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Hong Kong

Hong Kong SAR (China) US Consular Information Sheet
August 26, 2008
DESCRIPTION:
Hong Kong, a Special Administrative Region (SAR) of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) since July 1, 1997, has a high degree of autonomy, except in the ar
as of defense and foreign policy, and retains its own currency, laws, and border controls.
It is composed of three geographic areas: the New Territories, Kowloon Peninsula, and Hong Kong Island. Hong Kong SAR is cosmopolitan and highly developed.
Tourist facilities and services are widely available.
The Hong Kong SAR Government web site provides Hong Kong Fact Sheets on a comprehensive range of subjects at http://www.gov.hk/en/about/abouthk/factsheets/index.htm.
Read the Department of State Background Notes on Hong Kong for additional information.

ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS:
A passport with a minimum of one-month validity after the period of intended stay, adequate funds to cover stay without working and evidence of onward/return transportation are required.
Because many neighboring areas require six months validity remaining on the passport, U.S. citizens planning travel beyond Hong Kong should ensure that their passports are valid for at least six months from the date of their proposed entry into such areas.
A visa is not required for tourist visits of up to 90 days by U.S. citizens.
An extension of stay may be granted upon application to the Hong Kong SAR Immigration Department.
Visas are required to work or study in Hong Kong.
Visit the Hong Kong SAR Immigration Department at http://www.immd.gov.hk/ehtml/home.htm or the Embassy of the People's Republic of China web site at http://www.china-embassy.org/eng/ for the most current visa information.

U.S. citizens should obtain all required visas prior to departing the U.S.
Specifically, U.S. citizens wishing to travel to the PRC from Hong Kong require a PRC visa and should apply at the PRC Embassy or consulates in the U.S.
Parents whose children hold U.S. passports should be aware that the PRC Visa Office may require certified birth certificates or other U.S. documents for these children.
Persons applying in Hong Kong for PRC visas for U.S.-born children have been unable to obtain PRC visas without the certified U.S. birth certificate.
Parents should consider bringing their children’s certified birth certificates if applying for a PRC visa in Hong Kong.
Further information on travel to and around the PRC is available in our China Country Specific Sheet.

Information about the prevention of international child abduction can be found on our web site.

SAFETY AND SECURITY:
Although there have been no terrorist incidents in Hong Kong, the Department of State reminds Americans everywhere that U.S. citizens and interests are at a heightened risk of attack by terrorists.
These individuals and groups have proven that they do not distinguish between official and civilian targets. Because security awareness has been elevated within the United States, terrorists may target U.S. interests overseas.
Private Americans should be aware of the potential risks when making travel plans and should remain vigilant with regard to their personal security and exercise caution.
The State Department will continue to develop information about potential threats.

For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs’ web site at http://travel.state.gov, where the current Travel Warnings and Travel Alerts, as well as the Worldwide Caution, can be found.

Up-to-date information on safety and security can also be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll-free in the U.S. and Canada, or for callers outside the U.S. and Canada, a regular toll-line at 1-202-501-4444.
These numbers are available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays).

The Department of State urges American citizens to take responsibility for their own personal security while traveling overseas.
For general information about appropriate measures travelers can take to protect themselves in an overseas environment, see the Department of State’s pamphlet A Safe Trip Abroad.
CRIME:
Hong Kong SAR has a low crime rate.
Even so, travelers should exercise caution when in congested areas and pay particular attention to personal belongings while in crowded markets and while traveling on public transportation.
Violent crime, though rare, does occur.

There have been a few reports of robberies involving the drug rohypnol, commonly known as the “date rape drug.”
Most reports have involved bar staff and/or prostitutes from bars and clubs in the popular Wanchai and Tsim Sha Tsui districts.
The drug is administered via food or drink to unwitting victims, who later awake to find all of their valuables missing.
The drug causes the victim to lose consciousness, sometimes for over 24 hours, and often induces short-term amnesia.
Travelers are advised to avoid leaving drinks or food unattended, and should not accept food or drink from strangers or new acquaintances.

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.
Hong Kong has a crime victim compensation program available to U.S. citizens who are legal residents or tourists in Hong Kong.
For more detailed information on the program and its requirements, please see the Hong Kong Social Welfare Department web page at http://www.swd.gov.hk/en/index/site_pubsvc/page_socsecu/sub_criminalan/.

The local equivalent to the “911” emergency line in Hong Kong is 999.

See our information on Victims of Crime.
MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION:
Good medical facilities are available, and there are many Western-trained physicians in Hong Kong.
Prescription drugs are widely available although may have different names than those in the U.S.
Emergency services response time is good.
Doctors and hospitals require immediate cash payment for health services and generally do not accept credit cards.
The U.S. Department of State is unaware of any HIV/AIDS entry restrictions for visitors to or foreign residents of Hong Kong.

The H5N1 virus (“avian flu”) has been found in poultry and wild birds in Hong Kong.
While rare, human infection and death from H5N1 infection have been reported.
Most reported cases of human infection with H5N1 viruses have occurred after contact with H5N1-infected poultry or birds, but a small number of cases may have occurred following close and prolonged contact with another person who is visibly ill from H5N1 infection.
Further information about Avian Flu is available from the Centers for Disease Control’s Avian Flu Traveler Information web page at http://wwwn.cdc.gov/travel/contentAvianFluInformation.aspx.
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 Hong Kong is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.

About 90 percent of the population in Hong Kong depends on public transport. Taxis, buses, and the mass transit railway (MTR) are readily available, inexpensive, and generally safe. The MTR is an underground railway network and is the most popular mode of public transport, carrying an average of 2.3 million passengers a day.

In Hong Kong, traffic moves on the left. During the daytime, traffic congests Hong Kong's urban areas.
Each year, more than 19,000 drivers, passengers, and pedestrians are injured or killed in traffic accidents in Hong Kong.
Speed limits are 50 kilometers per hour in urban areas, 80 kilometers per hour on highways and 110 kilometers per hour on expressways unless otherwise marked.
The use of seat belts in vehicles, if so equipped, is mandatory both in the front and back seats.
The maximum penalty for dangerous driving causing death can be a fine of $50,000 HK ($6,500 US), imprisonment for five years and disqualification from driving for not less than two years on first conviction.
At the scene of a traffic accident, drivers are required to undergo alcohol level testing.
Any driver found exceeding the prescribed limit of blood alcohol level may face prosecution under Hong Kong law.
The use of hand-held cellular phones while driving in Hong Kong is strictly prohibited.
A breach of this law can lead to a maximum fine of $2,000 HK ($260 US).
However, motorists can use “hands-free devices,” such as headphones and speakerphones.
Hong Kong law requires that all registered vehicles carry valid third-party liability insurance.

A Hong Kong driver’s license may be issued without a test to individuals who hold a valid U.S. driver’s license, provided they have resided in the United States for not less than six months. U.S. citizen visitors who do not plan to stay in Hong Kong for more than twelve months can drive in Hong Kong on their valid U.S. driver’s license.
Visit the website of the Hong Kong Transport Department at http://www.td.gov.hk/home/index.htm for further details.

Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information.

AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT:
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the Government of Hong Kong’s Civil Aviation Authority as being in compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards for oversight of Hong Kong’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:
Customs Regulations:
Hong Kong SAR customs authorities enforce strict regulations concerning controlled items carried while transiting Hong Kong (temporary importation or exportation) such as firearms and ammunition, counterfeit goods or illegally produced copies of copyright items, ivory, narcotics, medications, television decoders requiring a subscription, animals and plants, meat and poultry, textiles, and sensitive high technology or military products.
Travelers bringing such goods into Hong Kong without a license may be prosecuted and the goods may be seized. The penalty for trafficking in dangerous drugs can be life imprisonment and a heavy fine.
Among the other items that travelers must declare to customs officials are liquors, tobacco, cigarettes and cigars, methyl alcohol, and merchandise imported for commercial purposes.
There are no currency restrictions for travelers.

Travelers are liable to prosecution and possible detention if they bring into/out of Hong Kong any firearm or ammunition.
Unless otherwise exempted by laws, possession of an "imitation firearm" is also an offense. "Arms" means any firearm, air rifle/air gun/air pistol from which any shot, bullet or missile can be discharged with a muzzle energy greater than two joules, electric stunning device, gun/pistol or other propelling/releasing instrument from or by which a projectile containing any gas or chemical could be discharged, weapon for the discharge of any noxious liquid/gas/powder, and harpoon or spear gun. Paintball guns are included in this category.

Travelers are also liable to prosecution if they bring into/out of Hong Kong any "weapon," which includes Chinese-style throwing dart, gravity knife, gravity-operated steel baton, knuckleduster, Chinese-style fighting iron, spring-loaded steel baton, any knife the blade of which is exposed by a spring or other mechanical/electric device, and any bladed/pointed weapon.
Please note that the fact that such items may be openly for sale in mainland China does not necessarily mean that they may be brought into Hong Kong.

Please visit the website of the Hong Kong Department of Customs and Excise at http://www.customs.gov.hk/eng/content_e.html for specific information regarding Hong Kong customs requirements.

Visitors to Hong Kong should be aware that the importation into the United States of counterfeit, brand-name items, such as watches, compact discs, computer software, and clothing, is prohibited by U.S. law.

U.S. Customs officials encourage the use of an ATA (Admission Temporaire/Temporary Admission) Carnet for the temporary admission of professional equipment, commercial samples, and/or goods for exhibitions and fair purposes.
For additional information, please or visit the U.S. Council for International Business web site for details at http://www.uscib.org/index.asp?documentID=718.

Dogs and cats may be brought into Hong Kong only with a special permit issued in advance.
Dogs and cats imported from the United States may be exempted from quarantine when they have valid health and vaccination certificates and the pets have been in the United States for at least six months.
Additional information on importing pets is available on the Hong Kong Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department web site at http://www.afcd.gov.hk/english/quarantine/qua_ie/qua_ie_ipab/qua_ie_ipab.html.

Please see our Customs Information.

Dual Nationality: Under PRC nationality law, persons who are of Chinese descent and who were born in the mainland of China or Hong Kong are PRC citizens.
However, under an agreement between the United States and the PRC, all U.S. citizens entering Hong Kong on their U.S. passports, including such persons as may be considered PRC nationals by the PRC authorities, are considered U.S. citizens by the Hong Kong SAR authorities for purposes of ensuring consular access and protection.

Dual nationals, who are or previously were Hong Kong residents, and who wish to ensure U.S. consular access and protection after the initial 90-day period of admission into Hong Kong, must declare their U.S. nationality by presenting their U.S. passports to the Hong Kong Immigration Department and completing an application for declaration of change of nationality.
This declaration of change of nationality will ensure U.S. consular protection and may also result in loss of one’s Chinese nationality (but not necessarily one’s right of abode).
Although such individuals' failure to declare U.S. nationality may jeopardize U.S. consular protection, such failure will not jeopardize their U.S. citizenship.
Dual national residents of Hong Kong who enter Hong Kong on their Hong Kong identity cards rather than their U.S. passports and who desire to guarantee U.S. consular protection should declare their U.S. nationality to the Hong Kong Immigration Department as soon as possible after entry.

Dual nationals contemplating onward travel to PRC should be especially attentive to use of their U.S. passports, as the PRC authorities may require them to use the same document for entry into the PRC as they used to enter Hong Kong.
The Nationality Law of the PRC does not recognize dual nationality.
U.S. citizens, including such persons as may be considered Chinese nationals by the PRC authorities, who enter and depart the PRC using a U.S. passport and a valid PRC visa retain the right of U.S. consular access and protection under the U.S.-PRC Consular Convention.
The ability of the U.S. Embassy or consulates general in the PRC to provide normal consular services would be extremely limited should a dual national enter the PRC on a non-U.S. passport.
Therefore, travelers should carefully consider whether or not to use a passport or travel document other than their U.S. passport.

For further information on consular protection and dual nationality please refer to our information on dual nationality.
Information on Hong Kong permanent residence may be obtained from the Hong Kong Immigration Department’s right of abode web page at http://www.immd.gov.hk/ehtml/hksarvepid.htm.

Typhoons:
During the storm season (July through September), the Hong Kong Observatory issues typhoon warnings on an average of six times a year and heavy rainstorm alerts more frequently.
The Hong Kong Observatory has a good notification and monitoring system in place.
Please consult the Hong Kong Observatory web site for further information at http://www.hko.gov.hk/contente.htm.
General information about natural disaster preparedness is available at the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) web site at http://www.fema.gov/.
Please be advised that if Typhoon Signal 8 or above or Black Rainstorm Warning is announced by the Hong Kong Government, the Consulate General will be closed.

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 Hong Kong laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned.
Penalties for possession or use of, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Hong Kong 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 Hong Kong are encouraged to register with the U.S. Consulate through the State Department’s travel registration web site so that they can obtain updated information on travel and security within Hong Kong.
Americans without Internet access may register directly with the U.S. Consulate.
By registering, American citizens make it easier for the Consulate to contact them in case of emergency.
The U.S. Consulate is located at 26 Garden Road, Central, Hong Kong, 24-hour telephone number (852) 2523-9011.
Direct lines to American Citizen Services are (852) 2841-2211, 2841-2323, 2841-2225, fax (852) 2845-4845, email: acshk@state.gov.
The U.S. mailing address is PSC 461, Box 5, FPO, AP 96521-0006.
Please check the U.S. Consulate General Hong Kong web site for current office hours at http://hongkong.usconsulate.gov/
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This replaces the Specific Information for Hong Kong dated December 3, 2007 to update sections on Entry/Exit Requirements, Information for Victims of Crime, Medical Facilities and Health Information, Traffic Safety and Road Conditions, Special Circumstances and Registration.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Mon, 2 Sep 2019 03:25:52 +0200 (METDST)

Hong Kong, Sept 2, 2019 (AFP) - Hong Kong pro-democracy protesters threw morning rush hour train travel into chaos on Monday, kicking off another day of potential turmoil after a weekend featuring some of the worst violence in three months of anti-government protests.   The global financial hub is in the midst of an unprecedented crisis as a largely leaderless movement has drawn millions on to the streets to protest against what they see as an erosion of freedoms and increasing interference in their affairs by Beijing.

In the latest action, protesters dressed in their signature black stood at doorways of trains, stopping them from closing, at a series of stations on the underground system on Monday morning, causing major delays on the network.   The protesters have also called for a general strike on Monday, while university students are due to rally in the afternoon.   Hong Kong is a semi-autonomous southern Chinese city that operates under a "one country, two systems" framework, which gives citizens rights unseen on the mainland.

China committed to giving the people of Hong Kong those rights in an agreement that saw the city return from British colonial rule in 1997.   China's erosions of those rights has been one of the driving forces behind the protest movement.   The protests started in opposition to government plans to allow the extradition to the mainland of people wanted by Beijing, but have widened to include broader demands.   These include demands for the extradition bill to be formally scrapped and for an independent inquiry into alleged police brutality during the protests.   The protesters also want the city's leader and all its lawmakers to be directly elected, scrapping the current system that heavily favours the Chinese government.

- Student boycott
The new round of protest actions on Monday came after yet another weekend of violence on the streets as well as efforts by protesters to disrupt the city's airport, one of the busiest in the world.   On Sunday at least a dozen flights were cancelled after protesters blocked routes to the airport, although police fended off demonstrators' efforts to converge on the terminal itself.

On Saturday, hardcore protesters rampaged through the city centre, setting fires and throwing petrol bombs at riot police in defiance of a rally ban.   Police hit back with tear gas, baton charges and water cannon laced with chemical dye.   Video footage captured by local media showed police charge and beat a crowd cowering inside a train carriage, with Amnesty International calling their actions "horrifying".

Universities were due to resume classes Monday after a summer break, but students -- who make up the backbone of the protest movement -- are planning a two-week boycott.   Protesters were also urging a general strike.    In early August, a city-wide strike -- a rare occurence in a freewheeling finance hub where unions traditionally have little sway -- brought transport chaos to the city.

Hong Kong' flagship carrier Cathay Pacific has warned staff they risk being sacked if they joined Monday's strike after the last walkout was supported by the airline's flight attendant union.   Cathay has already fired at least four staff -- including two pilots -- for supporting the protests.   Hong Kong's reputation as a stable place to do business has been shaken by the ongoing protests.   Visitor arrivals have plummeted, hotel vacancies have soared and retailers have reported huge losses as a result of the protests, but the government has offered little in the way of concessions or suggestions on how to end them.
Date: Sun, 1 Sep 2019 23:03:00 +0200 (METDST)

Hong Kong, Sept 1, 2019 (AFP) - Hong Kong braced for more disruption Monday with calls for a general strike and university students threatening a boycott of classes after a weekend featuring some of the worst violence in three months of anti-government protests.   The financial hub has been thrown into chaos by a largely leaderless movement that has drawn millions onto the streets to protest against what they see as an erosion of freedoms and increasing interference in their affairs by Beijing.

Authorities have given permission for two rallies on Monday, but it is unclear how well supported they will be, or if they will spill over into violence as most recent gatherings have done.   Unversities are due to resume classes Monday after a summer break, but students -- who make up the backbone of the protest movement -- plan a two-week boycott, and a rally in the afternoon.

The protests started in opposition to government plans to allow the extradition to the mainland of people wanted by Beijing, but have widened to include broader demands.   Chief among these are for the extradition bill to be formally scrapped, for the territory's chief executive to quit, and for an independent inquiry into alleged police brutality during the protests.   "This is a leaderless campaign where the like-minded students gather and make class boycott happen," said a boycott organiser, requesting anonymity.   Monday's strike call comes with the city still recovering from a weekend of clashes that saw at least a dozen flights cancelled Sunday after protesters blocked routes to the airport.

On Saturday, hardcore protesters rampaged through the city centre, setting fires and throwing petrol bombs at riot police in defiance of a rally ban.   Police hit back with tear gas, baton charges and water cannon laced with chemical dye.   Video footage captured by local media showed elite police charge and beat a crowd cowering inside a train carriage, with Amnesty International calling their actions "horrifying".   In early August, a city-wide strike -- a rare occurance in a freewheeling finance hub where unions traditionally have little sway -- brought transport chaos to the city.

Hong Kong' flagship carrier Cathay Pacific has warned staff they risk being sacked if they joined Monday's strike after the last walkout was supported by the airline's flight attendant union.   Cathay has already fired at least four staff -- including two pilots -- for supporting the protests.   Hong Kong's reputation as a stable place to do business has been shaken by the ongoing protests.   Visitor arrivals have plummeted, hotel vacancies have soared and retailers have reported huge losses as a result of the protests, but the government has offered little in the way of concessions or suggestions on how to end them.
Date: Thu, 15 Aug 2019 14:11:31 +0200 (METDST)

Hong Kong, Aug 15, 2019 (AFP) - Hong Kong's government unveiled HK$19.1 billion (US$2.44 billion) worth of economic relief measures and downgraded its growth forecasts on Thursday as the international hub reels from simmering pro-democracy protests and the US-China trade war.   Last week city leader Carrie Lam warned that 10-weeks of anti-government protests were hitting businesses like a "tsunami".    On Thursday, financial chief Paul Chan predicted the city's economy would grow by a miserly zero to one percent this year, the worst rate since 2009 after the global crash hit.

But as he announced a raft of sweeteners in a surprise "mini-budget", he denied the move was linked to the roiling unrest.   "The measures that we have just announced... trying to tackle the current economic difficulties and the coming economic headwinds, is not related to the political difficulties that we are facing," Chan told reporters.   Instead, he said, the primary headwinds remained ongoing trade tensions between Washington and Beijing -- two major markets for Hong Kong -- and the possible impact of Brexit.    "Based on the latest developments and assessments on the outlook, the Hong Kong economy will continue to face an austere environment for the rest of the year," he said.

Nonetheless, the sweeteners seemed to be aimed at winning over support from moderate Hong Kongers as the city reels from the protests.    The measures included financial breaks for small businesses, more generous student subsidies and goodies for low-income households.  Ten weeks of unprecedented rallies, demonstrations and occupations in Hong Kong have seen millions of people take to the streets in the biggest challenge to China's rule of the semi-autonomous city since its 1997 handover from Britain.   The social and political unrest was triggered by a controversial bill which would have allowed extraditions to mainland China, but has evolved into a call for wider democratic reforms and a halt to sliding freedoms.

The retail and tourism sectors have been especially hit by the drop in arriving visitors to the city, but the property market remains strong.   At a "citizens press conference" on Thursday, one protest group blamed the city's economic woes on the local leaders who they accused of undermining the city's business appeal by kowtowing to Beijing.
Date: Fri 9 Aug 2019
Source: Outbreak News Today [edited]

The Hong Kong Centre for Health Protection (CHP) today [9 Aug 2019], reported investigating a case of human infection of rat Hepatitis E virus (HEV) involving a 43-year-old man with underlying illnesses. The case had presented with liver function derangement since May 2019.

The patient has been in a stable condition all along and has not required hospitalization. His blood sample tested positive for rat HEV upon laboratory testing.

The CHP's epidemiological investigations revealed that the patient resided in Kwai Tsing district. He could neither recall having direct contact with rodents or their excreta, nor had noticed rodents in his residence. He had travelled to Shenzhen during the incubation period.

"Based on the available epidemiological information, the source and the route of infection could not be determined. The CHP's investigation is ongoing," a spokesman for the CHP said.
=======================
[The following is the introduction from a 2018 report: Sridhar S, Yip CCY, Wu S, et al. Rat hepatitis E virus as cause of persistent hepatitis after liver transplant. Emerg Infect Dis. Dec 2018; 24(12): 2241-50; <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6256372/pdf/18-0937.pdf>. The references can be seen at the original URL.

"Hepatitis E virus (HEV) infects 20 million humans worldwide annually (1). HEV-infected persons usually have self-limiting acute hepatitis. However, persistent hepatitis can occur in HEV-infected immunocompromised patients who acquire infection by eating undercooked pork, rabbit, deer, camel, or boar meat (2-6). HEV transmission through blood product transfusion also has been described (7).

"The diverse Hepeviridae family, which incorporates all HEV variants, includes members whose primary host species are terrestrial mammals (genus _Orthohepevirus_) and fish (genus _Piscihepevirus_) (8). The _Orthohepevirus_ genus is classified into 4 species; HEV variants that have been reported to infect humans belong to _Orthohepevirus_ A (HEV-A). A total of 5 genotypes within HEV-A (HEV-1-4 and -7) cause hepatitis in humans, and 3 genotypes (HEV-3, -4, and -7) can cause chronic hepatitis in immunocompromised patients after foodborne zoonotic transmission (2,6,9,10).

"In addition to HEV-A, the _Orthohepevirus_ genus includes 3 other species: _Orthohepevirus B_ circulates in chickens, _Orthohepevirus C_ (HEV-C) in rats and ferrets, and _Orthohepevirus D_ in bats. HEV-C, also known as rat hepatitis E virus, shares only 50%-60% nt [nucleotide] identity with HEV-A (8). The zoonotic potential of HEV-C is unknown; cases of clinical infection have not been reported. The substantial phylogenetic divergence between HEV-A and HEV-C, especially in critical receptor binding domains, forms a theoretical species barrier (11). Serologic and molecular tests for HEV are designed primarily to detect HEV-A, and they might miss HEV-C infections. Therefore, the threat to human health, including blood and organ supply safety, from HEV-C is unknown. We aimed to prove definitively that HEV-C can infect humans and describe the clinical, epidemiologic, genomic, and serologic features of this new zoonosis."

Additionally, a case was reported from Canada in 2019:  Andonov A, Robbins M, Borlang J, et al. Rat hepatitis E virus linked to severe acute hepatitis in an immunocompetent patient. J Infect Dis. 2019; 220(6): 951-955.  <https://academic.oup.com/jid/advance-article-abstract/doi/10.1093/infdis/jiz025/5288497>

Abstract
--------
"Hepatitis E virus (HEV) is a major public health concern in developing countries where the primary transmission is via contaminated water. Zoonotic HEV cases have been increasingly described in Europe, Japan and the United States with pigs representing the main animal reservoir of infection. We report an unusual acute hepatitis infection in a previously healthy man caused by a rat hepatitis E virus with a considerably divergent genomic sequence compared to other rat HEV strains. It is possible that rat HEV is an under recognized cause of hepatitis infection and further studies are necessary to elucidate its potential risk and mode of transmission."

As well, the virus has recently been reported in UK rodents: Murphy EG, Williams NJ, Jennings D, et al. First detection of Hepatitis E virus (_Orthohepevirus C_) in wild brown rats (_Rattus norvegicus_) from Great Britain. Zoonoses Public Health. 2019; 66(6): 686-694 <https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/zph.12581>

Abstract
--------
"In the United Kingdom, there has been an increase in the number of hepatitis E virus (HEV) infections in people annually since 2010. Most of these are thought to be indigenously acquired _Orthohepevirus A_ genotype 3 (HEV G3), which has been linked to pork production and consumption. However, the dominant subgroup circulating in British pigs differs from that which is found in people; therefore, an alternative, potentially zoonotic, source is suspected as a possible cause of these infections. Rodents, brown rats (_Rattus norvegicus_) in particular, have been shown to carry HEV, both the swine HEV G3 genotype and _Orthohepevirus C_, genotype C1 (rat HEV). To investigate the prevalence of HEV in British rodents, liver tissue was taken from 307 rodents collected from pig farms (n = 12) and other locations (n = 10). The RNA from these samples was extracted and tested using a pan-HEV nested RT-PCR. Limited histopathology was also performed. In this study, 8/61 (13%, 95% CI, 5-21) of brown rat livers were positive for HEV RNA. Sequencing of amplicons demonstrated all infections to be rat HEV with 87%-92% nucleotide identity to other rat HEV sequences circulating within Europe and China (224 nt ORF-1). Lesions and necrosis were observed histologically in 2/3 samples examined. No rat HEV RNA was detected in any other species, and no HEV G3 RNA was detected in any rodent in this study. This is the 1st reported detection of rat HEV in Great Britain. A human case of rat HEV infection has recently been reported in Asia, suggesting that rat HEV could pose a risk to public health." - ProMED Mod.LL]

[HealthMap/ProMED map available at:
Date: Mon, 5 Aug 2019 15:47:31 +0200 (METDST)
By Elaine YU, Yan ZHAO

Hong Kong, Aug 5, 2019 (AFP) - Hong Kong riot police clashed Monday with pro-democracy protesters for a third straight day, as the city's leader warned the global financial hub was nearing a "very dangerous situation" and a rare strike caused transport chaos.   Clouds of tear gas billowed across multiple locations on Monday as the city buckled under a general strike, which protesters pushed to emphasise they still had broad public support following two months of increasingly violent unrest.

In a rare public appearance since the crisis began, chief executive Carrie Lam warned protesters she would not cave to their demands.   "(They) have seriously undermined Hong Kong's law and order and are pushing our city, the city that we all love and many of us helped to build, to the verge of a very dangerous situation," Lam said.   She later referenced chants by protesters for a "revolution", describing this as a challenge to the "one country, two systems" framework under which Hong Kong has been ruled since it returned from British to Chinese rule in 1997.   "I dare say they are trying to destroy Hong Kong," said Lam, who was appointed by a pro-Beijing committee.   China's cabinet-level State Council said it planned to hold a press conference on Tuesday.   Lam spoke on a day that saw widespread civil disobedience across the city.

Activists descended on subway stations during morning rush hour, deliberately keeping open doors to stop trains departing and paralysing large parts of a network that millions of people use daily.   They later held simultaneous rallies at seven locations and besieged multiple police stations, stretching the resources of a force that has become a lightning rod for public anger.   Tear gas was fired in four separate locations, making Monday's clashes the most widespread so far.   The most sustained clashes occurred outside the city's parliament -- where protesters used giant slingshots to launch bricks -- and in the working-class district of Wong Tai Sin.   In the evening, a group of men armed with long sticks, clashed with protesters in North Point, a neighbourhood where many Chinese migrants live and is known for its strong Beijing ties.    They chased and beat protesters, who threw traffic cones and barricades in return.

- Protesters unbowed -
In a briefing that highlighted the longevity of the protests, police said they had fired more than 1,000 rounds of tear gas and 160 rubber bullets since rallies began on June 9, with 420 people arrested and 139 officers injured so far.   But the protesters remain unbowed.    "Support for the political strike today seems strong and it has been bolstered further by the escalating violence between the police and protesters," political analyst Dixon Wong told AFP.   The strike -- a rare occurrence in the finance hub where unions traditionally have little sway -- hit the vital aviation sector.   More than 160 flights at the city's airport, one of the world's busiest, were listed as cancelled on Monday. Many were with Cathay Pacific, Hong Kong's flag carrier.

The airline did not give a reason for the cancellations, but its flight attendants union confirmed some of its members had walked out.   Some key roads were also blocked and many shops across the city were shuttered, including big-name fashion outlets in the central commercial district.   The strike led to some scuffles between angry commuters and protesters at crowded subway stations.   One video, verified by AFP, showed a car smashing its way through a protester roadblock in the northern town of Yuen Long.   Another showed a taxi ramming protesters who hurled projectiles.

- Surge in violence -
But while some locals were angered by the disruptions, others said they supported the action.    "As long as the government doesn't respond then for sure the movement will escalate," a civil servant, who gave his surname as Leung, told AFP as he tried to make his way to work.    The past fortnight has seen a surge in violence from both sides, with police repeatedly firing rubber bullets and tear gas to disperse increasingly hostile projectile-throwing crowds.

A week ago a group of men suspected to be linked to triads -- Hong Kong's notorious gangsters -- also attacked demonstrators, putting 45 people in hospital.   Dozens of protesters have been charged with rioting, which carries a jail term of 10 years.   The protests were triggered by opposition to a planned law that would have allowed extraditions to mainland China, but have evolved into a wider movement for democratic reform and a halt to eroding freedoms.
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World Travel News Headlines

Date: Tue 17 Sep 2019
Source: Boston Globe [edited]

Rhode Island officials announced Tuesday [17 Sep 2019] that 2 more human cases of eastern equine encephalitis [EEE] were confirmed in the state.

The 2 people -- one a Coventry child younger than 10 and the other a person in their 50s from Charlestown -- have been discharged from the hospital and are recovering, according to a statement from the state's Department of Public Health.

Authorities think the 2 people contracted EEE in late August [2019]. The cases were confirmed by tests done at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. There have been 3 confirmed EEE cases in Rhode Island this year [2019]. A West Warwick resident diagnosed with the mosquito-borne illness died this month [September 2019].

All 3 people contracted EEE before areas at critical risk for the disease were aerially sprayed with pesticide, state officials said.

EEE is a rare but potentially fatal disease that can cause brain inflammation and is transmitted to humans bitten by infected mosquitoes, according to federal authorities. About 1/3 of infected people who develop the disease will die, officials have said, and those who recover often live with severe and devastating neurological complications. There is no treatment for EEE.

"This [2019] has been a year with significantly elevated EEE activity, and mosquitoes will remain a threat in Rhode Island until our 1st hard frost, which is still several weeks out," said Ana Novais, the deputy director for the state's health department. "Personal mosquito-prevention measures remain everyone's 1st defence against EEE. If possible, people should limit their time outdoors at sunrise and sunset. If you are going to be out, long sleeves and pants are very important, as is bug spray [repellent]."

EEE was also confirmed in a deer in Exeter this week [week of Mon 16 Sep 2019].

In Massachusetts, 8 human cases of EEE have been confirmed this year [2019]. Last month [August 2019], a Fairhaven woman with EEE died.
========================
[The 1st Rhode Island case died. Now there are 2 additional EEE cases who have recovered sufficiently to have been discharged from the hospital. Although most reported cases of EEE this year [2019] have occurred in horses, there have been several recent human cases as well. Individuals living in areas where human or equine EEE cases have occurred should heed the above recommendations to prevent mosquito bites. Avoidance of mosquito bites is the only preventive measure available. Fortunately, horses can be vaccinated, but there is no vaccine available for humans.

The risk of EEE virus infection for humans and horses will continue in Rhode Island and the other affected states until the 1st killing frosts occur, likely in October (2019). - ProMED Mod.TY]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map:
Rhode Island, United States: <http://healthmap.org/promed/p/241>]
Date: Tue 17 Sep 2019
Source: Detroit Free Press [edited]

State health officials said Tuesday [17 Sep 2019] that 3 Michiganders have died from the rare and dangerous mosquito-borne virus eastern equine encephalitis [EEE], and 4 others have been sickened by the disease, amid the biggest outbreak in more than a decade.

Those who live in all 8 of the affected counties -- Kalamazoo, Cass, Van Buren, Berrien, Barry, St. Joseph, Genesee, and Lapeer counties -- are urged to consider canceling, postponing, or rescheduling outdoor events that occur at or after dusk, especially those that involve children, according to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. This would include events such as late-evening sports practices or games or outdoor music practices "out of an abundance of caution to protect the public health, and applies until the 1st hard frost of the year [2019]," according to an MDHHS news release.

The 3 people who died were all adults and lived in Kalamazoo, Cass, and Van Buren counties, [respectively], said Bob Wheaton, a spokesman for the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. The 4 other confirmed cases are in Kalamazoo, Berrien, and Barry counties.

Animals have also been confirmed to have the virus in St. Joseph, Genesee, and Lapeer counties.

The Kalamazoo County Health and Community Services Department also issued a recommendation to local communities and school districts to consider canceling outdoor events at dusk or after dark, when mosquitoes are most active, or move [the events] indoors.  "Michigan is currently experiencing its worst eastern equine encephalitis outbreak in more than a decade," said Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, MDHHS chief medical executive and chief deputy for health. "The ongoing cases reported in humans and animals and the severity of this disease illustrate the importance of taking precautions against mosquito bites."

EEE is one of the deadliest mosquito-borne viruses in the US. One in 3 people who are infected with the virus die. The only way to prevent it is to avoid mosquito bites. The MDHHS says residents should
- apply insect repellents that contain the active ingredient DEET or other US Environmental Protection Agency-registered product to exposed skin or clothing, and always follow the manufacturer's directions for use;
- wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants when outdoors. Apply insect repellent to clothing to help prevent bites;
- maintain window and door screening to help keep mosquitoes outside;
- empty water from mosquito breeding sites around the home, such as buckets, unused kiddie pools, old tires, or similar sites where mosquitoes may lay eggs; and
- use nets and/or fans over outdoor eating areas.

Symptoms of EEE include
- sudden onset of fever, chills;
- body and joint aches, which can progress to a severe encephalitis;
- headache;
- disorientation;
- tremors;
- seizures;
- paralysis; and
- coma.

Anyone experiencing these symptoms should visit a doctor.

[Byline: Kristen Jordan Shamus]
=======================
[The number of human cases remains at 7. However, 3 of these have died since the 6 Sep 2019 report (see Eastern equine encephalitis - North America (18): USA human, horse, deer http://promedmail.org/post/20190910.6667626). However, even among the survivors, there is a significant risk of permanent neurological damage following clinical encephalitis. CDC reports that many individuals with clinical encephalitis "are left with disabling and progressive mental and physical sequelae, which can range from minimal brain dysfunction to severe intellectual impairment, personality disorders, seizures, paralysis, and cranial nerve dysfunction. Many patients with severe sequelae die within a few years" (<https://www.cdc.gov/easternequineencephalitis/tech/symptoms.html>). - ProMED Mod.TY]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map:
Michigan, United States: <http://healthmap.org/promed/p/225>
Michigan county map:
Date: Mon 16 Sep 2019
Source: Patch [edited]

The state Department of Public Health is warning that an adult resident of East Lyme has tested positive for eastern equine encephalitis (EEE). This is the 1st human case of EEE identified in Connecticut this season [2019].  The patient became ill during the last week of August [2019] with encephalitis and remains hospitalized. Laboratory tests, which were completed today at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Laboratory in Ft. Collins, Colorado, confirmed the presence of antibodies to the virus that causes EEE.  "EEE is a rare but serious and potentially fatal disease that can affect people of all ages," said DPH commissioner Renee Coleman Mitchell in a release. "Using insect repellent, covering bare skin, and avoiding being outdoors from dusk to dawn are effective ways to help keep you from being bitten by mosquitoes."  The EEE virus has been identified in mosquitoes in 12 towns and in horses in 2 other towns.

Towns where mosquitoes have tested positive for EEE include Chester, Haddam, Hampton, Groton, Killingworth, Ledyard, Madison, North Stonington, Plainfield, Shelton, Stonington, and Voluntown. Horses have tested positive for EEE virus in Colchester and Columbia this season, and the virus has been detected in a flock of wild pheasants.  Other states throughout the northeast are also experiencing an active season for EEE. In addition to the virus being found in mosquitoes, there have been a total of 8 human cases of EEE infection in Massachusetts and one human case in Rhode Island, with one case in each state resulting in a fatality. "This is the 2nd human case of EEE ever reported in Connecticut," said Dr. Matthew Cartter, director of infectious diseases for the DPH. "The 1st human case of EEE reported in Connecticut occurred in the fall of 2013."

The DPH advises against unnecessary trips into mosquito breeding grounds and marshes, as the mosquitoes that transmit EEE virus are associated with freshwater swamps and are most active at dusk and dawn. Overnight camping or other substantial outdoor exposure in freshwater swamps in Connecticut should be avoided. Even though the temperatures are getting cooler, the DPH is advising that mosquito season is not over, and residents should continue to take measures to prevent mosquito bites, including wearing protective clothing and using repellents.  Although EEE-infected mosquitoes continue to be detected in the south-eastern corner of the state, the numbers are declining, and we are not experiencing the excessively high levels of activity seen in Massachusetts. There are currently no plans to implement widespread aerial pesticide spraying in the state.

Severe cases of EEE virus infection (involving encephalitis, an inflammation of the brain) begin with the sudden onset of headache, high fever, chills, and vomiting. The illness may then progress into disorientation, seizures, and coma. Approximately 1/3 of patients who develop EEE die, and many of those who survive have mild to severe brain damage, according to the DPH.

There is no specific treatment for EEE. Antibiotics are not effective against viruses, and no effective anti-viral drugs have been discovered. Severe illnesses are treated by supportive therapy, which may include hospitalization, respiratory support, IV fluids, and prevention of other infections. It takes 4-10 days after the bite of an infected mosquito to develop symptoms of EEE.

The management of mosquitoes in Connecticut is a collaborative effort involving the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station, and the DPH, together with the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Pathobiology at the University of Connecticut. These agencies are responsible for monitoring and managing the state's mosquito population levels to reduce the potential public health threat of mosquito-borne diseases.

Information on what can be done to prevent getting bitten by mosquitoes and the latest mosquito test results and human infections is available online.  [Byline: Rich Kirby]
===========================
[This has been an active year for EEE virus transmission in the eastern USA from the upper Midwest to the northeastern states and south to Florida. Although historically, EEE human cases in Connecticut have been very rare, the occurrence of a human case in the state this year (2019) is not surprising. There have been equine and/or human EEE cases this summer (2019) in the 3 bordering states: Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and New York. Interestingly, pheasants are mentioned in the above report. They are susceptible and, after being infected with the virus from the bite of an EEE-carrying mosquito, become ill or moribund with viremia titers that can reach 10^9 per ml. Ill or moribund pheasant can be attacked and cannibalized by pen mates that, in turn, are infected orally and may become ill and die as well. As the above report cautions, the only way to avoid infection is for people to avoid mosquito bites. Although the incidence of EEE cases and virus-positive mosquitoes may be declining, there is a risk of infection until the 1st killing frost occurs in autumn, when the mosquitoes are no longer active. - ProMED Mod.TY]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map:
Connecticut, United States: <http://healthmap.org/promed/p/210>]
Date: Wed 11 Sep 2019
Source: BBC Afrique [In French, trans. Mod.LXL, edited]

At least 18 people died in 10 days after eating pesticide-contaminated food in 2 localities in Burkina Faso. A dozen still remain under observation in hospitals, according to the Minister of Health.  The 1st cases were reported on [1 Sep 2019] in the town of Didyr in the centre-west of the country, said Professor Claudine Lougue, Minister of Health.  About 15 members of the same families felt unwell after eating local dishes made from bean leaves and small millet seeds, which are actually seed remains. Thirteen died later despite medical care.

On Monday [2 Sep 2019], the ministry received another alert, this time from the central-eastern region. Here again, 14 people from the same family were admitted to the health centres. Five have lost their lives. After analysis, doctors diagnosed massive food poisoning, said the minister. Complementary examinations incriminate pesticides, she said.  "Investigations have been made on samples of biological products such as blood and urine, and we found an unusually high level of pesticides in foods that were consumed. There was an abnormally high level of pesticides, and these pesticides were strongly incriminated," said the minister.

The remains of food have been secured, announced Professor Lougue, who calls on citizens to observe strict hygiene measures in the use of plant leaves for consumption. Pesticides are used for the needs of field work, especially in the countryside during this period of wintering.
Date: Wed, 18 Sep 2019 16:44:19 +0200 (METDST)

London, Sept 18, 2019 (AFP) - British Airways pilots on Wednesday cancelled a strike that had been due September 27, the British Airline Pilots Association union said after two walkouts last week that cost the company dear.   "Someone has to take the initiative to sort out this (pay) dispute and with no sign of that from BA the pilots have decided to take the responsible course," BALPA General Secretary Brian Strutton said in a statement.    The union chief added that the airline's "passengers rightly expect BA and its pilots to resolve their issues without disruption and now is the time for cool heads and pragmatism to be brought to bear.    "I hope BA and its owner IAG show as much responsibility as the pilots," he added.   It was now "time for a period of reflection before the dispute escalates further and irreparable damage is done to the (BA) brand."

However the union added that should the airline "refuse meaningful new negotiations, BALPA retains the right to announce further strike dates".   British Airways, which likes to call itself "the world's favourite airline", flew into turbulence last week as pilots staged a costly and historic two-day strike, tarnishing its global reputation according to aviation analysts.   Pilots walked out for the first time in the company's 100-year history, sparked by a bitter and long-running feud over pay.   BA faced the embarrassment of grounding its entire UK fleet on September 9 and 10, causing the cancellation of about 1,600 flights.   The move sparked travel chaos for about 200,000 passengers who had been due to fly in and out of London's Gatwick and Heathrow airports.

The disruption continued into September 11 because half of BA's 300 aircraft and more than 700 pilots were mostly in the wrong place.   As a result, BA was forced to cancel approximately ten percent of its daily 850 flights in and out of Britain that day.    BALPA and its members are demanding a bigger share of British Airways profits.   The airline has offered a salary increase of 11.5 percent over three years, which it argues would boost the annual pay of some captains to £200,000 ($250,000 or 226,000 euros).   However, the union has rejected the proposal made in July.   BALPA meanwhile estimates that last week's 48-hour strike cost the airline £80 million.   BA is owned by IAG, which was formed in 2011 with the merger of British Airways and Spain's Iberia. IAG has since added other carriers, including Austria's Vueling and Ireland's Aer Lingus.
Date: Wed, 18 Sep 2019 12:26:37 +0200 (METDST)
By Sam Reeves

Kuala Lumpur, Sept 18, 2019 (AFP) - Toxic haze from Indonesian forest fires closed schools and airports across the country and in neighbouring Malaysia Wednesday, while air quality worsened in Singapore just days before the city's Formula One motor race.   Illegal fires to clear land for agriculture are blazing out of control on Sumatra and Borneo islands, with Jakarta deploying thousands of security forces and water-bombing aircraft to tackle them.

Indonesian blazes belch smog across Southeast Asia annually, but this year's are the worst since 2015 and have added to concerns about wildfire outbreaks worldwide exacerbating global warming.   On Wednesday, air quality deteriorated to "very unhealthy" levels on an official index in many parts of peninsular Malaysia, to the east of Sumatra, with the Kuala Lumpur skyline shrouded by dense smog.    Nearly 1,500 schools were closed across Malaysia due to the air pollution, with over one million pupils affected, according to the education ministry.

A growing number of Malaysians were suffering health problems due to the haze, with authorities saying there had been a sharp increase in outpatients at government hospitals -- many suffering dry and itchy eyes.   Indonesian authorities said hundreds of schools in hard-hit Riau province on Sumatra were shut, without providing a precise number, while about 1,300 were closed in Central Kalimantan province on Borneo.    Borneo is shared between Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei.   Poor visibility closed seven airports in the Indonesian part of Borneo, the transport ministry in Jakarta said. Scores of flights have already been diverted and cancelled in the region in recent days due to the smog.

- Singapore smog race? -
Air quality in Singapore worsened to unhealthy levels and a white smog obscured the striking waterfront skyline, featuring the Marina Bay Sands casino resort with its three towers and boat-shaped top level.    The worsening pollution increased fears that this weekend's Formula One race may be affected. Organisers say the possibility of haze is one of the issues in their contingency plan for Sunday's showpiece night race, but have not given further details.

The city-state's tourism board said spectators would be able to buy masks as protection from the haze if conditions did not improve and assistance would be provided for those who feel unwell, the Today news portal reported.   The fires have sparked tensions between Indonesia and Malaysia.    Indonesia's environment minister initially suggested the haze was from Malaysian fires despite satellite data showing hundreds of blazes in Indonesia and only a handful in its neighbour, prompting anger from her Malaysian counterpart.

Indonesia later sealed off dozens of plantations where it said fires were blazing, including some owned by Malaysia-based firms, deepening the row.   But Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, who has struck a diplomatic tone throughout the crisis, said Malaysia may pass legislation forcing its companies to tackle fires on plantations abroad.   Malaysia wants its firms with sites overseas to put out blazes contributing to the haze, he said, adding: "Of course, if we find they are unwilling to take action, we may have to pass a law to make them responsible."

The Indonesian government has insisted it is doing all it can to fight the blazes. But this year's fires have been worsened by dry weather and experts believe there is little chance of them being extinguished until the onset of the rainy season in October.   Indonesia's meteorology, climate and geophysics agency said Wednesday that over 1,000 hotspots -- areas of intense heat detected by satellite that indicate a likely fire -- had been sighted, most of them on Sumatra.
Date: Wed, 18 Sep 2019 12:14:44 +0200 (METDST)
By Aishwarya KUMAR

New Delhi, Sept 18, 2019 (AFP) - India announced on Wednesday a ban on the sale of electronic cigarettes, as a backlash gathers pace worldwide due to health concerns about a product promoted as less harmful than smoking tobacco.   The Indian announcement, also outlawing production, import and distribution, came a day after New York became the second US state to ban flavoured e-cigarettes following a string of vaping-linked deaths.   "The decision was made keeping in mind the impact that e-cigarettes have on the youth of today," Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman told reporters in New Delhi.

E-cigarettes do not "burn" but instead heat up a liquid -- tasting of everything from bourbon to bubble gum and which usually contains nicotine -- that turns into vapour and is inhaled.   The vapour is missing the estimated 7,000 chemicals in tobacco smoke but does contain a number of substances that could potentially be harmful.   They have been pushed by producers, and also by some governments including in Britain, as a safer alternative to traditional smoking -- and as a way to kick the habit.

However critics say that apart from being harmful in themselves, the flavours of e-cigarette liquids appeal particularly to children and risk getting them addicted to nicotine.   Some 3.6 million middle and high school students in the United States used vaping products in 2018, an increase of 1.5 million on the year before.   The New York emergency legislation followed an outbreak of severe pulmonary disease that has killed seven people and sickened hundreds.   President Donald Trump's administration announced last week that it would soon ban flavoured e-cigarette products to stem a rising tide of youth users.

- Big E-Tobacco -
Although few Indians vape at present, the Indian ban also cuts off a vast potential market of 1.3 billion consumers for makers of e-cigarettes.   Tobacco firms have been investing heavily in the technology to compensate for falling demand for cigarettes due to high taxes and public smoking bans, particularly in the West.

In 2018 Altria, the US maker of brands such as Marlboro and Chesterfield, splashed out almost $13 billion on a stake in one of the biggest e-cigarette makers, Juul.   A few Indian states have already banned e-cigarettes although the restrictions have been ineffective since online sale of vaping products continue.   The new ban does not cover traditional tobacco products in India.   According to the World Health Organization, India is the world's second-largest consumer of tobacco products, killing nearly 900,000 people every year.

Nearly 275 million people over 15, or 35 percent of adults, are users, although chewing tobacco -- which also causes cancer -- is more prevalent than smoking.   India is also the world's third--largest producer of tobacco, the WHO says, and tobacco farmers are an important vote bank for political parties.   According to the Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry, an estimated 45.7 million people depend on the tobacco sector in India for their livelihood.   Tobacco is also a major Indian export, and the government holds substantial stakes, directly or indirectly, in tobacco firms including in ITC, one of India's biggest companies.
Date: Wed, 18 Sep 2019 03:56:31 +0200 (METDST)

Washington, Sept 18, 2019 (AFP) - Hurricane Humberto strengthened to a major Category 3 storm on Tuesday and was expected to pass near Bermuda, threatening it with dangerous waves and heavy rain, the US National Hurricane Center said.   "Hurricane conditions are expected to reach Bermuda by Wednesday night and continue into early Thursday morning," the Miami-based NHC said.   "Some fluctuations in intensity are likely during the next day or so, but Humberto should remain a powerful hurricane through Thursday," it said.   As of 8:00 pm (0000 GMT), the storm had maximum sustained winds of 115 miles per hour (185 kilometers per hour) and was moving east-northeast at 12 miles per hour.
Date: Wed, 18 Sep 2019 01:36:21 +0200 (METDST)

Dakar, Sept 17, 2019 (AFP) - Four people died after a boat carrying dozens of tourists capsized during heavy storms in Senegal, authorities and emergency services said Tuesday.   The death toll could rise as three passengers were said to be missing after the accident.  The boat was carrying several Senegalese nationals, six French people, two Germans, two Swedes and one person from Guinea-Bissau, when it turned over Monday in driving rain and a heavy swell, fire department chief Papa Angel Michel Diatta said.   All the dead were Senegalese, officials and emergency services said.

Two worked in a national park, one was a woman and the other victim was a child, Diatta said.   The boat was heading for the Madeleine islands, site of an offshore national park popular with tourists who travel from Dakar, coastal capital of the West African country.   Senegalese President Macky Sall appealed for "greater caution and respect for existing security norms duing the rainy season" in a tweet.

Emergency services continued to look for those missing on Tuesday. AFP journalists saw a dozen divers at the scene. Distressed families were waiting on the shore to get news of their loved ones.    "The gendarmerie called us at 5:00 am (GMT and local time). My brother was on the boat. The worst thing is not knowing," said Aminata Diop, who was among the relatives on the beach.   There are "four dead bodies and between three and four people are missing. Thirty-five people were on the boat. Search and rescue operations are continuing this morning," Interior Minister Aly Ngouille Ndiaye told AFP by telephone.

The causes of the accident were unclear. The interior minister told Senegalese media overnight that several tourists were worried about the heavy rains and wanted to return to the pier but others wanted to stay on the boat.   The survivors spent the night on the island, Ndiaye told local radio on Tuesday. Blankets and food were sent to them and they were to be ferried back to the mainland in the morning, he added.   The rainy season arrived late this year and heavy storms have resulted in several casualties this month.    Two fishermen were killed on their canoe in the same area nearly two weeks ago.
Date: Tue, 17 Sep 2019 15:38:37 +0200 (METDST)

Jakarta, Sept 17, 2019 (AFP) - Massive forest fires in Indonesia that have caused a toxic haze to spread as far as Singapore and peninsular Malaysia are also seriously affecting endangered orangutans and their habitat, a rescue foundation said Tuesday.   Jakarta has deployed thousands of troops as temporary fireman and deployed dozens of water-bombing aircraft to battle blazes that are turning pristine forest into charred landscape in Sumatra and Borneo islands.   The fires -- usually started by illegal burning to clear land for farming -- have unleashed a choking haze across parts of southeast Asia.

The Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation said Tuesday that the haze was affecting hundreds of great apes in its care at rescue centres and wildlife re-introduction shelters.   "The thick smoke does not only endanger the health of our staff... but also it affects the 355 orangutans we currently care for", the foundation said in a statement, referring to just once cetre in Kalimantan   "As many as 37 young orangutans are suspected to have contracted a mild respiratory infection," it added.   Conditions were so bad at their Samboja Lestari facility in East Kalimantan that outdoor activities for the animals had been restricted to a few hours a day.

Orangutans have been particularly vulnerable to commercial land clearances and have seen their natural habitat shrink dramatically in the last few decades.   The population of orangutan in Borneo has plummeted from about 288,500 in 1973 to about 100,000 today, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature.   The toxic smoke caused by the forest fires is an annual problem for Indonesia and its neighbours, but has been worsened this year by particularly dry weather.   On Borneo island, which Indonesia shares with Malaysia and Brunei, pollution levels were "hazardous", according to environment ministry data.   Hundreds of schools across Indonesia and Malaysia were shut.