unable to restock quickly enough, leading to sometimes lengthy queues and shelves wiped clean within moments of opening.

There has also been a run on staples such as rice and pasta, as well as hand sanitiser and other cleaning items.     Police said a truck driver was held up early Monday by three men outside a supermarket in Mong Kok, a working-class district with a history of "triad" organised crime gangs.   "A delivery man was threatened by three knife-wielding men who took toilet paper worth more than HK$1,000 ($130)," a police spokesman told AFP.   A police source told AFP the missing rolls were later recovered and two suspects were arrested on scene although it was not clear if they were directly involved in the armed robbery.

Footage from Now TV showed police investigators standing around multiple crates of toilet roll outside a Wellcome supermarket. One of the crates was only half stacked.   Hong Kongers reacted with a mixture of bafflement and merriment to the heist.   One woman passing by the scene of the crime who was interviewed by local TV station iCable quipped: "I'd steal face masks, but not toilet roll."   The city, which has 58 confirmed coronavirus cases, is currently experiencing a genuine shortage of face masks.    The hysteria that has swept through Hong Kong since the coronavirus outbreak exploded on mainland China is partly fuelled by the city's tragic recent history of confronting a deadly disease.

In 2003, some 299 Hong Kongers died of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), an outbreak that began on the mainland but was initially covered up by Beijing -- action that left a lasting legacy of distrust towards the authorities on public health issues.   The new coronavirus outbreak also comes at a time when the city's pro-Beijing leadership has historic low approval ratings after refusing to bow to months of angry pro-democracy protests last year.   Authorities have blamed online rumours for the panic-buying and say supplies of food and household goods remain stable.   But the panic-buying has itself created shortages in one of the world's most densely populated cities where supermarkets and pharmacies have limited
floor space.

Photos posted online have shown some people proudly stuffing their cramped city apartments with packets of hoarded toilet rolls.    On Sunday, the head of the city's Consumer Council warned people not to stockpile toilet rolls in their flats as they were prone to mould in the notoriously humid climate.   She also reiterated that there were ample stocks of paper.    Supermarket chain Wellcome called Monday's robbery a "senseless act", and called on people not to bulk buy or hoard toilet roll.    "We want to emphasize that we have sufficient toilet roll supply to meet demand," it said in a statement. "The temporary shortage was caused by the sudden and unusual surge in demand."
Date: Mon, 17 Feb 2020 10:11:30 +0100 (MET)

Tokyo, Feb 17, 2020 (AFP) - An additional 99 people have tested positive for coronavirus on a cruise ship off the Japan coast, Japanese media said Monday, citing new figures from the health ministry.   That would take the total number of positive cases on the Diamond Princess to 454. The health ministry declined to confirm the reports immediately.   It was also not clear whether the figures included 14 US citizens who tested positive for the virus but were allowed to board evacuation flights home.

The Diamond Princess vessel moored in Yokohama near Tokyo has become the second-largest cluster of coronavirus cases outside the epicentre in China.    Passengers have been largely confined to quarters since February 5 with only brief and occasional breaks to take air on deck -- with face masks.   The quarantine period is over on Wednesday but many countries have decided to repatriate their citizens after an alarming climb in cases on board.

The US was the first country to evacuate its citizens from the ship but Australia, Canada, Italy and Hong Kong have indicated they will follow suit.   On land, cases in Japan have risen to 65, with authorities warning that the outbreak is entering a "new phase" and advising people to avoid large gatherings.    A public celebration of the new emperor's birthday on Sunday has been scrapped and organisers of the Tokyo Marathon scheduled on March 1 are reportedly considering cancelling the amateur part of the race.
Date: Sat, 15 Feb 2020 15:25:00 +0100 (MET)
By Benoît Pavan à Moûtiers avec Thomas Rossi dans les Pyrénées

Moûtiers, France, Feb 15, 2020 (AFP) - French protests at planned labour reforms hit ski resorts on Saturday, with chairlift operators and other seasonal staff downing tools over fears their livelihoods could be on a slippery slope.   Hundreds of staff at a clutch of resorts in the Alps and Pyrenees walked out in response to calls for action by the CGT and FO unions, forcing some runs to be closed or partially closed.   They are concerned that reforms extending the required period of employment before people are eligible for benefits, set to take effect from April 1, could stop thousands of seasonal workers from claiming.

Some voiced their protest in song at the bottom of pistes at Serre-Chevalier close to the Italian border, chanting: "We're going down the mountain to get rid of Macron," referring to French President Emmanuel Macron.   The French leader's attempts to overhaul pensions and welfare have led to months of bitter protests and strikes.    "Our situation will become even more precarious with these reforms," explained Christophe Dupuis, who works as a ski patroller at La Plagne, one of the world's most popular ski areas.   "We will need six months instead of four before we can apply for unemployment benefit," added Dupuis, who works as a lifeguard during the summer.   "We don't have six-month seasons, not least as the winter seasons are tending to get shorter rather than longer," said Maud Goret, a seasonal worker and CGT member at Font-Romeu in the Pyrenees -- where half the workforce had downed tools.

Many relatively low altitude resorts are suffering from a lack of snow owing to climate change, compounding fears over what the future holds.   As the workers voiced their grievances, further signs of the shortage of snow increasingly hitting resorts came as local authorities at Luchon-Superbagneres in the French southwest told AFP they had decided to have extra snow helicoptered in to three areas running short.

A union official said some 50 tons were being brought in for between 5,000 and 6,000 euros ($5,500-6,500) "in the knowledge that in terms of return on the investment you need to multiply that at least by ten," for an operation lasting around two-and-a-half hours.   He added that it might not be a "particularly ecological" solution but "we had no choice" at the height of the season when many children in French are on half-term holiday.
Date: Wed 12 Feb 2020
Source: Teresina Municipal Health Foundation [in Portuguese, machine trans., edited]

Health Surveillance Directorate - Epidemiology Management
---------------------------------------------------------
Given the laboratory confirmation of 5 human cases of melioidosis (ICD-10 A24.4) that occurred in the state of Piaui in 2019 (including one death), the FMS Health Surveillance Directorate recommends Hospital Infection Control Commissions, to the Hospital Surveillance Centers, public and private microbiology laboratories, infectious disease specialists, pulmonologists, microbiologists, biochemists and physicians in general who are attentive, immediately report any case with a result of a culture of biological material (blood culture, urine culture, wound culture, tracheal secretion, cerebrospinal fluid, bronchial lavage, ascitic fluid, abscess, tissues, etc.) positive for the bacterium _Burkholderia pseudomallei_ (or _Burkholderia_ sp.). The notification must be made through the individual notification form of SINAN (available at <http://portalsinan.saude.gov.br/images/documentos/Agravos/NINDIV/Notificacao_Individual_v5.pdf>) and sent to the FMS, with the code appended ICD10: A24.4.

The positive bacterial isolate should be sent to the Central Public Health Laboratory, Dr. Costa Alvarenga (LACEN - PI) for confirmatory examination (Nested - PCR), upon registration in the GAL system (research: _Burkholderia pseudomallei_ sample: swab), in swab with Stuart's medium, at room temperature, along with a copy of the notification form.
======================
[This 2016 article (Limmathurotsakul D, Golding N, Dance DA, et al., Predicted global distribution of _Burkholderia pseudomallei_ and burden of melioidosis. Nat Microbiol. 2016;1:15008. <https://doi.org/10.1038/nmicrobiol.2015.8>; article available at <http://www.nature.com/articles/nmicrobiol20158.pdf>) for 2015 estimates the burden of melioidosis for the areas of major and some risk as follows:

Area / Population at risk in millions / Melioidosis cases in thousands / Melioidosis deaths in thousands
South Asia / 1525 / 73 / 42
East Asia and Pacific / 858 / 65 / 31
Sub-Saharan Africa / 602 / 24 / 15
Latin America and Caribbean / 246 / 2 / 1
Middle East and North Africa / 49 / less than 1 / less than 1

Although a classical infection in eastern Asia and northern Australia, cases have been acquired in Africa, the Caribbean basin, Central America, and, as in this case, South America. - ProMED Mod.LL]

Date: Tue 11 Feb 2020
Source: SABC News [edited]

A 56-year-old was admitted at the Klerksdorp Tshepong Hospital on Saturday [8 Feb 2020] with a history of tick bite followed by flulike symptoms including headaches and fatigue.

The North West Health Department says while no active bleeding was noted, treatment was started immediately.

Crimean-Congo fever, also known as Congo fever/haemorrhagic fever, is a disease caused by a tick-borne virus with a case fatality rate of 10% to 40%.

Transmission to humans occurs through contact with infected animal blood or ticks. It can be transmitted from one infected human to another by contact with infectious blood or body fluids.

Symptoms include high fever, vomiting and abdominal pain, but as the illness progresses, large areas of severe bruising and severe nosebleeds are also common.

Clinical Manager at the Klerksdorp Hospital Dr. David Leburu says: "Crimean-Congo fever can make a person bleed. It can make people bleed just like Ebola but not as aggressive as Ebola."
===================
[Occupational groups such as herders, farmers, abattoir workers, veterinarians/animal health workers, hunters and persons informally slaughtering domestic/wild animals are at higher risk of infection. These persons often have exposure to ticks on the animals and in the animal environment, and also often have exposure to animal blood/tissues (e.g., during castration of calves, vaccination, notching/tagging of ears, slaughtering).

Humans can become infected in the following ways:
- Being bitten by infected ticks;
- Squashing infected ticks (if fluid from the ticks enters into cuts/grazes on the skin, or splashes onto mucous membranes, including the eyes, nose and mouth);
- If blood/tissue from infected animals (during the short period that the animals have virus in circulation) comes into contact with cuts/grazes on the skin, or splashes onto mucous membranes, including the eyes, nose and mouth;
- Needle-stick/sharps injuries in healthcare workers from infected patients.

The patient in the above report had a history of tick bite, but no other epidemiological information is available.

Human CCHF cases have been reported annually from South Africa since 1981, when it was first recognized in the country; between 0 and 20 cases of CCHF are reported each year. Through nearly 30 years of passive surveillance, more than 180 cases have been laboratory-confirmed. Although cases have been reported from all 9 provinces in the past 30 years, more than half of the cases originate from the semi-arid areas of Northern Cape Province (31.5% of cases) and Free State Province (23% of cases) (<http://www.nicd.ac.za/assets/files/CCHF_FAQ-General_Public.pdf>). - ProMED Mod.UBA]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail maps:
North West Province, South Africa:
Date: Wed 12 Feb 2020 05:23 PM EST
Source: ABC27/WHTM [edited]

Two Newberry Township [York County] men are getting treatments for rabies after a coyote that attacked them tested positive for the deadly virus.

One man was with his dog when the coyote attacked [Mon 10 Feb 2020] on Red Bank Road. The 2nd man was working nearby in his garage when the coyote entered and bit him.

A neighbour shot and killed the coyote the following day and gave the carcass to the Pennsylvania Game Commission. A test confirmed the animal was rabid.
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[[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map of Pennsylvania, United States:
Pennsylvania county map:

Rabies is a serious disease, and is always fatal in animals. In humans there is post exposure prophylaxis (PEP), which must be given within a prescribed amount of time. Individuals bitten by a rabid animal who do not seek treatment within the narrow window for PEP in all likelihood will die if they develop rabies. Heroic measures have succeeded in preserving the lives of only a handful of individual, and yet their live is never a complete return to normal.

Rabies is a serious disease and should be taken seriously by all individuals, whether you are a pet owner or not. Animal owners, regardless of whether your animal is a horse, or dog, or cow, or cat, or goat, or other animal, vaccinate the animal against this fatal disease. Protect your investment in your farm animals, and protect yourself by vaccinating farm animals and pets.

Rabies can be in wildlife, as these stories note. However, we seldom get one involving an otter. While otters are cute and playful on the nature programs, they are susceptible to rabies, as is any mammal, so it is imperative we be alert to the animals around us, no matter where we are or what animal is involved. - ProMED Mod.TG]
Date: Sat 8 Feb 2020 05:16 PM EST
Source: Fox 8 [edited]

A Florida mom says she had to tackle an otter to protect her daughter and dog, WFLA reports. We don't often hear about aggressive river otters. But by fighting its way inside a home in Florida, experts say the otter was definitely not acting normal.  "My husband's like 'you just alligator wrangled an otter in the living room!'" [CE] said. The otter learned to not mess with a mother's instincts. "I think life is full of surprises, and you should just be ready for whatever," [she] said.

The story starts after 17-year old [GE] let their dog Scooter out before dawn Tuesday morning [4 Feb 2020]. Scooter had found an enemy.  "I sprinted to the backdoor, and I was like 'Scooter!' All I saw was like a big black ball just all over the place. So he stumbled in the door, and I tried to shut it as fast as possible, but then the otter got stuck," [GE] said.

By this time, the whole house is awake and her mother bursts in.  "I snatched it by the tail," [CE] said. "And then I held it up like a prize. And the otter's going crazy. It was like clawing at me and grabbing on to the backs of the furniture in my house." [CE] tossed the otter outside and discovered it had bit her daughter in the leg.

Several rabies shots later, [GE] and Scooter are on the mend. Now Florida Fish and Wildlife is trying to find the otter. It is unknown whether the otter has rabies because it has not been caught. His behaviour was definitely abnormal.  "Any time an otter's onshore going for a human, there's something not right. Usually, they see you, they're gone," said Dustin Hooper, an animal trapper, and owner of All Creatures Wildlife Control.
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[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map of Florida, United States:
Florida county map:
Date: Tue 4 Feb 2020
Source: Robesonian [edited]

A 9-year-old boy is undergoing treatment after being bitten by a rabid fox, according to the [Robeson] County Department of Public Health.

The boy was riding his bicycle Sunday evening [2 Feb 2020] on Barnhill Road in Lumberton when he was attacked by a fox, according to the Health Department. The fox was killed at the scene and its head was submitted for testing on [Mon 3 Feb 2020]. The results came back positive for rabies on [Tue 4 Feb 2020].

The boy will undergo a series of shots to prevent the onset of rabies, according to the Health Department. Area residents have been alerted and advised to monitor their children's and pets' activities.

According to the Health Department release, Sunday's bite case was properly reported "and as such, the system responded correctly. After-hour calls go to communications who contact the Animal Control officer on call."

Sunday's attack by a rabid wild animal is the 1st confirmed case of rabies in Robeson County this year [2020], said Bill Smith, Health Department director.

"I believe we had 3 this past year," he said. Those cases were animal-on-animal attacks, Smith said. "I think they were all pets last year," he said.

County residents need to be aware there are many more rabid animals in the area, he said. But the rate of confirmed contact between rabid animals and humans or pets is low because Robeson County is a rural county with large tracts of forests.

In rural areas the most likely scenario is an animal attacking a pet or human and then running into the woods, where it will die without anyone knowing if it had rabies or not, Smith said. In urban areas, there is more contact between humans and pets and animals known to be rabid because the attacking animal has no woods into which to run and hide. Therefore, the animal is easier to catch and test.

If someone is bitten by an animal that runs into the woods and is not caught and tested then precautions have to be taken, he said.

"We would treat that as a rabid animal," Smith said.

Sunday's incident prompted the county Health Department to issue the following advisories:
- all dogs, cats, and ferrets 4 months and older are required to be vaccinated against rabies and wear a current rabies vaccination tag per North Carolina law;
- if an animal is destroyed, try not to damage the head because it jeopardizes the testing of the brain;
- avoid feeding wild animals. Foxes and raccoons are the main sources of rabies in the Robeson County area and feeding them increases the likelihood of interaction between the wildlife and dogs, cats and humans.
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[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map of North Carolina, United States:
North Carolina county map: