WORLD NEWS

Getting countries ...
Select countries and read reports below or

Guyana

Guyana US Consular Information Sheet
June 09, 2008
COUNTRY DESCRIPTION:
Guyana is a developing nation on the north coast of South America. Tourist facilities are not developed, except for hotels in the capital city of Georgetown and a limi
ed number of eco-resorts. The vast majority of Guyanese nationals live along the coast, leaving the interior largely unpopulated and undeveloped. Travel in the interior of Guyana can be difficult; many interior regions can only be reached by plane or boat and the limited roads are often impassable in the rainy seasons. Read the Department of State Background Notes on Guyana for additional information.

ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS: A valid U.S. passport is required for U.S. citizens to enter and depart Guyana. On arrival, Guyanese Immigration normally grants U.S. visitors a stay of up to 3 months. U.S.-Guyanese dual nationals may be granted an indefinite stay. Extensions of stay may be obtained from the Ministry of Home Affairs at 60 Brickdam Street, Georgetown. The Central Office of Immigration located on Camp Street, Georgetown, must note the extension in the visitor's passport. Travelers for purposes other than tourism should check with the Ministry of Home Affairs for information about requirements for work permits and extended stays. U.S.-Guyanese dual nationals departing Guyana for the United States using a Guyanese passport must present to Guyanese authorities a U.S. Certificate of Naturalization or other document establishing that they may legally enter the United States. For further information about entry, exit and customs requirements, travelers may consult the Embassy of Guyana at 2490 Tracy Place NW, Washington, DC 20008, telephone (202) 265-6900, the Consulate General in New York, or honorary consuls in California, Florida, Ohio, and Texas. Visit the Embassy of Guyana web site at www.guyana.org 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: Driving in Guyana can be particularly dangerous, with a significant number of accidents and road fatalities occurring. See the section below on “Traffic Safety and Road Conditions” for additional information. In the past, demonstrations and protests occasionally occurred in Georgetown; however, these are increasingly rare. Past demonstrations have not been directed at U.S. citizens and violence against Americans in general is not common. Visitors should nevertheless remain alert and take prudent personal security measures to deal with the unexpected while in Guyana. It is advisable to avoid areas where crowds have congregated and to maintain a low profile when moving about Georgetown and other Guyanese cities. Most major eco-tourist resorts and hotels in Guyana do not have written emergency plans in place, and many of them have safety deficiencies, including a lack of easily identifiable lifeguards or no lifeguards at all. Many of these resorts also do not have adequately stocked first aid supplies. For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs web site, where the current Travel Warnings and Public Announcements, including 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 United States 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: Serious crime, including murder and home invasion, continues to be a major problem; the murder rate in Guyana is three times higher than the murder rate in the United States. In early 2008, an attack in the Georgetown suburb of Lusignan and in the Essequibo River town of Bartica by heavily armed gangs resulted in the deaths of more than 20 persons, mostly innocent Guyanese civilians. An investigation into these attacks is continuing, but most of the perpetrators are still at large. In addition, there have been several instances of random shootings at night at police headquarters or police stations in Georgetown. U.S. citizens are encouraged to maintain a high level of vigilance, consider security issues when planning activities throughout Guyana, minimize movement when possible, and avoid traveling at night, when possible.

Armed robberies continue to rise, especially in major business and shopping districts. Hotel room strong-arm break-ins are also increasing, so travelers should use caution when opening their hotel room doors and should safeguard valuables left in hotel rooms. Criminals may act brazenly, and police officers themselves have been the victims of assaults and shootings. Vehicle occupants should keep their doors locked and be aware of their surroundings at all times. Robbery and theft occur with some frequency in Georgetown and New Amsterdam. U.S. citizens should avoid stopping in or traveling through the village of Buxton, which lies along the road between Georgetown and New Amsterdam, and Agricola, which is located on the East Bank highway. The Department of State recommends that Embassy staff using the public golf course at Lusignan, next to Buxton, do so in groups and only during daylight hours. Pickpocketing, purse snatching by thieves on bicycles, assault, and theft can occur in all areas of Georgetown. The areas adjacent to the sea wall and the National Park in Georgetown, although frequented by joggers, dogwalkers, and families are generally considered safe during daylight hours, have been the scenes of crimes in the past. Travelers should exercise extra care when visiting these areas after dusk. Pickpockets and thieves also frequent Stabroek and Bourda, the two major markets, and great care should be taken to safeguard personal property when shopping in these markets. U.S. passports and permanent residency cards are prized by thieves as they may be used for smuggling and identity theft. There have been numerous incidents of piracy in recent months in and around the waters of Guyana. Mariners are advised to be vigilant and take appropriate precautions. Travelers should avoid walking alone around Georgetown, even in the main areas and especially at night. Although bandits have been known to attack taxis, they are generally safe and remain the safest means of getting about town and to and from the airport for visitors. Only taxis from reputable companies should be used. Exercise constant vigilance. Do not dress ostentatiously, as there have also been reports of gold chains or other jewelry being snatched off of pedestrians. The response of local law-enforcement authorities to the increase in violent crime has been largely ineffectual; the police are cooperative but lack the resources to respond effectively to serious criminal incidents. Nevertheless, Americans who are victims of crime are encouraged to contact the police as well as the American Citizens Services Unit of the U.S. Embassy's Consular Section.

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 in finding appropriate medical care, contact family members or friends and explain how funds may be transferred. Although the investigation and prosecution of the crime are 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 care is available for minor medical conditions. Emergency care and hospitalization for major medical illnesses or surgery are limited, due to a lack of appropriately trained specialists, below standard in-hospital care, and poor sanitation. Ambulance service is limited to transportation without any medical care and is frequently not available for emergencies. An MRI (linked to the United States for interpretation) has been installed and is operational, but results may take up to 4 days. Visitors are advised to bring prescription medicine sufficient for their length of stay and should be aware that Guyana's humid climate may affect some medicines. Some prescription medicines (mainly generic rather than name-brand) are available. Special attention should be paid to HIV/AIDS in Guyana. In addition to infection rates as high as 45% in high-risk populations such as commercial sex workers and mobile populations such as miners or loggers, data from the World Health Organization estimate that 1.6% of the general population is infected with HIV; this is among the highest prevalence rates in Latin America and the Caribbean. 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 Guyana is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.
In 2007, road fatalities increased more than 40% from the previous year. The rate of traffic accident fatalities in Guyana is 70% higher than in the United States. The Traffic Division of Guyana's National Police Force is responsible for road safety but is ill-trained and ill-equipped. Driving in Guyana is hazardous because of very poor road surfaces; farm animals sleeping or wandering on the roads; pedestrians walking on the road; and poor driving habits, including speeding, reckless driving, tailgating, cell phone use, quick stops without signaling, failure to dim headlights, and weaving in and out of traffic. Traffic lights installed in Georgetown are often ignored or simply flash, posing a risk to drivers and pedestrians. Visitors should exercise caution at all times while driving and avoid driving at night, when possible. The Department of State recommends that Embassy staff travel in groups of two or more vehicles when traveling outside Georgetown at night.
Travelers are advised to use caution traveling to and from Cheddi Jagan International Airport, especially at night. The Embassy requires its staff to use official vehicles when traveling this route between dusk and dawn due to a combination of most of the aforementioned characteristics of driving in Guyana.
Penalties for drivers involved in an accident resulting in injury or death are severe, including life imprisonment. If involved in an accident, call 911 for police and 913 for an ambulance. Please note that police may be slow to respond and an ambulance may not be available.
Drivers use the left side of the road in Guyana. Seatbelt use is required by law and is enforced; failure to use a seatbelt can result in a fine. There presently are no laws in Guyana concerning use of child car seats, but the use of age-appropriate seats is strongly recommended for child passengers. Both drivers and passengers on motorcycles must wear protective helmets that meet certain specifications.
Mini-buses (small 12- to 15-passenger vans) ply various routes both within and between cities. Mini-bus drivers have come under severe criticism from the government, press, and private citizens for speeding, aggressive and reckless driving, overloading of vehicles, poor vehicle maintenance and repair, and offensive remarks directed at passengers, but little change in their driving behavior has been noted. Mini-buses have been involved in the majority of fatal vehicular accidents in recent years.
Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information. Visit the web site of the country’s national tourist office and national authority responsible for road safety.

AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT: The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the Government of Guyana’s Civil Aviation Authority as not being in compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards for the oversight of Guyana’s air carrier operations. For more information, travelers may visit the FAA’s web site at http://www.faa.gov/safety/programs_initiatives/oversight/iasa.

SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES:
Air Travel: Flights on all airlines can be delayed, rerouted, or canceled without notice. Air travel within Guyana generally depends on demand. Flights that are not full may be canceled or passengers may be expected to pay for the empty seats. Travelers to the United States from Guyana have found narcotics planted in their luggage, both in bags registered under their names and in items they were carrying for others. Travelers should not carry any items they did not purchase and pack themselves and should take care that no additional bags are registered in their names. Travelers should hand carry medications, valuables, and perishable items.
Flooding: The coastal plain, which occupies about 5% of the country's area, is home to more than 90% of its inhabitants. The plain extends from the Corentyne River in the east to the Venezuelan border in the northwest. This coastal plain was created through the polder system, a technique that dams and then drains a water-covered area. The polder system consists of a front dam (the sea wall along the east coast) and a back dam (the freshwater conservancy) that is approximately 5 to 6 kilometers inland from the sea wall. The system is in a fragile state due to a chronic lack of maintenance. In addition, a dozen major drainage canals run from the base of the dam to the Atlantic Ocean across the polder itself. These main canals are, in turn, fed by literally thousands of lateral canals that run along both sides of almost every street and road. Seasonal rains (December-January and May-July), combined with the lack of maintenance and improper new construction, led to significant flooding in Greater Georgetown and along the East Coast in January 2005 and in the Mahaica-Mahaicony Abrary area, Canals 1 and 2, on the West Coast Demerara and the Pomeroon River catchment area in January 2006.
Drinking Water: An inadequate garbage removal system has resulted in illegal residential and commercial dumping on the roadside and into the drainage system. Decaying animal carcasses are periodically discovered in the intake canals for the Georgetown water supply. The water supply system throughout the country should be considered contaminated and travelers should treat or boil water before consumption, or purchase bottled water.
Changing Currency and Credit Card Use: Travelers should have enough cash or travelers checks to meet their expenses. With few exceptions, credit cards and ATM cards should not be used to withdraw cash from an overseas account, due to a high risk of stolen PIN data. Although credit cards are accepted at certain institutions in Georgetown, travelers should be careful when using them and check their receipts and statements to ensure that additional unauthorized purchases have not been made to their card. American citizens are advised to exchange currency only with banks, hotels, and licensed money exchange houses (“cambios”). Many foreigners who opt to exchange money on the streets, lured by promises of higher exchange rates, become victims of fraud or receive counterfeit currency. Foreigners have been mugged after completing bank transactions. There is no legal recourse unless the police are successful in apprehending the perpetrator; even then there is no guarantee that the money will be recovered.
Firearms: Guyanese customs authorities may enforce strict regulations concerning temporary importation into or export from Guyana of items such as firearms. If you plan to take your firearms or ammunition to or through Guyana, you should contact officials at the Embassy of Guyana to learn about its regulations and fully comply with those regulations before traveling. You may consult http://www.customs.gov for information on importing firearms into the United States.
Wildlife: Many plants and animals common in Guyana are globally threatened or endangered species protected by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES at www.cites.org). The Guyanese Ministry of Agriculture will grant an export permit for taking an exotic bird out of the country only to those persons who have been legally residing in Guyana for more than one year. There have been several U.S. citizens arrested for attempting to leave Guyana carrying birds without having obtained an export permit. Americans who have legally resided in Guyana for more than a year and who would like to take back to the United States any birds or animals, including pets, that are listed in CITES Appendices I, II, and III, must also have an appropriate U.S. import permit from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). This is a U.S. regulation that applies regardless of distinctions among the three CITES Appendices. Individuals can obtain fact sheets and permit applications from the USFWS Office of Management Authority, Branch of Permits, 4401 N. Fairfax Drive, Arlington, VA 22203, telephone (703) 358-2104, fax (703) 358-2281, http://www.fws.gov/permits/.

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 Guyanese laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested, or imprisoned. Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Guyana are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines. Possession of unlicensed guns can result in fines and imprisonment. Engaging in sexual conduct with children or using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is a crime in Guyana and also prosecutable in the United States.

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 Guyana 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 Guyana. 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 100 Young and Duke Streets, telephone 011-592-225-4900 through 225-4909, fax 011-592-225-8497, web site http://georgetown.usembassy.gov/. Hours of operation are Monday-Friday, 7:30 am to 4:00 pm, except local and U.S. holidays. For emergencies after hours, on weekends and on holidays, U.S. citizens are requested to call the U.S. Embassy duty officer at 011-592-623-1992.
* * *
This replaces the Country Specific Information dated November 21, 2007, to reflect changes to Safety and Security, Crime, and Wildlife.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Tue 16 Apr 2019
Source: Kaieteur News Online [edited]

The mystery illness, which was erroneously assumed to be H1N1 (swine flu) and as leptospirosis in 2 cases, affecting employees working in the Guyana Manganese Inc. tunnel in Matthew's Ridge, Region One, Barima-Waini has finally been determined to be histoplasmosis, an infection by a fungus found in the droppings of birds, bats and rats in humid areas. [Histoplasmosis is caused by a fungus _Histoplasma capsulatum_ that lives in soil enriched by bird or bat, not rat, droppings. - ProMED Mod.ML]

This was confirmed when the Ministry of Public Health held a press conference yesterday [15 Apr 2019] in its Mental Health Unit Boardroom to provide an update on the recent outbreak and related issues.

Samples were collected from all patients, and initially some testing was done at the National Public Health Reference Laboratory (NPHRL). Further samples were sent to the Caribbean Public Health Agency Laboratory (CARPHA) in Trinidad for confirmation.

The results initially were negative for influenza A and B inclusive of H1N1, chikungunya, Zika and dengue. All patients underwent malaria tests in Matthews Ridge, and they were also negative.

Chief Medical Officer (CMO) Dr. Shamdeo Persaud provided a detailed update.

Relating the developments sequentially, the CMO said that the 1st 4 cases were reported on 28 Mar [2019]; one died while receiving care at Pakera District Hospital in Region One. The following day, 4 more were brought in to Pakera District Hospital complaining of similar symptoms (fever, headaches, joint pains, mild shortness of breath). Subsequently, the 7 Chinese workers were transferred to the Georgetown Public Hospital Corporation (GPHC).

An additional 6 employees, including one Guyanese, were attended to at the Port Kaituma Hospital but later transferred to the GPHC. One of the 6 persons visited the hospital on his own. He was evaluated but not admitted.

Once the cases were reported, several teams visited the site from the regional level. The teams included the Regional Health Officer and the Regional Environmental Health Officer, along with some supporting medical staff.

"In the initial stage, we weren't sure what we were dealing with, but since it was a febrile illness with respiratory symptoms, we took all the necessary precautions to restrict access to both the site and the hospital where the patients were being kept. The additional staffers that were sent to the region set up a temporary facility at the community centre in Matthews Ridge where they were seeing the regular patients," the CMO recounted. "Following the transfer of the patients on 3 Apr [2019], they cleaned up the Pakera District Hospital and closed down the temporary sites. Work resumed as normal at the hospital for Maternal Child Health and other services."

"Two persons are dead; one died at Pakera District Hospital and one at GPHC. Of those admitted at the GPHC, 2 were discharged. An additional person was discharged from Pakera District Hospital. Ten workers were transferred to China on Mon 9 Apr [2019]. 16 Chinese workers were under care and treatment. Following the transfer, 2 more were admitted to Pakera Hospital bringing it to a total of 18."

Blood, sputum and urine samples were collected from those that were under care, while tissue samples were collected during the post mortem from the 2 deceased. Testing for these samples was done locally at the National Public Health Reference Laboratory (NPHRL), and confirmation was done at Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) in Trinidad.

"All tests were negative for influenza A & B, dengue, chikungunya and Zika. Even though [it was] reported we had 2 positive for leptospirosis, according to the NPHRL, those were later found negative through confirmation from CARPHA. On the weekend of 7 Apr [2019], a team was flown in to Matthews Ridge. The team included officers from the Environmental Protection Agency and Occupational Safety and Health, and they did an evaluation of the work site and looked at some of the risk factors relating to the environment. A community meeting was also held with residents," Dr. Persaud said.

It was disclosed that from 8-10 Apr [2019], 2 consultants from the Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization (PAHO/WHO) along with the Chief Medical Officer and a team from the Ministry of Public Health visited the area. A team of 9 officers from the Centre for Disease Control (CDC), China was also part of the visiting team. "During the visit, the team met with the hospital staff. We reviewed their procedures for infectious disease control and prevention, and we met with company officials. Interviews were conducted with the persons who were working in the mine." A total of 23 Chinese workers were interviewed. They were working in the 4 different tunnels.

The CMO continued: "On 10 Apr [2019], we received word from CARPHA that 5 samples were tested for histoplasmosis; 4 were positive. The Chinese CDC tested an additional 6 persons, and 5 were positive for histoplasmosis.  One person tested showed weak positive hantavirus, but this may have been because of a past exposure to that germ. "Currently, we are monitoring persons at Matthews Ridge. During the last 2 days, 2 persons developed fever, and they were admitted to Pakera District Hospital and are under close observation and treatment for hantavirus, which is a fungal infection. [Hantavirus infection is a viral, not fungal infection. - Mod.ML] We also took samples from them, and they are presently being processed for shipment to CARPHA."

Meanwhile, the absence of safety gear for workers was highlighted. Interviews were done with employees who had not developed any illness. And this revealed the shortcomings. Officials were told that the safety gear was in the country but was not on site. They had not cleared customs at the wharf at that time. However, that claim was never confirmed. Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Consultant Gwyneth King said, "Our information to date is that the workers were not wearing [any] personal safety gear. That is to say that they were not wearing respirators, so they were exposed to breathing in the fungus. If you have to do a job like that, you need to wear personal safety gear; otherwise, you could expose yourself."

King said that officials will be working within the confines of the Occupational Safety and Health Act to see what action, if any, can be taken against the company for this major inadequacy. However, they are only now going through their findings and preparing the report.
=====================
[As I assumed in my ProMED moderator comments in the last ProMED-mail post on this outbreak, the cause of the acute respiratory illness in workers in manganese mine tunnels in Guyana is apparently histoplasmosis.

We were initially told (ProMED-mail post (Undiagnosed resp. illness - Guyana: (Barima-Waini) manganese mine, fatal, RFI http://promedmail.org/post/20190401.6396933) that workers at a manganese mining company in Guyana, owned by a subsidiary of Chinese company Bosai Minerals Group Guyana Company Limited, developed what was said to be an influenza-like illness with "respiratory discomfort, rash, and high-grade fever." More than a dozen miners were affected, and 2 of the workers died. Post-mortem examinations on the 2 dead miners initially were said to have "revealed that they died from haemorrhagic pneumonia as a result of leptospirosis;" we now learn the diagnosis of leptospirosis was erroneous.

Initially, we were told that all infected persons were exposed to one common area, without evidence of person-to-person transmission (that is, presumably there were no secondary cases), but we were not told what that common area was. We were subsequently told the common area is the "Matthews Ridge tunnel site."

Manganese mines are usually open pits, which are subject to flooding that could lead to exposure to leptospirosis if there is also rat infestation. However, tunnels could be infested with bats and their guano, which would place mine workers at risk for histoplasmosis, a fungal pulmonary infection that follows unprotected inhalation of large inocula of _Histoplasma capsulatum_ spores. The fungus lives in soil fertilized by bird or bat droppings. Contaminated soil can remain potentially infectious for years. Microconidia spores become airborne when the contaminated soil is disturbed, for example, by digging in contaminated soil. Most infected individuals remain asymptomatic. Symptomatic illness is primarily caused by an intense exposure, and the severity of disease is related to the number of spores inhaled.

ProMED-mail previously reported on a histoplasmosis outbreak in tunnel workers in the Dominican Republic (see "See Also's" below).

Symptoms of histoplasmosis usually include non-specific flu-like symptoms (fever, chills, muscle aches, dry cough, and chest discomfort); potentially fatal adult respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) may occur when larger inocula are inhaled (<http://journal.publications.chestnet.org/article.aspx?articleid=1047573> and <http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7244706?dopt=Abstract>). The pulmonary infection can disseminate throughout the body, and immunocompromised individuals may develop a severe form of histoplasmosis called progressive disseminated disease.

Histoplasmosis cannot be transmitted from person to person or from animals to people. The diagnosis can be made by culture of the organism from sputum or tissues, by serology, or by tests for antigen in urine and serum specimens. For treatment guidelines, see Clinical Practice Guidelines for the Management of Patients with Histoplasmosis: 2007 Update by the Infectious Diseases Society of America. Clin Infect Dis 2007; 45(7): 807-25. Available at <http://cid.oxfordjournals.org/content/45/7/807.full>. - ProMED Mod.ML]

[HealthMap/ProMED map available at:
Date: Sat 6 Apr 2019
Source: Outbreak News Today [edited]

Health officials in Guyana have reported a leptospirosis outbreak among Guyana Manganese Inc. (GMI) workers on [Fri 5 Apr 2019].  According to authorities, 2 Chinese nationals have been treated and released, while another mining employee, who was also tested positive for leptospirosis, is in "critical but stable condition".

One individual died from complications associated with leptospirosis on [Wed 3 Apr 2019] night while undergoing treatment at the Georgetown Public Hospital Corporation (GPHC). Chief Medical Officer (CMO) Dr. Shamdeo Persaud said that "all precautionary measures are still in place at the Matthews Ridge tunnel site and immediate surroundings and essential medical supplies are in stock to treat employees of the mining firm and residents of the area.

Since last week's outbreak, the area has been deemed a 'Red Zone' by Ministry of Public Health (MOPH) authorities and "no one is allowed to enter the site," Dr. Persaud reminded on [Thu 4 Apr 2019].
Date: Mon 1 Apr 2019
Source: DPI Guyana [edited]

Public health officials have ruled out swine flu (H1N1), Zika, Chikungunya, dengue, and influenza A and B as possible causes of the recent spate of illnesses and death in Matthew's Ridge. Thus far, there has been no evidence of person-to-person transmission of infection. It is noted that only persons who were directly exposed to one common area became ill.

As of Sunday, 31 Mar [2019], a response team comprising the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Surveillance, EH, doctors, and nurses were dispatched to region 1 to support the efforts taken in theregion to address the illnesses. The fortified health response focuses on providing uninterrupted health services to the residents of Matthew's Ridge, as well as on conducting health assessments of all persons working in the mining area.

The decision was taken to transfer all the patients with the acute respiratory illness, rash, and fever to our tertiary institution, the Georgetown Public Hospital (GPHC), where critical care can be provided should the need arise. While the specialists continue to work on the 7 patients admitted on Saturday [30 Mar 2019], results have shown that 2 patients tested positive for leptospirosis, which is known to be spread by direct contact with rat urine or faeces. Further tests are being conducted locally, and samples will be sent overseas with support from PAHO and CARPHA to get further tests done to rule out other possible infections.

The Public Health Ministry is taking all necessary precautions to ensure staff and members of the community at Matthew's Ridge are kept safe.

The mining company has been instructed to halt further exploration until the ministry and a team from the Occupational Health and Safety department of the Ministry of Social Protection can advise further. The Ministry of Public Health, along with partners, will continue to monitor the situation closely until resolution.
========================
[Leptospirosis is a bacterial disease that affects humans and animals. It is caused by bacteria of the genus _Leptospira_. In humans, it can cause a wide range of symptoms, some of which may be mistaken for other diseases. Some infected persons, however, may have no symptoms at all.

Without treatment, leptospirosis can lead to kidney damage, meningitis (inflammation of the membrane around the brain and spinal cord), liver failure, respiratory distress, and even death  (<https://www.cdc.gov/leptospirosis/index.html>).

Leptospirosis occurs worldwide but is most common in temperate or tropical climates. It is an occupational hazard for many people who work outdoors or with animals, such as farmers, mine workers, sewer workers, slaughterhouse workers, veterinarians and animal caretakers, fish workers, dairy farmers, and military personnel. The disease has also been associated with swimming, wading, kayaking, and rafting in contaminated lakes and rivers. As such, it is a recreational hazard for campers or those who participate in outdoor sports. The risk is likely greater for those who participate in these activities in tropical or temperate climates.

According to the above report, appropriate public health measures are being taken to contain the above "outbreak" and confirm any new cases as early as possible. - ProMED Mod.UBA]

[We were told in the initial ProMED-mail post (Undiagnosed resp. illness - Guyana: (Barima-Waini) manganese mine, fatal, RFI http://promedmail.org/post/20190401.6396933) that 8 individuals working at a manganese mining company in Guyana, owned by a subsidiary of Chinese company Bosai Minerals Group Guyana Company Limited, developed what was said to be an influenza-like illness with "respiratory discomfort, rash, and high-grade fever." One of the individuals died.

A subsequent update from Guyana Department of Public Information (above) says that swine flu (H1N1), Zika, chikungunya, dengue, and influenza A and B have been ruled out as possible causes of this outbreak, although 2 patients tested positive for leptospirosis, without specifying what tests were done to make that determination. All infected persons are said to have been exposed to one common area, without evidence of person-to-person transmission (that is, presumably there are no secondary cases), but we are not told what that common area is.

Leptospirosis is an infection transmitted to humans by exposure to soil or fresh water contaminated with the urine of wild and domestic animals (including dogs, cattle, swine, and especially rodents) that are chronically infected with pathogenic _Leptospira_. The Bosai mine is an open pit mine, the usual way manganese is mined (<https://demerarawaves.com/2017/01/27/manganese-mining-in-north-west-district-to-create-hundreds-of-jobs-improved-infrastructure/>). Open pit mines are subject to flooding, which could lead to exposure to leptospirosis if there is also rat infestation.

The clinical presentation of leptospirosis is frequently nonspecific, with fever, headache, and myalgias. Patients often have a dry cough, which is usually mild and without any sequelae, that accompanies the other symptoms. Severe leptospirosis, known as Weil's disease, is characterized by liver damage (causing jaundice), renal failure, and bleeding. Meningoencephalitis and myocarditis may also be present. However, pulmonary involvement, which manifests itself as pulmonary hemorrhage, can be severe, with massive hemoptysis, respiratory insufficiency, and death (<https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3519021/>). The diagnosis of leptospirosis can be made by PCR assays during the acute illness and ELISA (enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay) for the detection of _Leptospira_-specific IgM antibodies. The microscopic agglutination test (MAT), which detects antibodies to specific serovars using several reference strains, confirms the diagnosis.

Another disease transmitted by rodents is hantavirus infection. Infected rodents shed the virus in feces, urine, and saliva. Dr. Jan Clement in previous ProMED-mail posts (e.g., Leptospirosis - South Africa (02): (WC) fatal, prisoners, rat infestation, comment http://promedmail.org/post/20151004.3690652) has pointed out the need to consider hantavirus infection in the differential diagnosis of rodent-borne diseases such as leptospirosis. ProMED-mail moderator TY [ProMED Mod.TY] has indicated the presence of hantaviruses in this region of northeastern South America. See ProMED-mail post Hantavirus update 2010 - Americas (40): Chile, French Guiana http://promedmail.org/post/20101224.4542. - ProMED Mod.ML]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map:
Barima-Waini region, Guyana: <http://healthmap.org/promed/p/3849>]
Date: Sun 31 Mar 2019
Source: Kaieteur News [edited]

One of several afflicted manganese workers is now dead, after exhibiting symptoms of a viral influenza, yesterday [30 Mar 2019]. The other 7, who are also Chinese nationals, are currently being treated at the Georgetown Public Hospital Corporation (GPHC).

A team of medical personnel was deployed to Matthews Ridge [Barima-Waini region] yesterday, from the Mabaruma Hospital after the members received these reports.

The 7 men were airlifted to Eugene F Correia International Airport, Ogle, and transported to GPHC for treatment.

A medical practitioner on the team informed this publication that the team has been extremely cautious, both, in its transport of the patients and with the level of care they're currently receiving.

This publication was informed that 2 floors of the Male Medical Ward of GPHC were cleared and restricted yesterday, to quarantine the victims of the undetermined illness.

The 7 workers had initially been taken to Pakera Hospital, Matthews Ridge, for treatment.

The medical personnel at the hospital have been running a battery of tests. Further testing is expected to be done to ascertain the exact nature of the illness. One doctor involved has dismissed speculation that swine flu [influenza A(H1N1)] is the cause of the symptoms.

The workers were reportedly stationed at a manganese mine owned by Guyana Manganese Inc. (GMI), a subsidiary of Chinese company, Bosai Minerals Group Guyana Company Limited, when they began showing signs of respiratory discomfort, rash, and [high grade fever].

Just [Fri 29 Mar 2019], Ministers of Natural Resources and Public Affairs, Raphael Trotman, and Dawn Hastings-Williams, visited the mine to inspect it, since operations there are expected to restart soon.

To date, 113 Guyanese and 23 expatriates have already been employed with GMI.

According to health officials, they are up on the alert for measles and immunisable diseases.
===================
[According to the report above, the clinical presentation of the cases includes high grade fever with a rash and respiratory symptoms. The report mentions 8 workers who developed symptoms but does not provide information on epidemiological factors such as whether the workers lived in close proximity prior to developing symptoms, any travel history or new arrivals to the mine, or any co-morbid conditions. Detection of the responsible pathogen or toxin is necessary to provide appropriate treatment and to protect the other workers. Any further information in this regard will be highly appreciated. - ProMED Mod.UBA]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map of Guyana:
Date: Wed 13 Sep 2017
Source: Stabroek News [edited]

Residents of Wakapoa, in Region Two (Pomeroon-Supenaam), suspect that there is a typhoid outbreak in the community, where the absence of medical professionals and drugs at the community health centre has become the norm. At least 8 people from the village have been reported as having typhoid.

A resident sought to highlight the plight of those in her village in a recent Facebook post by calling on those in authority to look into the matter. "Hello my friends, with a feeling of anxiety and frustration I reach out to you this evening to ask if anyone can refer me to the relevant authorities for help for the folks of Wakapoa. Presently, there seems to be an outbreak of typhoid in my community! With 6 people from my family already sick and in need of treatment!! There's no doctor or medex at our health centre and it is apparent we do not have any treatment here right now... 4 members in my family [are] presently at Suddie Hospital talking treatment... But it is very expensive to travel to that hospital and the required tests are also expensive," she wrote, while asking for assistance to notify the Public Health Minister and other organizations that could help the community.
======================
[Typhoid fever, so-called enteric fever caused by _Salmonella enterica_ serotype Typhi, often has a totally different presentation from that of the commoner kinds of salmonellosis. Epidemiologically, usually spread by contaminated food or water, typhoid is not a zoonosis like the more common types of salmonellosis. Clinically, vomiting and diarrhoea are typically absent; indeed, constipation is frequently reported. As it is a systemic illness, blood cultures are at least as likely to be positive as stool in enteric fever, particularly early in the course of the infection, and bone marrow cultures may be the most sensitive.

The symptoms of classical typhoid fever typically include fever, anorexia, lethargy, malaise, dull continuous headache, non-productive cough, vague abdominal pain, and constipation. Despite the frequently high fever, the pulse is often only slightly elevated. During the 2nd week of the illness, there is protracted fever and mental dullness, classically called coma vigil. Diarrhoea may develop but usually does not. Many patients develop hepatosplenomegaly [both liver and spleen enlarged]. After the 1st week or so, many cases develop a maculopapular rash on the upper abdomen. These lesions ("rose spots") are about 2 cm [0.78 in] in diameter and blanch on pressure. They persist for 2-4 days and may come and go. Mild and atypical infections are common.

The word typhoid (as in typhus-like) reflects the similarity of the louse-borne rickettsial disease epidemic typhus and that of typhoid fever; in fact, in some areas, typhoid fever is still referred to as abdominal typhus.

Pomeroon-Supenaam (Region 2) is a region in Guyana, bordering the Atlantic Ocean to the north, the region of Essequibo Islands-West Demerara to the east, the region of Cuyuni-Mazaruni to the south and the region of Barima-Waini to the west. Pomeroon-Supenaam contains the towns of Anna Regina, Charity, Pickersgill, Spring Garden and Suddie. It can be seen on a map of the country at <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pomeroon-Supenaam>. - ProMED Mod.LL]

[A HealthMap/ProMED-mail map can be accessed at:
More ...

World Travel News Headlines

Date: Mon, 27 Jan 2020 01:07:04 +0100 (MET)

Wuhan, China, Jan 27, 2020 (AFP) - China's central government said on Monday that the nationwide total of confirmed infections from a deadly respiratory virus had risen to 2,744, with 769 new cases coming to light.   However, it said no new deaths were confirmed outside of Hubei province, which had earlier reported 24 new fatalities to bring the national total to 80 dead.
Date: Sun, 26 Jan 2020 22:16:28 +0100 (MET)

Beijing, Jan 26, 2020 (AFP) - Chinese authorities have ordered the extension of a public holiday in an effort to contain an epidemic that has killed 56 people and infected nearly 2,000 worldwide, state-run media reported.   A working group chaired by Premier Li Keqiang to tackle the outbreak decided on Sunday "to reduce population flows" by extending the Spring Festival holiday which had been scheduled to end on January 30, state news agency Xinhua said.   It was not immediately clear how long the extension is.

The group also ordered changes to "the starting dates of schools" and "people to work from home by working online."   "The meeting stressed that the country is at a crucial time in the prevention and control of the novel coronavirus outbreak, urging Party committees and governments at all levels to take more 'decisive, powerful and orderly, scientific and well-planned' measures to effective curb the spread," Xinhua reported.   In a bid to slow the spread of the respiratory virus, the government had previously locked down hard-hit Hubei, a province in central China that is at the outbreak's epicentre, in an unprecedented operation affecting tens of millions of people.

The previously unknown virus has caused global concern because of its similarity to the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) pathogen, which killed hundreds across mainland China and Hong Kong in 2002-2003.   Originating in Hubei's capital of Wuhan, the virus has spread throughout China and across the world -- with cases confirmed in around a dozen countries including as far away as the United States.   Several countries were making arrangements to evacuate their citizens from Wuhan, where an eery calm pervades as new restrictions prohibit most road traffic in the metropolis of 11 million.
Date: Sun, 26 Jan 2020 21:47:53 +0100 (MET)

Washington, Jan 26, 2020 (AFP) - US health authorities said Sunday there are now five confirmed cases of the coronavirus in the United States and more are expected.   Nancy Messonnier, head of the respiratory disease section at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said around 100 people in 26 states are being investigated for the virus, which originated in the Chinese city of Wuhan.

Of the confirmed cases, all five people had travelled to Wuhan, Messonier said during a conference call with reporters.   "Every case we have had in the United States is someone who has had direct contact in Wuhan," she said.   Messonier said there are two cases in California and one each in Arizona, Illinois and Washington state. Until now the toll was three.   While Chinese officials have launched an extraordinary emergency response, Messonier insisted that the health risk for Americans in general remains low "at this time."
Date: Sun, 26 Jan 2020 13:44:57 +0100 (MET)

Lagos, Jan 26, 2020 (AFP) - Nigerian health authorities have announced stepped-up emergency measures to tackle a rise in Lassa fever cases after 29 people died this month.   "As at 24th of January 2020, 195 confirmed cases and 29 deaths had been reported in 11 states," the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) said in a statement Saturday.   A national emergency operations centre had been activated to coordinate the response "to the increasing number of Lassa fever cases" across the country.

Endemic to Nigeria, Lassa fever belongs to the same family as the Ebola and Marburg viruses, but is much less deadly.   The virus is spread by contact with rat faeces or urine. It starts with fever and can, in worst case scenarios, lead to severe bleeding and organ failure.   Nigeria declared an outbreak of Lassa fever a year ago and around 170 people died from the virus in 2019.

The number of cases usually climbs in January due to weather conditions during the dry season.    Almost 90 percent of the recent confirmed cases have been in Edo, Ondo and Ebonyi states in southern Nigeria, but their have also been deaths in the north.

The NCDC said that compared to the same period last year the fatality rate had dropped from 23.4 percent to 14.8 percent.    It encouraged Nigerians to "practise good hygiene and take measures to protect themselves and their families".   Nigeria, Africa's most populous nation with a population of some 200 million, has five laboratories with the capability to diagnose Lassa fever.
Date: Sun, 26 Jan 2020 12:18:19 +0100 (MET)

Beijing, Jan 26, 2020 (AFP) - Two Chinese provinces and three cities have ordered citizens to wear face masks in public, to help control the spread of a deadly virus.   The measure is required in the provinces of Guangdong in the south and Jiangxi in the centre, plus the eastern city of Nanjing, Ma'anshan city in Anhui province, and Xinyang city in Henan, according to local authorities.   China's industry and information technology ministry has said it would "spare no effort in increasing supply" after demand for masks skyrocketed.
Date: Sun, 26 Jan 2020 04:03:51 +0100 (MET)

Hong Kong, Jan 26, 2020 (AFP) - Hong Kong's Disneyland announced it was shutting its doors on Sunday until further notice over the deadly virus outbreak in central China, a day after city authorities classified the crisis as an emergency.   "As a precautionary measure in line with prevention efforts taking place across Hong Kong, we are temporarily closing Hong Kong Disneyland park out of consideration for the health and safety of our guests and cast members," the park said in a statement.
Date: 26 Jan 2020
Source: MENAFN [edited]

Two more polio cases have surfaced from Landikotal tehsil in Khyber tribal district, after which the number of reported cases in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has reached 4 this year [2020].

According to the Emergency Operations Centre (EOC), a 2-year-old [male child] from Nekikhel and another child from Torwela have been diagnosed with polio. The samples of these 2 children were sent for laboratory tests in 2019, so these cases will be counted in the tally of 2019, which stands at 141 now.

The 2 cases in Landiktoal were reported 2 days after the emergence of 3 new polio cases in Qambar, Dadu and Sajawal districts of Sindh. Among them, 2 children contracted the crippling disease in 2019, but the cases were confirmed on Friday [24 Jan 2020].

On [21 Jan 2020], the 1st case of polio in Pakistan in 2020 surfaced in Lakki Marwat, the district with the highest number of cases in 2019.

The year 2019 was worse for Pakistan in polio eradication efforts, as 141 cases surfaced in Pakistan, including 96 cases in KP. Most cases in KP surfaced in Lakki Marwat, where 32 children were diagnosed with the crippling disease. In 2018, only 12 cases were reported, while in 2017, 8 cases were reported.

Currently, Pakistan and Afghanistan are the only 2 countries in the world which have not fully eradicated polio. The main cause behind the emergence of so many polio cases is refusal of parents to cooperate with the vaccination teams. According to media reports citing Health Ministry data, over a million parents refused to cooperate with vaccination teams in 2019. Most of the refusal cases were reported in April last year [2019] when rumours spread in Peshawar that many children had fainted after consuming vaccination drops. A total of 1 089 087 parents refused to give vaccination drops to their children in 2019.

The emergence of so many polio cases in Pakistan, particularly in KP, has brought the federal and provincial governments under pressure over their performance and strategy to control the spread of disease.

Experts believe that polio vaccination efforts cannot succeed completely until the refusing parents are convinced to cooperate with vaccination teams.
==================
[The End Polio Pakistan website has not added all of the media reported cases as yet, so it's a bit difficult to follow at times and know which cases were 2019 onset and which were 2020 onset. The above media report clearly states 2019 onset and puts the tally for 2019 as 141 cases, but the media reports from Friday's [24 Jan 2020] report is less clear (see Poliomyelitis update (10): global, Pakistan (BA, SD) http://promedmail.org/post/20200124.6911971).

A good map of Pakistan showing districts and provinces can be found at:
Date: Fri 24 Jan 2020
Source: SciTechDaily [abridged, edited]

Citation: Amman BR, Bird BH, Bakarr IA, et al. Isolation of Angola-like Marburg virus from Egyptian rousette bats from West Africa. Nat Commun. 2020; 11:510.  <https://doi.org/10.1038/s41467-020-14327-8>

Scientists have detected Marburg virus in fruit bats in Sierra Leone, marking the 1st time the deadly virus has been found in West Africa. A total of 11 Egyptian rousette fruit bats tested positive for active Marburg virus infection. Research teams caught the bats separately in 3 health districts.

The presence of Marburg virus, a close relative to Ebola virus that also causes hemorrhagic disease in people, was detected in advance of any reported cases of human illness in Sierra Leone. However, the virus's presence in bats means people who live nearby could be at risk for becoming infected. No outbreaks have been reported to date.

The findings, based on PCR, antibody, and virus isolation data, were officially published today [24 Jan 2020] in the journal Nature Communications. Preliminary findings were announced earlier in December 2018 to ensure rapid notification to the citizens of Sierra Leone and the international health community.

The paper highlights the value of collaborating with government and key stakeholders across human, animal, and environmental sectors to engage at-risk communities about the discovery, address health concerns, and communicate risk-reduction strategies before recognized spillovers occur.

Marburg virus was detected by projects led by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the USAID-funded PREDICT project led by the One Health Institute at the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine; Njala University, Sierra Leone; and the University of Makeni, Sierra Leone.

"Finding Marburg virus in bats in Sierra Leone before any known cases in people is a huge success, as public health officials and doctors can now include Marburg virus among the possible causes when diagnosing hemorrhagic fever cases in the region," said Tracey Goldstein, co-principal investigator and pathogen detection lead for the PREDICT project from the UC Davis One Health Institute.

To date, there have been 12 known outbreaks of Marburg virus, with the most recent in Uganda in 2017. The largest and deadliest outbreak occurred in Angola in 2005 when 227 people died. Five of the new strains identified among the Marburg-positive bats in Sierra Leone were genetically similar to the strain that caused the outbreak in Angola. This is the 1st time scientists have detected these Angolan-like strains in bats.

The virus-positive bats were all Egyptian rousette bats, the known reservoir for Marburg virus, which primarily feed on fruit. Infected bats shed the virus in their saliva, urine, and feces. Egyptian rousette bats are known to test-bite fruits, urinate, and defecate where they eat, potentially contaminating fruit or other food sources consumed by other animals or people, particularly children. These bats sometimes serve as a food source for local populations as well. People may be exposed to Marburg virus through bat bites as they catch the bats.

Following the announcement of the preliminary findings by the government of Sierra Leone, the PREDICT team worked with government partners, universities, and other key stakeholders to develop and implement evidence-based public health messaging across national, district, and local community levels in Sierra Leone.  "Over a year ago, we worked with our Sierra Leone government colleagues to inform people across the country as fast as possible of this new health risk and remind people not to harm or come in contact with bats," said Brian Bird from the UC Davis One Health Institute and global lead for Sierra Leone and Multi-Country Ebola operations for PREDICT-USAID. "I'm very proud of that work and our teams now that this full report is available."
----------------------------------------------
Communicated by:
ProMED-mail from HealthMap Alerts
<promed@promedmail.org>
and
Mary Marshall
===========================
[The initial report of this finding, prior to this publication, was posted by ProMED-mail (Marburg virus disease - Sierra Leone (02): bats, additional information http://promedmail.org/post/20181223.6221436) when the virus was detected for the 1st time in fruit bats in Sierra Leone.

According to the CDC (<https://www.cdc.gov/vhf/marburg/index.html>), Marburg virus was 1st recognized in 1967, when outbreaks of hemorrhagic fever occurred simultaneously in laboratories in Marburg and Frankfurt, Germany, and in Belgrade, Yugoslavia (now Serbia). A total of 31 people became ill, initially laboratory workers followed by several medical personnel and family members who had cared for them; 7 deaths were reported. The 1st people infected had been exposed to imported African green monkeys or their tissues while conducting research. One additional case was diagnosed retrospectively.

The reservoir host of Marburg virus is the African fruit bat, _Rousettus aegyptiacus_. Fruit bats infected with Marburg virus do not show obvious signs of illness. Primates (including humans) can become infected with Marburg virus, and may develop serious disease with high mortality.

Ebola virus is closely related to Marburg virus. "Ebola viral RNA fragments were found in an oral swab from a greater long-fingered bat (_Miniopterus inflatus_), captured in 2016 in Liberia's Sanniquellie-Mahn district, which borders Guinea. The bat, which lives in many parts of Africa, roosts in caves and feeds on insects. Scientists had previously found 2 other Ebola species in a related insect-eating bat, _M. schreibersii_. However, most other evidence has pointed to fruit bats as the carriers of Ebola Zaire, Epstein says [J Epstein, veterinary epidemiologist at EcoHealth Alliance in New York City and a member of the PREDICT consortium]. "What it really says to me is that this is a virus that has multiple hosts, and it might be regionally dependent as to which species carries it."

Supporting the variety of bat hosts for Ebola, the bat implicated in the initiation of the West African Ebola virus outbreak in December 2013 was _Mops condylurus_, long-tailed insect-eating bats, that were previously suspected in an outbreak of the Sudan strain of Ebola virus, which is related to the Zaire strain. - ProMED Mod.LK]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map:
Date: Sat, 25 Jan 2020 11:49:16 +0100 (MET)
By Su Xinqi, Jerome TAYLOR

Hong Kong, Jan 25, 2020 (AFP) - Hong Kong on Saturday declared a new coronavirus outbreak as an "emergency" -- the city's highest warning tier -- as authorities ramped up measures to reduce the risk of further infections.   The announcement came as city leader Carrie Lam faced criticism in some quarters over her administration's response to the crisis.

Of the five people who have tested positive for the virus in Hong Kong so far, four arrived via a newly built high-speed train terminal which connects with the mainland.   That led to calls from some medical experts and politicians to limit, or even halt, arrivals from China, the epicentre of the outbreak with 41 people dead.

Lam held emergency meetings with health officials on Saturday morning after returning from Davos.   "Today I declare the lifting of the response level to emergency," she told reporters.   Schools and universities, which are currently on a Lunar New Year break, would remain closed until 17 February, Lam said.   All mainland arrivals to Hong Kong will now need to sign health declaration forms, she added, while public events including a new year gala and next month's marathon, would also be called off.    "We haven't seen serious and widespread infections (in Hong Kong), but we are taking this seriously and we hope to be ahead of the epidemic," Lam said.

- Tragic past -
Hong Kong has a recent experience of deadly viral outbreaks.    Nearly 300 people were killed by SARS in 2003, a tragedy that left a profound psychological impact on one of the most densely populated places on earth.   The city's ability to combat the crisis was hampered by moves in mainland China to cover up and play down the outbreak, leaving a lasting legacy of distrust among many Hong Kongers.   Animosity towards the mainland has intensified in recent years as Beijing tightens political control over the semi-autonomous territory.

The outbreak also comes at a sensitive time for Lam, who currently boasts record low approval ratings after seven months of pro-democracy protests.   "We must stand united so that we can prevent and control the disease," she said, in a nod to the political unrest.   The often violent protests have battered Hong Kong's reputation for stability and helped tip it into recession, with the recent virus outbreak compounding the city's economic woes.

Hospitals are already struggling with the winter flu season, but officials are isolating anyone with a history of travel to central China and those exhibiting respiratory tract infections that look similar to the virus.   So far some 300 people have been tested and monitored for the virus. Quarantine centres have been set up in remote holiday parks for anyone found to have come into close contact with people who tested positive.   On Saturday, officials announced a newly built but still-empty public housing block would be used for medical staff on the frontline who did not want to risk returning to their families.
Date: Sat, 25 Jan 2020 06:46:59 +0100 (MET)
By Mahmut Bozarslan and Fulya Ozerkan in Istanbu

Elazig, Turkey, Jan 25, 2020 (AFP) - A powerful earthquake has killed at least 20 people and injured more than 1,000 in eastern Turkey, as rescue teams searched through the rubble of collapsed buildings for survivors on Saturday.    At least 30 people were missing following the magnitude 6.8 quake on Friday night, which had its epicentre in the small lakeside town of Sivrice in the eastern province of Elazig.   "It was very scary, furniture fell on top of us. We rushed outside," 47-year-old Melahat Can, who lives in the provincial capital of Elazig, told AFP.   President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said all steps were being taken to aid people affected by the quake, which caused widespread fear.   "We stand by our people," Erdogan said on Twitter.

The Turkish government's disaster and emergency management agency (AFAD) said the quake hit Sivrice at around 8.55 pm (1755 GMT). Turkey lies on major faultlines and is prone to frequent earthquakes.    Turkish television showed images of people rushing outside in panic, as well as a fire on the roof of a building.   Interior, environment and health ministers, who were in the quake zone, said the casulties were in Elazig province and in the neighbouring province of Malatya, which lies to the southwest.

At least 20 people died and 1,015 others were wounded, according to AFAD.   "There is nobody trapped under the rubble in Malatya but in Elazig search and rescue efforts are currently under way to find 30 citizens," Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu said on Friday.   Rescue teams were searching for survivors trapped in a five-storey collapsed building in a village some 30 kilometres from Elazig, according to AFP journalists at the scene. One person was pulled alive from the rubble.   Emergency staff and people waiting at the scene lit fires in the streets to stay warm in freezing temperatures.   Sports centres, schools and guest houses had been opened to accommodate quake victims in Malatya.

- 'Everybody is in the street' -
Sivrice -- a town with a population of about 4,000 people -- is situated south of Elazig city on the shores of Hazar lake -- one of the most popular tourist spots in the region and the source of the Tigris river.   The lake is home to a "Sunken City", with archaeological traces dating back 4,000 years in its waters.

The tremor was felt in several parts of eastern Turkey near the Iraqi and Syrian borders, the Turkish broadcaster NTV reported, adding that neighbouring cities had mobilised rescue teams for the quake area.   "Everybody is in the street, it was very powerful, very scary," said Zekeriya Gunes, 68, from Elazig city, after the quakes caused a building to collapse on her street.   "It lasted quite long, maybe 30 seconds," added Ferda, 39. "I panicked and was undecided whether to go out in this cold or remain inside."

The US Geological Survey assessed the magnitude as 6.7, slightly lower than AFAD, adding that it struck near the East Anatolian Fault in an area that has suffered no documented large ruptures since an earthquake in 1875.   "My wholehearted sympathy to President @RTErdogan and the Turkish people following the devastating earthquake that has hit Turkey. Our search and rescue teams stand ready to assist," Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis wrote on Twitter.   In Athens, the Greek premier's office said later that Mitsotakis had spoken by phone to Erdogan.   "The Turkish president... said Turkish teams had the situation under control for now and that it would be re-evaluated in the morning," his office added.

In 1999, a devastating 7.4 magnitude earthquake hit Izmit in western Turkey, leaving more than 17,000 people dead including about 1,000 in the country's largest city Istanbul.    In September last year, a 5.7-magnitude earthquake shook Istanbul, causing residents to flee buildings in the economic capital.   Experts have long warned a large quake could devastate the city of 15 million people, which has allowed widespread building without safety precautions.