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Guinea Bissau

Guinea Bissau - US Consular Information Sheet
July 8, 2008
COUNTRY DESCRIPTION:
The Republic of Guinea-Bissau, a small country in western Africa, is one of the world’s poorest nations.
The capital is Bissau and the official language
is Portuguese.
The country underwent a civil war in 1998-99 that devastated the economy.
Tourist facilities and infrastructure in general are very limited and not up to American standards.
Read the Department of State Background Notes on Guinea-Bissau for additional information.
ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS:
A valid passport, visa, and proof of onward/return ticket are required.
As of January 2007, the Bissau-Guinean Embassy in Washington, DC is temporarily closed.
The Embassy of Guinea-Bissau does not have a web site.
Due to lack of consular representation in the U.S., it is difficult to obtain the required visa for entry into Guinea-Bissau.
Since most flights destined for Guinea-Bissau must pass through Dakar, Senegal or Lisbon, Portugal, most travelers are able to apply for visas at the Bissau-Guinean embassies in those countries.
Although it is possible to obtain a visa upon arrival in Bissau if arrangements are made in advance, there are no clear instructions for how to make those arrangements.

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.
As of the date of publication of the Country Specific Sheet, the Bissau-Guinean Embassy is closed.
Travelers needing information about customs regulations should contact Bissau-Guinean authorities in Dakar, Senegal or Lisbon, Portugal before traveling.

SAFETY AND SECURITY:
There is no permanent U.S. diplomatic or consular presence in Guinea-Bissau.
The U.S. Embassy in Bissau suspended operations on June 14, 1998.
While officials from the U.S. Embassy in Dakar, Senegal, make periodic visits to Guinea-Bissau, their ability to provide consular services, including emergency assistance, is very limited.
The U.S. maintains a liaison office in Bissau, located at Edifício SITEC, Rua José Carlos Schwarz 245, Bairro d’Ajuda (tel/fax 245-256382, 245-5954647).
This office is staffed by locally employed staff and, while not equipped to provide consular services, may be contacted in the event of an emergency.
The nearest U.S. Embassies are located in Banjul, the Gambia; Conakry, Guinea; and Dakar, Senegal.
Although the civil war that led to the closure of the U.S. Embassy ended in 1999 and elections were held in June and July 2005, travelers should be aware that political tensions persist.
Sporadic politically-motivated violence remains an issue.
Due to the potential for violence, U.S. citizens should avoid political gatherings and street demonstrations, and maintain security awareness at all times.
With legislative elections scheduled for late 2008, the potential for future political unrest remains high.
In December 2004, the Government of Senegal and some factions of the Movement of Democratic Forces of the Casamance (MFDC), a Senegalese separatist movement, instituted an end to hostilities and agreed to negotiate with the goal of achieving a definitive end to the armed conflict in the Casamance.
This conflict has not yet been resolved, however, and its effects reach into Guinea-Bissau.
In the spring of 2006, Bissau-Guinean military forces conducted offensive operations near the town of Sao Domingos to expel elements of the MFDC.
The fighting reportedly resulted in dozens of military and civilian casualties, mostly from landmine explosions.
There are currently instances of fighting in the Casamance region (composed of the Ziguinchor and Kolda regions) involving factions of the Casamance separatist MFDC (Mouvement des Forces Démocratiques de la Casamance) in southern Senegal and the Senegalese military.
Although the recent escalation in hostilities has not spilled over into Guinea-Bissau, the potential for conflict along the border remains.

Unexploded military ordnance and landmines remain scattered throughout the country.
Although the capital city of Bissau was declared “mine-free” in June 2006 by the national de-mining center (CAAMI), occasional findings or unintentional explosions do occur.
There are two non-governmental organizations (NGOs) active in successfully removing mines.
To minimize the risks posed by both bandits and landmines, U.S. citizens are encouraged to limit driving outside of towns to daylight hours only and to remain on well-traveled roads at all times.

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, including the Travel Warning for Uzbekistan and 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:
Although there is a fairly low incidence of normal daytime street crime, travelers should observe security precautions in the city, particularly with regard to pickpocket activity in marketplaces.
Travelers should refrain from walking alone at night.
The lack of reliable public electricity means that urban streets are dark at night, even in Bissau.
There have been periodic incidents of bandits accosting travelers in rural areas.
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:
While modern medical facilities are virtually nonexistent in Guinea-Bissau and travelers should not rely on them, limited emergency medical care is available at a new hospital in Bissau operated by the Sant’Egidio Community.
Monday to Saturday there are flights from Bissau to Dakar, Senegal, where more acceptable levels of medical care are available.
Malaria, a serious and sometimes fatal disease, is a risk for travelers to Guinea-Bissau.

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 Guinea-Bissau is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.
The public transportation system, urban and rural road conditions, and the availability of roadside assistance are all poor.
There is no consistent public electricity in the capital, and the lack of lighting at night makes careful driving essential.
Since there are minefields left over from the civil war and the war of independence, travelers should not leave designated roads and pathways.
The landmines are scattered in several areas throughout Guinea-Bissau, including Bafata, Oio, Biombo, Quinara and Tombali regions.
While there has been significant progress in locating and removing landmines, an estimated 46,000 landmines remain.
Speak with local authorities first and use caution if leaving a main road or highway to enter a trail network or to make other types of cross-country movement.
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 Guinea- Bissau, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not assessed Guinea-Bissau’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.
SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES:
Guinea-Bissau's customs authorities may enforce strict regulations concerning the temporary import or export of items such as firearms, antiquities, medications, and business equipment. (See contact information in the section on Entry Requirements.)
International banking and finance is problematic due to a limited formal banking sector.
ATMs are rarely available, credit cards are rarely accepted, currency exchange outside of the black market is almost non-existent, wire transfer possibilities are extremely limited, and repatriation of funds is problematic.

As there is currently no U.S. Embassy in Guinea-Bissau, U.S. consular officials may not be properly notified when an American citizen is arrested or detained in Guinea-Bissau.
Because notification would have to be made to consular officers at U.S. Embassies in neighboring countries, there may be a delay in consular access to such citizens.
U.S. citizens are encouraged to carry a notarized copy of their U.S. passports with them at all times so that, if questioned by local officials, proof of identity and U.S. citizenship is readily available.
Taking photographs of anything that could be perceived as being of military or security interest may result in problems with authorities.
Guinea-Bissau has a cash-only economy, so travelers should not count on using credit cards and ATMs. 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 Bissau-Guinean laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned.
Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Guinea-Bissau 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 Guinea-Bissau 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 Guinea-Bissau.
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 in Guinea-Bissau remains closed.
U.S. citizens who plan to enter Guinea-Bissau are encouraged to register with the Consular Section of the U.S. Embassy at Avenue Jean XXIII, Dakar, Senegal.
The mailing address is B.P. 49, Dakar, Senegal.
The telephone number is (221) 33 829-2100 and the fax is (221) 33 822-2991.
The e-mail address is consulardakar@state.gov.
The web site is http://dakar.usembassy.gov/.
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This replaces the Country Specific Information for Guinea-Bissau dated September 12, 2007 to update sections on Country description, Special Circumstances, Safety and Security, and Registration/Embassy Location.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Thu, 18 Oct 2018 12:44:14 +0200

Bissau, Oct 18, 2018 (AFP) - Guinea-Bissau's government on Thursday signed a deal with a federation of truckers, bus owners and taxi drivers to end a strike that had brought the West African state to a standstill, officials said.   The federation launched the strike on Tuesday in protest at the many problems facing transporters, including police bribery.

The protocol agreement was signed on the government's side by the General Directorate for Land Transport (DVGTT), which is in charge of Guinea-Bissau's roads; the National Traffic Police; and the National Guard.   Under the deal, the government pledged to cut the number of checkpoints -- a major source of kickbacks and delays -- within two months.

DVGTT chief Bamba Banjai, speaking to journalists after the signature, hailed the accord.    Bus traffic swiftly began to return to the streets Bissau, the capital, which had been virtually deserted.   Private schools, which depend on minibuses and taxis to drop off and pick up children, had told students to stay at home, and many civil servants did not go to work.

As the strike ran into its second day on wednesday, the head of the transporters' federational, Bubacar Felix Frederico, warned that the protest would only be lifted "with the official undertaking" of Prime Minister Aristides Gomes.   Among the federation's demands were improvement to the country's notoriously poor roads, but the issue is not addressed in the protocol and has been placed to one side.

Guinea-Bissau, a former Portuguese colony, ranks among the poorest countries in the world, according to the UN's development index.   It has just 4,400 kilometres of roads, of which only 10 percent (453 km) are paved. Non-paved roads are notoriously slow and dangerous, and prone to being washed out during the rainy season.
Date: Fri, 3 Aug 2018 13:51:38 +0200

Bissau, Aug 3, 2018 (AFP) - Public-sector workers in the West African state of Guinea-Bissau have called off a strike after securing a pay increase in talks with the government, their main trade union said Friday.   The strike, launched on July 24, ended after the government agreed on Thursday to increase minimum monthly pay from 19,200 CFA francs ($33.91, 29.28 euros) to 50,000 francs from September, Julio Mendonca, head of the UNTG union, told AFP.   However, Prime Minister Aristide Gomes was somewhat more cautious.   In a statement to AFP late Thursday, he said, "all parties have accepted the principle" of a pay rise.   "We are still in negotiations," he said. "We are all going to work at finding a definitive solution to this situation."

The strike, which affected a sector with 13,000 employees, was also followed by state media organisations. Public radio and television went silent and there were strikes at the daily newspaper No-Pintcha and news agency ANG.   Guinea-Bissau, a former Portuguese colony with a population of 1.8 million, is one of the poorest and most unstable countries in the world.   It has experienced years of volatility, marked by coups and soldiers' mutinies.   The country plunged into a power struggle in August 2015, when President Jose Mario Vaz sacked his then prime minister, Domingos Simoes Pereira.   After lawmakers did not meet for nearly two years, an agreement was reached in April at a summit of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), which led to Gomes's appointment as prime minister.
Date: Tue, 17 Jul 2018 18:32:36 +0200

Bissau, July 17, 2018 (AFP) - Public radio and television in Guinea-Bissau went quiet on Tuesday as state media workers joined an ongoing civil servants' strike.   Daily newspaper No-Pintcha and news agency ANG, both state-funded, also took part in a planned three-day strike over pay and working conditions.   "We have interns who have worked in newsrooms for over three years without pay," union leader Julciano Balde told AFP.   "We work with the little we have, with no means of transport, old computers, while ministers drive brand new cars."   The journalists want better working conditions, including "decent" salaries, the hiring of all interns and means of transportation, according to their representatives.   The minimum wage is 45,000 CFA francs (around 68 euros) at the No Pintcha newspaper, 60,000 CFA francs (90 euros) at the national radio and 120,000 CFA francs (180 euros) at the state television channel.

Civil servants launched regular strikes in June and their largest union UNTG confirmed it will keep asking workers to stay home from Tuesday to Thursday every week.    "We will keep the pressure on and paralyse the administration until we get what we want," UNTG leader Julio Antonio Mendonca told AFP.   Guinea-Bissau, with a population of 1.8 million, has experienced periods of political and military instability marked by coups and mutinies of soldiers for several years.   The former Portuguese colony had been in the grip of a power struggle since August 2015, when President Jose Mario Vaz sacked his then prime minister Domingos Simoes Pereira.   After lawmakers did not meet for nearly two years, an agreement was reached in April at a summit of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and a new prime minister, Aristides Gomes, was appointed.
Date: Wed, 11 Jul 2018 17:40:43 +0200

Bissau, July 11, 2018 (AFP) - Hundreds of civil servants took to the streets of Guinea-Bissau on Wednesday to demand a hike in the minimum wage and better living conditions.   The protest was organised by the Union of Guinea-Bissau workers (UNTG), which regroups 8,000 out of the West African country's 13,000 civil servants.  Demonstrators marched from the outskirts of the capital Bissau to its centre, chanting "Down with lawmakers paid to do nothing" and "We demand decent wages and better conditions," an AFP journalist saw.   "It is intolerable for government to raise the wages of ministers and parliamentarians while at the same time other public servants are paid next to nothing," UNTG Secretary General Julio Antonio Mendoca said.

UNTG is calling for the minimum monthly salary to be upped from 19,200 CFA francs (29 euros) to 59,000 CFA francs (90 euros).   "We will carry on until we succeed," Mendoca added.   It is the fifth action organised by UNTG in six weeks, including a three-day strike in June.   "The civil servants' claims are fair but the method used is inappropriate because the government cannot afford to meet the claims," Prime Minister Aristides Gomes told reporters last week.   "The government was formed to organise elections and deal with day-to-day matters."

Parliament last month adopted its first budget after nearly three years of political instability ahead of legislative elections set for November.   The former Portuguese colony was plunged into a power struggle in August 2015, when President Jose Mario Vaz sacked his then prime minister, Domingos Simoes Pereira.   Lawmakers did not meet for nearly two years -- a crisis that was defused in April under an agreement reached at a summit in Togo of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).   Under it, Gomes was appointed as a consensus prime minister and tasked with steering the country to the November 18 polls.
Date: Tue, 26 Jun 2018 21:40:25 +0200

Bissau, June 26, 2018 (AFP) - Civil servants in Guinea-Bissau went on strike Tuesday, days after the country passed its first budget following a three-year political crisis, their union told AFP.   The workers, who plan to strike for three days, are demanding a higher minimum wage and better working conditions, according to the National Union of Guinea-Bissau Workers (UNTG), the largest civil servants' union.   The small West African country's parliament just unanimously adopted its first budget after nearly three years of political instability ahead of legislative elections set for November.   Guinea-Bissau, with a population of 1.8 million, has experienced periods of political and military instability marked by coups and mutinies of soldiers for several years.

In the capital Bissau, ministries and public offices were closed on Tuesday and hospital services were reduced to a minimum, an AFP journalist said.   UNTG -- which says 90 percent of the country's estimated 13,000 civil servants are striking -- is calling for the minimum monthly salary to be upped from 19,200 CFA francs (29 euros) to 59,000 CFA francs (90 euros).   The government can increase civil servants' salaries as MPs and ministers recently received a raise, UNTG leader Julio Antonio Mendoca told AFP.   The former Portuguese colony had been in the grip of a power struggle since August 2015, when President Jose Mario Vaz sacked his then prime minister Domingos Simoes Pereira.   After lawmakers did not meet for nearly two years, an agreement was reached in April at a summit of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and a new prime minister, Aristides Gomes, was appointed.
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Bouvet Island

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

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

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

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World Travel News Headlines

Date: Fri, 13 Dec 2019 16:41:23 +0100 (MET)
By Mariëtte Le Roux and Joseph Schmid

Paris, Dec 13, 2019 (AFP) - French commuters gritted their teeth for a ninth day of public transport strikes Friday, with unions vowing to keep up their protest against a pension overhaul through the holidays unless the government backs down.   Officials have said they are ready to negotiate, with Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer meeting teachers' representatives on Friday to try and stave off another day of class shutdowns.   "It was an intense and frank meeting... but we still need details, and maintain our call to strike on Tuesday," Stephane Crochet of the SE-Unsa union said.

Unions are hoping for a repeat of 1995, when they forced a rightwing government to back down on pension reforms after three weeks of metro and rail strikes just before Christmas.   The prospect of a protracted standoff has businesses fearing big losses during the crucial year-end festivities, and travellers worried that their Christmas plans may be compromised.   "Right now it's a catastrophe here, but we're hoping there will be a solution before Christmas," Frederic Masse, a foie gras producer at the huge Rungis wholesale food market south of Paris, told AFP on Friday.

The capital city was again choked by huge traffic jams as most metro lines remained shut, only a handful of buses and trams were running, and one in four TGV trains were cancelled.   "I'm sick of this, and I won't be able to keep working if it goes on," Zigo Makango, a 57-year-old security agent, told AFP onboard a bus in the Bobigny suburb northeast of Paris.   To get home at night Makango said he has to use taxis, but "my boss doesn't reimburse me for that".

- 'Historic reform' -
President Emmanuel Macron on Friday expressed his "solidarity" with people impacted by the strike, "but I want the government to continue its work" in forging a single pension system, a key campaign promise.   "It's a historic reform for the country," he told journalists at an EU summit in Brussels. 

The overhaul unveiled by Prime Minister Edouard Philippe would do away with 42 separate regimes, some of which offer early retirement and other benefits to public-sector employees such as train drivers, dockers and even Paris Opera employees.   But Philippe angered unions further by proposing a reduced payout for people who retire at the legal age of 62 instead of a new, so-called "pivot age" of 64.

They have called for new mass demonstrations for next Tuesday, the third since the action started on December 5 in the biggest show of strength in years by France's notoriously militant unions.   Philippe insisted on Twitter that "My door is open and my hand outstretched".   But Laurent Brun of the hard-line CGT union, the largest among public-sector workers including those at rail operator SNCF, has already warned "There won't be any Christmas truce" unless the government drops the plan entirely.

- France divided -
A poll released Thursday by the Elabe institute found France evenly divided on Philippe's plan, with 50 percent for and 49 percent against.  But 54 percent rejected the mooted 64-year cutoff for a full pension, and 54 percent supported the protest.

Staff at four of France's eight oil refineries were on strike Friday, affecting output and raising fears of shortages down the line.   And both Paris operas, the Garnier and the Bastille, again cancelled Friday performances and others through the weekend.   Macron's government insists the changes will make for a fairer system and help erase pension system deficits forecast to reach as much as 17 billion euros ($19 billion) by 2025.   The average French person retires at just over 60, years earlier than most in Europe or other rich OECD countries.
Date: Fri, 13 Dec 2019 14:05:22 +0100 (MET)

Milan, Dec 13, 2019 (AFP) - More than 300 flights were cancelled Friday in Italy due to a planned one-day strike by workers from Alitalia and Air Italy.   Alitalia said in a statement that 315 flights were cancelled on Friday, with another 40 cancelled Thursday night and Saturday morning. It was not immediately clear how many flights were cancelled at Air Italy.   The 24-hours strike, which involves pilots, flight attendants and ground personnel, was called by three unions to draw attention to what they called "the ongoing crisis at Alitalia and Air Italy."

The strike was felt most in Sardinia, with about 30 flights cancelled.    Money-losing Alitalia has been under special administration since 2017 when employees rejected a restructuring plan that would have laid off 1,700 workers out of an approximately 11,000.   The government has so far looked for buyers without success.    Unions plan to meet on Tuesday with Economy Minister Stefano Patuanelli.    A potential consortium of buyers for the ailing carrier fell apart last month after Atlantia, which operates Rome's airports, pulled out.
Date: Fri, 13 Dec 2019 05:24:44 +0100 (MET)
By Neil SANDS

Wellington, Dec 13, 2019 (AFP) - Adventure tourism is a key part of New Zealand's international appeal but the White Island volcano eruption is a tragic reminder that such activities carry genuine risk that must be better explained to travellers, experts say.   The South Pacific nation offers a wealth of adrenaline-fuelled pursuits, from heli-skiiing on snow-capped mountains to ballooning and blackwater rafting through caves.

Some, such as bungee-jumping, jet-boating and zorbing -- where you hurl yourself down a hill inside an inflatable ball -- were invented or popularised in a country that prides itself on catering to intrepid visitors.   The tourism industry as a whole is among New Zealand's biggest earners, generating about NZ$16.2 billion ($10.7 billion) and attracting 3.8 million international visitors annually.     "Adventure tourism is a massive sector in New Zealand. We are promoting ourselves as the adventure capital of the world," professor Michael Lueck, a tourism expert at Auckland University of Technology, told AFP.

New Zealand is also renowned for its rugged landscapes, which feature prominently films such as Kiwi director Peter Jackson's "Lord of the Rings".   Day-trips to White Island combined both, taking tourists including cruise ship passengers to a desolately beautiful island off the North Island coast where they could experience the thrill of standing on an active volcano.   Instead, at least 16 people are believed to have died and dozens suffered horrific burns when 47 tourists and guides were caught on the island during Monday's eruption.

The disaster has raised questions about why tourists were allowed on a volcano where experts had recently raised threat levels, as well as broader issues about the regulation of risky activities in the tourism sector.   "There will be bigger questions in relation to this event," Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told parliament after the eruption.   "These questions must be asked, and they must be answered."

- 'Slapdash' or world's best? -
The disaster on White Island -- also known as Whakaari -- is not the first mass-fatality accident to affect tourists in New Zealand.   In 2015, seven people were killed when a scenic helicopter flight crashed into Fox Glacier. Two years earlier, a hot-air balloon claimed 11 lives and in 2010 nine died when a plane carrying skydivers plunged into a paddock.

Briton Chris Coker's son Brad, 24, died in the skydive plane crash and since then he has campaigned from afar for tighter regulations in New Zealand's adventure tourism sector.   "In my opinion, the New Zealand authorities... are still slapdash about tourist safety," Coker told news website stuff.co.nz after the White Island eruption.   "To run tourists there is insane. I know they signed a waiver and so on, but it's not really taking care of people."

Trade body Tourism Industry Aotearoa disputes such assessments, saying operators are "working within a world's best regulatory framework", but could not eliminate risk completely.   "Operators put safety first, but adventure activity inherently carries some risk and it's critical that 'adventure' remains in adventure tourism," TIA chief executive Chris Roberts told AFP.   "Operators take all practical actions to minimise the risks and the safety culture of individual operators remains the key factor in preventing accidents."

Roberts said the issue was not tourism operators, but the alert system they relied on at volcanic destinations such as White Island, which attracts about 17,000 visitors a year.   The GeoNet monitoring agency raised White Island's threat level in the week before the eruption but also advised current activity "does not pose a direct hazard to visitors".   "The reviews need to look at the science and specifically the guidance provided about volcanic activity, and whether the operating practices followed for the past 30 years need to change," Roberts said.

- 'Understand the risks' -
Travel companies such as White Island Tours brief customers before setting off and require them to sign a waiver declaring they understand the risk, as well as supplying equipment such as hard-hats and gas masks.   However, some relatives of those affected by the eruption have expressed scepticism that their loved ones truly appreciated the potential danger they faced.   Options for legal redress are limited under New Zealand's Accident Compensation Commission scheme, which covers victims' medical bills and provides modest compensation but does not allow civil suits for damages.

Neither Roberts nor Lueck expected the White Island eruption to hit international arrivals in New Zealand, which have continued to climb despite major earthquakes in 2011 and 2016.   The nature of any review arising from White Island remains uncertain, but Lueck said at the very least tourists needed to be better informed about any risks.   "Operators and tourism boards should have tourists understand what these risks are, and not brush over quickly signing a waiver," he said.   "Only then can tourists make an informed decision and decide whether or not they want to take that particular risk."
Date: Thu, 12 Dec 2019 21:25:36 +0100 (MET)

Kinshasa, Dec 12, 2019 (AFP) - Twenty-three cases of Ebola have been recorded in four days in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, where deadly violence is hampering efforts to end the 16-month-old epidemic, authorities said on Thursday.   Ten cases were recorded on Tuesday alone in Mabalako in North Kivu province, after six on Monday, according to the Multisectoral Committee for Epidemic Response (CMRE).   Three out of the six were practitioners of traditional medicine, it said.

On Wednesday, three cases were recorded in North Kivu, including one in the Biena neighbourhood -- which has had no new Ebola cases for the last 85 days.   More than 2,200 people have died since the epidemic was declared on August 1, 2018.   As of November 22, the rate of new cases had fallen to 10 per week.   CMRE said "security reasons" -- attacks on Ebola health workers and sites by armed groups and angry youths -- had "paralysed" work in the key zones of Beni, Biakato and Mangina.   The attacks led to a pullout of locally-employed Ebola workers in Biakato by the UN's World Health Organization (WHO) and Doctors Without Borders (MSF).
Date: Thu, 12 Dec 2019 15:59:23 +0100 (MET)

Juba, Dec 12, 2019 (AFP) - Devastating flooding in South Sudan following a fierce drought could tip parts of the country into famine in the next few months, the World Food Programme (WFP) warned on Thursday.   According to the UN refugee agency nearly one million people were affected by floodwaters that submerged entire towns, compounding an already dire humanitarian situation after six years of war.

The WFP said that 5.5 million people are expected to be going hungry in early 2020 -- the time at which the population is generally benefiting from their harvest in October and November of the previous year.   An earlier harvest failed due to drought. This time crops have been washed away.    "The number of people in need is likely to increase because of the catastrophic level of destruction caused by floods since October following a drought that hammered parts of the country earlier in the year," the agency said in a statement.

The floods wiped out 73,000 metric tons of potential harvests as well as tens of thousands of cattle and goats, said the WFP.   "We know the problems that we've been having in South Sudan, but the rains and the floods have led to a national disaster and are much worse than anyone could have anticipated," said WFP Executive Director David Beasley.    "In fact, if we don't get funding in the next few weeks and months, we are literally talking about famine. We need support, we need help and we need it now."   The agency estimated its needs at $270 million (242 million euros) for the first half of 2020.   South Sudan declared a "man-made" famine affecting around 100,000 people in 2017. 

The term "famine" is used according to a scientific system agreed upon by global agencies, when at least 20 percent of the population in a specific area has extremely limited access to basic food; acute malnutrition exceeds 30 percent; and the death rate exceeds two per 10,000 people per day for the entire population.   "Famine in South Sudan was defeated after four months in 2017 by a concerted large-scale humanitarian response," said the WFP.   "Experts now say the country's food security outlook has never been so dire."   Political instability is also high as President Salva Kiir and his rival Riek Machar have again delayed their formation of a power-sharing government, this time by 100 days until February 2020.
Date: Wed, 11 Dec 2019 09:33:13 +0100 (MET)
By Holly ROBERTSON

Sydney, Dec 11, 2019 (AFP) - Up to 20,000 protesters rallied in Sydney on Wednesday demanding urgent climate action from Australia's government, as bushfire smoke choking the city caused health problems to spike.   Sydney has endured weeks bathed in toxic smoke as hundreds of blazes have raged across the countryside, with hospitals recording a 25 percent increase in the number of people visiting emergency departments last week.   On Tuesday smoke alarms rang out across Australia's biggest city, with thick haze triggering smoke alarms and forcing buildings to be evacuated, school children to be kept indoors, and ferries to be cancelled.   The devastating fires have focused attention on climate change, with scientists saying the blazes have come earlier and with more intensity than usual due to global warming and a prolonged drought.   Police estimated the crowd size at 15,000, organisers put the figure at 20,000.

Many of the protestors voiced anger at the government's silence in the face of the crisis.   "The country is on fire" said 26-year-old Samuel Wilkie attending his first climate protest. He described politicians' response as "pathetic".    "Our government is not doing anything about it," said 29-year-old landscape gardener Zara Zoe. "No one is listening, no one is doing anything."   Prime Minister Scott Morrison -- a staunch backer of Australia's vast coal industry -- has said little about the smoke since the crisis began, preferring to focus on fire-hit rural communities.   Organiser Chloe Rafferty said that had created anger at the conservative government's inaction.   "I think the wider public can see that we are not expecting the climate crisis in the future but we are facing the climate crisis now," she told AFP.   "People are experiencing it in their day-to-day lives."   As well as a rise in people visiting hospitals with smoke-related health symptoms, the number of emergency calls for ambulances spiked 30 percent last week.    "For most people, smoke causes mild symptoms like sore eyes, nose and throat," top health department official Richard Broome said.   "However, people with conditions like asthma, emphysema and angina are at greater risk because the smoke can trigger their symptoms."

Smoke from bushfires is one of the biggest contributors to air pollution in Australia, releasing fine particles that can lodge deep within people's lungs and cause "severe" health impacts over time, according to scientist Mick Meyer from government-funded scientific research agency CSIRO.   "The impact of smoke on people remote from the fires may, on occasion, substantially exceed the direct injury to people within the fire zone," he wrote in The Conversation.   "But we currently lack the operational tools to understand the extent of these impacts or to manage them."   Six people have been killed and more than 700 houses destroyed in bushfires this fire season.   Though the human toll has been far lower than the deadliest fire season in 2009 -- when almost 200 people died -- the scale of this year's devastation has been widely described as unprecedented.   Three million hectares (7.4 million acres) of land has been burnt -- the size of some small countries -- and vast swathes of koala habitat scorched.   Official data shows 2019 is on track to be one of the hottest and driest years on record in Australia.
Date: Tue 3 Dec 2019
Source: Trinidad Express [abridged, edited]

The number of local deaths from the influenza virus has risen to 24. At the Health Ministry's update last week, 16 fatalities were reported from the flu, with Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh appealing to citizens -- especially those considered at-risk -- to get vaccinated.
Date: Sat 30 Nov 2019
Source: The New Indian Express, Express News Service [edited]

According to official data, 14 swine flu [influenza A/H1N1] deaths across the state were recorded this year [2019] till [17 Nov 2019]. The figure is slightly less than the previous year's [2018] toll of 17. The total number of H1N1 swine flu-positive cases [has] also come down this year [2019] compared with 2018 from 402 to 325. Health officials are setting up isolation wards in hospitals as a preventive measure.

As the winter season has set in and the minimum temperatures are coming down, health officials are instructing the public to take precautions in order to stay away from being infected by swine flu. The health department has initiated steps to set up district-[wide] swine flu testing facilities and isolation wards in every district hospital, area hospital, and community health centre.

As per the requirement of treatment procedure, the government has to set up special isolation wards in all government hospitals and provide protection kits to the healthcare staff, especially to those who will attend to the patients suffering from the flu. Across the state, Visakhapatnam registered the highest number of positive swine flu cases and deaths. Out of 325 positive cases, 180 alone were reported from Visakhapatnam, of which 8 died. West Godavari district registered 3 deaths, and Anantapur, East Godavari, and Srikakulam registered one death case each.

All the district health officials have been instructed to intensify awareness camps and screening centres. As part of the action plan, isolation wards with 5-10 beds are to be set up in every teaching, district, and area hospital. A sufficient stock of drugs, masks, and PPE [personal protective equipment] kits are to be made available. Currently, there are 18 labs eligible for conducting confirmation test in the state. "We are creating awareness by distributing pamphlets and putting up screening centres at bus stops and railway stations," DMHO [district medical and health officer] Dr. TSR Murthy said.

Symptoms of swine flu are generally similar to that of seasonal flu. These include cough, fever, sore throat, stuffiness, runny nose, body aches, headache, chills, fatigue, diarrhoea, and vomiting. Later on, breathlessness, chest pain, drowsiness, low blood pressure, sputum mixed with blood, and bluish discoloration of nails also develops.
Date: Thu 28 Nov 2019
Source: GDN Online [edited]

Two expatriates living in Oman died after contracting the seasonal influenza (H1N1) or swine flu in the governorate of Dhofar -- the 1st in July and the 2nd in August [2019]. They were among 78 confirmed cases of swine flu registered at the Sultan Qaboos Hospital over the first 9 months of 2019 in the governorate.

The hospital authorities reported a total of 599 registered suspected cases of H1N1 between January and last September [2019]. Doctors working at Sultan Qaboos Hospital dealt overall with 1779 cases of respiratory infections during the same period.

Patients most vulnerable to the respiratory viruses are those over 18 years, particularly pregnant women; those suffering from chronic illnesses, kidney and heart diseases, liver problems, diabetes, asthma, blood disorders, and HIV/AIDS; and even health workers, according to Muscat Daily.
Date: Wed 11 Dec 2019
Source: UNICEF/WHO Situation report 11 Dec 2019 [edited]

Highlights
- 5 new human cases reported in the past week
- In response to 1st human vaccine-derived poliovirus type 1 (VDPV1) case from the island province of Basilan, in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM), outbreak immunization was conducted
in Maluso, Basilan, with bivalent oral polio vaccine (bOPV) against polio type 1, vaccinating 13 547 children under 10 years old (102% of the target).
- Currently 9 human cases confirmed with circulating VDPV type 2 (cVDPV2), 1 case with VDPV1, 1 case with cVDPV1, and 1 case with immunodeficiency-related VDPV type 2 (iVDPV2).
- A case with VDPV1 from Sultan Kudarat is pending genetic analysis; 1 case of cVDPV1 from Malaysia was confirmed as genetically linked to the Basilan case.
- Synchronized polio vaccination campaign conducted on [25 Nov 2019 - 10 Dec 2019] (including 2 days of extension) vaccinated 4 309 566 children under 5, which is 98% of the target total of 4.4 million children under 5. A total of 1 395 365 children under 5 were vaccinated in National Capital Region (NCR), which is 109% of the target, and 2 914 201 (94%) in Mindanao.
- DOH planning to conduct outbreak immunization with bOPV targeting 710,296 children under 10 in the Sulu Archipelago, Zamboanga City, and Lambayong, Sultan Kudarat, on [6-12 Jan 2020].
- Current polio outbreak resulting from persistently low routine immunization coverage, and poor sanitation and hygiene.
- Philippines is affected by both cVDPV1 and cVDPV2. cVDPV is considered a public health emergency of international concern (PHEIC).

cVDPV1
---------
- In response to the 1st human case confirmed with VDPV1 from Maluso, Basilan (BARMM), outbreak immunization was conducted in the area with bOPV for children under 10 years old, vaccinating 13,547 children under 10 years of age (102% of the target).
- A cVDPV1 case in Sabah state, Malaysia, was confirmed to be genetically linked to the Basilan case by the Victorian Infectious Diseases Reference Laboratory (VIDRL) in Australia. Since the 2 viruses are genetically linked, they are both classified as circulating.
- A new VDPV1 case from Sultan Kudarat (Region XII) was confirmed on [6 Dec 2019] and is pending further genetic analysis.
- All 13 cVDPV1 environmental samples found in Manila are genetically linked.

cVDPV2
---------
- All 9 human cases and 17 environmental samples confirmed with cVDPV2 are genetically linked. All human cases were reported from Mindanao (BARMM and Region XII), whereas environmental samples were found in NCR and Davao.
- All samples were tested by the National Polio Laboratory at the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM), whereas sequencing and genetic analysis is done at the NIID in Japan, and additional genetic characterization is provided by the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
=======================
[Given the identification of the cVDPV1 case in Malaysia that is genetically related to the VDPV1 case in Basilan, it is now clear there are at least 2 separate cVDPV outbreaks in the Mindinao region of the Philippines: one of the outbreaks is associated with cVDPV2, and the other with cVDPV1 and one outbreak of cVDPV1 in the Manila Metropolitan area (although only environmental samples have been positive without AFP (acute flaccid paralysis) cases as yet.) What all these areas have in common is pockets of populations with suboptimal vaccination coverages. Clearly, we await further information on the genetic profiling of the newly identified VDPV1 case in Sultan Kudarat, also located in southern Philippines. Note that Basilan Island, Sultan Kudarat, and Sabah state in Malaysia, while all in the same general area, are not contiguous, each being on a different island. In. total, there are 11 cases of AFP in the Philippines that are attributable to infection with a VDPV.

A map showing the provinces in the Philippines can be found at

HealthMap/ProMED-mail map of the Philippines: