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Iceland

Iceland US Consular Information Sheet
November 17, 2008
COUNTRY DESCRIPTION:
Iceland is a highly developed, stable democracy with a modern economy.
The national language is Icelandic, but English is widely spoken, especially in the ca
ital city of Reykjavik.
Read the Department of State Background Notes on Iceland for additional information.

ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS:
Iceland is a party to the Schengen agreement.
As such, U.S. citizens may enter Iceland for up to 90 days for tourist or business purposes without a visa.
The passport should be valid for at least three months beyond the period of stay.
For further details about travel into and within Schengen countries, please see our fact sheet.
For further information in English concerning entry requirements for Iceland, please contact the Icelandic Directorate of Immigration via their web site at www.utl.is.

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:
There have been no terrorist attacks and very few criminal attacks affecting Americans in Iceland.
However, like other countries in the Schengen area, Iceland’s open borders with its Western European neighbors allow the possibility of terrorists or other criminals entering/exiting the country with anonymity.
Americans are reminded to remain vigilant with regard to their personal security and to exercise caution.

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 United States and Canada, or, for callers outside the United States and Canada, a regular toll line at 1-202-501-4444.
These numbers are available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays).

The Department of State urges American citizens to take responsibility for their own personal security while traveling overseas.
For general information about appropriate measures travelers can take to protect themselves in an overseas environment, see the Department of State’s A Safe Trip Abroad.

CRIME:
Iceland has a relatively low crime rate, but minor assaults, automobile break-ins and other street crimes do occur, especially in the capital city of Reykjavik.
Tourists should be aware that downtown Reykjavik can become especially disorderly in the early morning hours on weekends.
Violent crime is rare, but it does occasionally occur.

INFORMATION FOR VICTIMS OF CRIME:
The loss or theft of a U.S. passport abroad 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.
Iceland maintains a limited crime victim’s assistance program through the Ministry of Justice.
Please contact the U.S. Embassy in Reykjavik for further details.
Those suffering psychological trauma or who are victims of rape may receive psychological assistance by contacting the University of Iceland’s Hospital Psychological Trauma Center at 354-543-2000. For further information about possible U.S. compensation, see our Information for Victims of Crime
The local equivalent to the “911” emergency line in Iceland is:112.
MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION:
Excellent medical facilities are available in Iceland.
To obtain emergency medical assistance anywhere in the country, dial 112.
To obtain non-emergency medical assistance in the Reykjavik metropolitan area dial 544-4114 during business hours and outside of normal business hours, dial 1770.
The nurse who answers will offer advice on how to handle the problem, suggest that the patient come to an after-hours clinic, or send a physician to make a house call.
For information on after-hours dental care, call 575-0505.

The U.S. Department of State is unaware of any HIV/AIDS entry restrictions for visitors to or foreign residents of Iceland.
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 web site at http://www.who.int/en.
Further health information for travelers is available at http://www.who.int/ith
MEDICAL INSURANCE:
Most medical services in Iceland, including emergency care, require full payment at the time of service.
Payment to the medical facility must be paid in full before an individual will be able to leave the country.
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.
Additional travel insurance to cover the price of medical evacuations is also strongly recommended.
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 Iceland is provided for general reference only, and may not be completely accurate in a particular location or circumstance.

Less than a third of Iceland’s total road network is paved (2,262 miles of paved road vs. 5,774 miles of gravel or dirt road).
Most of the 900-mile ring road (Highway 1) that encircles the country is paved, but many other roads outside the capital, especially those that run through the center of the country, are dirt or gravel tracks.
Even those roads that are paved tend to be narrow and lack a shoulder or margin.
Most bridges are only one lane wide, requiring drivers to be cognizant of oncoming traffic.
Extreme care should be taken when driving in rural areas during the winter (October through March), when daylight hours are limited and the weather and road conditions can change rapidly.
Many routes in the interior of the country are impassable until July, due to muddy conditions caused by snowmelt.
When driving in the interior, consider traveling with a second vehicle and always inform someone of your travel plans.
For information on current road conditions throughout the country, please call the Public Roads Administration (Vegagerdin) at 1777 or consult its web site at http://www.vegagerdin.is/english/.

For recorded weather information in English, call the Icelandic Weather Office (Vedurstofa Islands) at 902-0600, press 1 for English.

Icelandic law requires drivers to keep headlights on at all times.
Talking on cell phones while driving is prohibited and is subject to a 5000 Icelandic Kronur fine, except when using a hands-free system.
Unless otherwise posted, the speed limit is 50 km/h in urban areas and 30 km/h in residential areas.
In rural areas, the speed limit depends on the type of road.
On dirt and gravel roads, the speed limit is 80 km/h.
On paved highways, the speed limit is 90 km/h.
It is illegal to turn right on a red light.
At four-way intersections, the right of way goes to the driver on the right; in traffic circles, to drivers in the inside lane.
Many intersections in the capital have automatic cameras to catch traffic violators.

The use of seatbelts is mandatory in both the front and rear seats, and children under the age of six must be secured in a special car seat designed for their size and weight.
Drivers are held responsible for any passenger under the age of 15 who is not wearing a seatbelt.
No one who is less than 140 centimeters tall, weighs less than 40 kilograms, or is under the age of 12 is allowed to ride in a front seat equipped with an airbag.

Driving under the influence of alcohol is considered a serious offense in Iceland.
The threshold blood alcohol test (BAT) level is very low.
Drivers can be charged with DUI with a BAT as low as .05%.
Drivers stopped under suspicion of DUI are usually given a ``balloon’’ or Breathalyzer test.
If the test is positive, a blood test is routinely administered.
Under Icelandic law, a blood test cannot be refused and will be administered by force if necessary.
The minimum punishment for a first offense is a fine of 50,000 Icelandic Kronur and the loss of driving privileges for two months.
U.S. citizens spending less than 90 days in Iceland may drive using their U.S. licenses.

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 at http://www.vegagerdin.is/english/road-conditions-and-weather/
AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT:
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the Government of Iceland’s Civil Aviation Authority as being in compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards for oversight of Iceland’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:
Extreme care should be exercised when touring Iceland's numerous nature attractions, which include glaciers, volcanic craters, lava fields, ice caves, hot springs, boiling mud pots, geysers, waterfalls, and glacial rivers.
There are few warning signs or barriers to alert travelers to potential hazards.
Several tourists are scalded each year because they get too close to an erupting geyser, or because they fall or step into a hot spring or boiling mud pot.
High winds and icy conditions can exacerbate the dangers of visiting these nature areas.
Hikers and backpackers are well advised to stay on marked trails, travel with someone, notify a third party about their travel plans and check weather reports, as there are often no means of communication from remote locations.
This is especially important as weather conditions in Iceland are subject to frequent and unexpected changes.
Those planning visits to dangerous or remote locations in Iceland are strongly encouraged to register with the U.S. Embassy before beginning their journey and to leave a travel itinerary with local guides/officials if planning to trek through remote parts of the country.
See below for information on how to register.

Please see our information on customs regulations.

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 Icelandic laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned.
Penalties for possession, use or trafficking in illegal drugs in Iceland are strict, 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.

DISASTER PREPAREDNESS:
Iceland is subject to natural disasters in the form of earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, avalanches, and violent storms.
Travelers should learn how to prepare for and react to such events by consulting the web site of Iceland's National Civil Defense Agency at http://www.almannavarnir.is.
General information about natural disaster preparedness is available via the Internet from the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) at http://www.fema.gov.

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 in or visiting Iceland 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 Iceland.
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 Laufasvegur 21, tel. +354-562-9100; fax +354-562-9110.
Information about consular services can be found in the Consular section of the Embassy home page at http://iceland.usembassy.gov
* * *
This replaces the Country Specific Information sheet dated May 7, 2008 to update the sections on Information for Victims of Crime and Medical Facilities and Health Information.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Sat 13 Jul 2019
Source: Food Safety News [edited]

At least 3 children have developed kidney failure after being diagnosed with _Escherichia coli_ infections that are linked to eating ice cream from a farm. A cluster of infections due to Shiga toxin producing enterohemorrhagic _E. coli_ (EHEC) O26:H11 has been traced to the tourist attraction Efstidalur II farm in Blaskogabyggd in the south of Iceland.

The 17 ill children are aged between 14 months and 12 years. At least 3 of them developed haemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), a severe condition associated with _E. coli_ infections that causes kidney failure. Around one-third of employees at the farm have also been investigated, but none tested positive for the bacterium.

It was initially suspected that children who fell ill after visiting the farm were infected because of contact with calves, but further investigation found some children had no contact with this animal while 9 had eaten ice cream and the 10th child was infected by a sibling.

Product testing of ice cream did not find the outbreak strain, but samples were not the same as what the children had eaten, as new product was being sold. An investigation found the _E. coli_ strain that infected the children was also detected in faeces from calves.

Officials from the Directorate of Health urged anyone who had visited the farm between 10 Jun 2019 and 4 Jul 2019, and developed diarrhoea within 10 days, to contact a doctor to be tested for the bacterium. "After contact with animals, before eating or preparing food and especially after caring for individuals with diarrhoea, hand-washing with soap and water is strongly recommended. Alcohol-based hand-sanitizer is an optional addition but may not be sufficient on its own against many causes of diarrhoea," added the agency.

The Icelandic Food and Veterinary Authority (Matvaelastofnun) recently detected EHEC in 30% of lamb samples and 11.5% of beef samples it tested. Of 148 samples of Icelandic sheep meat, 44 samples were positive for EHEC, and in the 148 samples of domestic and foreign beef, 17 samples were contaminated.

Symptoms of infections caused by EHEC include abdominal cramps and diarrhoea. The incubation period can range from 3 to 8 days and many people recover within 10 days.  [byline: Joe Whitworth]
=======================
[It may well be that contact with the calves was the initial transmission event and the ice cream eating using unwashed hands facilitated transfer. Alternatively, since the outbreak strain was found in calves, were there milk-producing cows present, and, if the ice cream was made there, was the milk used to make the ice cream pasteurized?

Three of 17 cases developing HUS is a high proportion. Some strains seem to produce a higher risk of HUS, but the use of antimicrobials early in the infection can increase the risk of HUS. In episodes of diarrhoea (with or without blood) with significant abdominal pain and little or no fever, EHEC must be suspected and antimicrobials withheld. - ProMED Mod.LL]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map of Iceland:
Date: Thu 4 Jul 2019
Source: Outbreak News Today [edited]

Iceland health officials have reported 4 paediatric Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (also called enterohemorrhagic E. coli [EHEC]) cases. Officials say all the children are from the capital of Reykjavik; however, all have probably been infected in Arnessysla county or, more specifically, in Blaskogabyggd.

The source of the infection is unknown at this time. The Icelandic Food and Veterinary Authority and the South Iceland Health Inspectorate are now working to analyse the origin of the infections and stop further spread.

Health officials say individuals who have been in Arnessysla (Blaskogabyggd) in the past 2 to 3 weeks and sickened with bloody diarrhoea are encouraged to seek medical advice so that they can check whether they have been infected with [EHEC].

The symptoms of [EHEC] infections vary for each person but often include severe stomach cramps, diarrhoea (often bloody), and vomiting. If there is fever, it usually is not very high (less than 101 deg F/less than 38.5 deg C). Most people get better within 5 to 7 days. Some infections are very mild, but others are severe or even life-threatening.

The Icelandic Food and Veterinary Authority recently analysed the presence of pathogenic bacteria in meat in the Icelandic market. It was found that [EHEC] bacteria are found in 30% of lamb and 11.5% of beef. In addition, the bacteria can be found in unpasteurized milk.
========================
[The serotype of EHEC involved is not stated, and it is not entirely clear whether the cases are related to the same food or are even the same serotype. - ProMED Mod.LL]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map:
Date: Thu, 14 Mar 2019 18:17:56 +0100

Reykjavik, March 14, 2019 (AFP) - Iceland has blocked the millions of tourists who descend upon the volcanic island each year from visiting a canyon that has been overrun since it was featured in a Justin Bieber music video.   An influx of tourists and a humid winter have disrupted the Fjadrargljufur canyon's fragile ecosystem, so the Environment Agency of Iceland has closed the site to the public until June 1.   "During periods of thaw, the path is completely muddy and is practically unusable for hikers," agency advisor Daniel Freyr Jonsson told AFP on Thursday.   "Because the mud is so thick, visitors step over the fences and walk parallel to the path, which rapidly damages the plant life," he added.

Fjadrargljufur is a gorge about 100 meters (yards) deep and two kilometres (1.25 miles) long, with steep green walls and a winding riverbed. The canyon was created by progressive erosion from water melting from glaciers 9,000 years ago.   The canyon was little known to foreigners until the end of 2015, when Canadian singer Justin Bieber featured the site in his song "I'll Show You".   "Visits to the site have risen by 50 to 80 percent per year since 2016," said Daniel Freyr Jonsson, estimating that around 300,000 people visited the canyon in 2018.   A growing number of tourist sites in Iceland have been closed in a bid to
preserve them.

The popular Reykjadalur valley and its hot springs were temporarily closed in April 2018 and a hiking trail overlooking the Skogafoss waterfall is currently shut.   "The infrastructure is not set up to accomodate so many visitors," said Daniel Freyr Jonsson.    "Tourism in winter and spring, the most sensitive periods for wildlife in Iceland, (was previously) almost unheard of in Iceland."   Since 2010 and the eruption of the Eyjafjallajokull volcano -- which generated a lot of publicity for the island -- the number of visitors has grown by 25 percent per year on average.   Last year, a record 2.3 million people visited Iceland.
Date: Wed, 27 Dec 2017 18:20:14 +0100

Reykjavik, Dec 27, 2017 (AFP) - A coach carrying Chinese tourists visiting Iceland overturned on Wednesday, killing one person and leaving 12 others seriously injured, local authorities said.   The 44 passengers in the coach were all Chinese nationals, a police spokesman told AFP.   The most seriously injured were taken by helicopter to the capital Reykjavik, around 250 kilometres (340 miles) from the scene of the accident in Kirkjubaejarklaustur.

It happened in the heart of the Icelandic winter with harsh weather conditions and icy roads.   The coach crashed into the back of a car carrying Lithuanian tourists, before going off the road and overturning, authorities said in a statement.   Tourism is a growing sector in Iceland, which welcomed a record number of 1.8 million visitors in 2016.   The number of tourists coming from china have tripled between 2014 and 2016 when 67,00O visited the small volcanic island nation of 335,000.
Date: Fri, 31 Mar 2017 17:26:19 +0200

Reykjavik, March 31, 2017 (AFP) - Tourists keen to explore Iceland's natural beauty will have to pay more from next year, after Reykjavik announced a tax hike Friday on the sector, which has exploded in recent years.   The island nation announced the end of an 11 percent reduced rate of value-added sales tax, saying it will make a typical holiday there about 4 percent more expensive.

Tax on hotels, campsites, travel agents' services, pools and spas and such like will rise to the regular rate, which was itself reduced to 22.5 percent.   The government said the reduced rate was no longer justified since tourism in Iceland, which was badly hit by the 2008 global economic near-meltdown, has exploded seven-fold in the last seven years.

Some 1.77 million visitors came last year, with 2.2-2.3 million expected to make the trip in 2017.   "Most types of tourism will be classified under the general value-added tax bracket," said the finance ministry, announcing the end or the lower rate from July 1, 2018.   Reykjavik estimates the move will reduce tourist numbers by 1 or 2 percent, saying that cost was not the decisive factor for visitors to the country.   According to an opinion poll last year by the national tourism office, 83 percent of visitors cited Iceland's natural beauty as a reason they chose to come, against only 19 percent who said low prices were a factor.
More ...

World Travel News Headlines

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.
Date: Fri, 24 Jan 2020 17:43:54 +0100 (MET)
By Albert Kambale with Samir Tounsi in Kinshasa

Masisi, DR Congo, Jan 24, 2020 (AFP) - In eastern DR Congo, thousands have fled violence to camps in the remote mountain forests where they battle cholera, hunger and misery in a forgotten humanitarian disaster.   Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo has long struggled with violence from several militia groups, a legacy of the 1990s Congo wars that dragged in neighbouring Uganda and Rwanda.   The region is now also the epicentre of the latest Ebola epidemic, which has killed more than 2,200 people since August 2018.

Away from the Ebola headlines, tens of thousands of people are scattered in squalid camps across the mountains around Masisi, where they have fled, traumatised by violence, starving and with no chance to return home.   "I fled my village after clashes broke out," said Gentille, a 26-year-old Hutu Congolese. "We could no longer go to the fields. Many people died because clashes broke out in the middle of the village, very early one morning."

That fighting broke out in November and December involving one of the so-called Mai-Mai militia, the Nduma Defense of the Congo-Renove (NDC-R) and a coalition of other armed rivals, according to UN experts.   Now Gentille, a mother of five lives in a camp of 8,000 displaced people.  Along with the unsanitary conditions, a lack of clean water and food, since late last year, a cholera and measles outbreak has worsened life in the camps.    Several anti-cholera treatment units have been opened by Doctors without Borders (MSF), which reports 520 cases and two deaths.    "Three of my children got cholera. One died," says Gentille. "Here in the camp, we do not have enough toilets. More than 180 people use the same toilet. Since it is always busy, the children defecate outside and all around."

Around 685,000 displaced people survive in the mountainous areas, estimates MSF, a figure the aid group hopes will draw attention of the donors.   A year after coming to power, President Felix Tshisekedi has promised far-reaching reforms and a crackdown on corruption. But militia violence and ethnic clashes still undermine security of populations in the east.
Date: Fri, 24 Jan 2020 18:26:22 +0100 (MET)

Kathmandu, Jan 24, 2020 (AFP) - Health authorities in Nepal on Friday confirmed that a student who returned from Wuhan, China tested positive for the new coronavirus, becoming the first South Asian country to report the deadly disease.   The 32-year-old student arrived in Nepal on January 9, and entered the Sukraraj Tropical and Infectious Disease Hospital in Kathmandu four days later after running a fever and reporting trouble breathing, hospital spokesperson Anup Bastola told AFP.

The health ministry confirmed the case in a statement.   "The results of a sample, sent to Hong Kong, have returned positive," Bastola told AFP.    "He was discharged after recovery. We are monitoring the patient and he and his family members are healthy. So are all the health workers in the hospital," Bastola said.

Nepal's health ministry also said in a statement that surveillance has been increased at the airport, "and suspicious patients entering Nepal are being monitored with correct manpower and equipment".   At least 26 people have been killed by the previously unknown SARS-like coronavirus. Cases have been reported in half a dozen countries, including the United States.
Date: Fri, 24 Jan 2020 20:16:23 +0100 (MET)

Antananarivo, Jan 24, 2020 (AFP) - At least 26 people have died in Madagascar after almost a week of heavy rain in the north-west of the island, the government said on Friday.   The tropical Indian Ocean nation is in the midst of an intense six-month rainy season that often results in casualties and widespread damage.   Flooding in the districts of Mitsinjo and Maevatanana has claimed at least 26 lives since Sunday, and 15 more people are still missing and thousands have been displaced, the National Bureau of Disaster Risk Management (BNGRC) announced on Friday.   Strips of road were swept away by the rains and access to affected areas has been cut off.

The BNGRC warned that flooding in lowland and rice-growing areas also posed a risk of "food insecurity and malnutrition".   A disruption in the supply of basic goods could also lead to surge in prices, it added.   Prime Minister Christian Ntsay declared the situation a "national loss".   "The government is calling on national figures and international partners to help the Malagasy people with emergency aid, early recovery, rehabilitation and reconstruction," spokeswoman Lalatiana Andriatongarivo said in a statement.   The rainy season usually stretches from October to April in Madagascar, a former French colony off Africa's south-eastern coast.

Global warming has increased the risk and intensity of flooding, as the atmosphere holds more water and rainfall patterns are disrupted.    Built-up urban areas with poor drainage systems are especially vulnerable to heavy downpours, scientists say.   Nine people were killed in January 2019 after heavy rains caused a building to collapse in the capital Antananarivo.   During this period, the country is also often hit by cyclones and other tropical storms.   Cyclone Belna landed in the northwest last month, killing at least two people and displacing hundreds.
Date: Fri 24 Jan 2020
Source: Fernando Eid (@fernandoeidok) via Twitter [in Spanish, trans. ProMED Mod.TY, edited]

The 1st case of [a] hantavirus [infection] was confirmed in our country [this year in 2020]. The affected individual is an adolescent who contracted the disease in the tropical area of Cochabamba [department].  [Byline: Fernando Eid]
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[El Dia has a video clip available on the above Twitter URL with additional information (in Spanish, trans. ProMED Mod.TY):

The affected individual is a 15-year-old boy who was just released from the hospital ICU. He had a febrile disease. He had been in the forested area in tropical Cochabamba. He is believed to have acquired his infection from virus in faeces of the long-tailed rat. There have been10 cases of hantavirus infections in Cochabamba with one death [over what period of time? - ProMED Mod.TY]].
======================
[Unfortunately, the specific circumstances under which this youth or the previous 2019 cases acquired their infections is not mentioned. Presumably they were in contact with excreta from infected rodent hosts. Infected rodents shed the virus in faeces, urine, and saliva. Sporadic cases of hantavirus pulmonary syndrome occur in the Bolivian tropics, including Cochabamba department.

The specific hantavirus involved in these or previous cases in 2013 or those in 2012, in Bolivia, is not given. In the lowland Amazon basin of Bolivia, the hantaviruses that are likely to be in tropical Cochabamba department and might be involved in these hantavirus pulmonary syndrome cases are Laguna Negra viruses with its rodent hosts, _Calomys laucha_, the small vesper mouse (<https://www.flickr.com/photos/cdtimm/4367939127/in/photolist-otqNuS-EwTizo-7DYQ8i-278Fjfq-owyXyD-osEZQs>), and _C. callosus_, the large vesper mouse (<http://www.faunaparaguay.com/calomyscallosus.html>), as well as Rio Mamore virus with _C. laucha_ and _Oligoryzomys microtis_, the small-eared pygmy rice rat (<https://www.reservacostanera.com.ar/wp-content/uploads/2011/02/colilargo-menor-oligoryzomys-flavescens2-JGV-e1298896507790.jpg>). - ProMED Mod.TY]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map:
Cochabamba, Bolivia: <http://healthmap.org/promed/p/55162>]
Date: Fri 24 Jan 2020
Source: Eagle [edited]

The commissioner for health in Edo state, Dr. Patrick Okundia, on Friday [24 Jan 2020] in Benin said 76 out of 175 suspected cases of Lassa fever tested positive to the epidemic.

Okundia made this known during a Lassa fever committee meeting chaired by the state deputy governor, Philip Shaibu, and a representative of the World Health Organization.

He said: "A total of 76 suspected cases of Lassa fever were confirmed yesterday [Thu 23 Jan 2020] in the state, and they are currently on admission in the Irrua Specialist Teaching Hospital. We have not recorded any new death but have also reduced our case fatality rate to less than 10%. The number of cases in the ward now is 34, and we have discharged over 28 patients that have been fully treated and cured."

In his remarks, Shaibu called on all hospitals across the 18 local government areas [LGAs] of the state to refer any suspected cases to Irrua Specialist hospital and isolation centres.

He said: "Ministries of environment, agriculture, education, information, and other relevant ministries should also step up in the area of public awareness of the people. The 18 local government councils of the state should call for an emergency meeting, which will include private health practitioners for the purpose of early referral."

On her part, the state coordinator of the World Health Organisation, Faith Ireye, revealed that contact tracing in the state is the best in the country. Ireye called on the people to practice simple handwashing to avert contracting the disease.
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[Edo state has had many Lassa fever cases in recent years. The state is prepared to deal with treatment of Lassa fever patients in its Imua Specialist Teaching Hospital. Presumably, all the confirmed cases acquired their infections from the environment that has been contaminated by Lassa fever virus shed by rodent hosts, rather than in hospitals and health centres. Handwashing is always a good practice but will not prevent virus exposure from contamination of food materials by infected rodents. A public health education campaign at the village level is necessary to prevent infections.

Images of the rodent reservoirs of Lassa fever virus:
_Mastomys natalensis_:
_Mastomys erythroleucus_ and _Hylomyscus pamfi_:

The pygmy mouse (_Mus baoulei_) has recently been implicated as a reservoir species in West Africa but not in Nigeria.

There is no specific mention in the plans above of public education for avoidance of contact with these rodents and their excreta. - ProMED Mod.TY]

[Maps of Nigeria:
Date: Fri 24 Jan 2020
Source: Uganda Ministry of Health Tweets [edited]

[This series of tweets is drawn from a video interview that is also available at the above Twitter URL.]

The Ugandan Health Minister confirms an outbreak of yellow fever in Moyo District, West Nile region and Buliisa District in the Hoima region of Uganda.

Original public tweets
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Minister of Health, @JaneRuth_Aceng confirms the outbreak of Yellow Fever in Moyo District in West Nile region and Buliisa District in Hoima region in #Uganda.

@WHOUganda country representative, @tegegny speaks about the Yellow fever vaccine. "The Yellow Fever vaccine is one of those vaccines where you need to be vaccinated only once," he says.

@MinofHealthUG has also applied to @gavi and WHO for inclusion of the Yellow Fever vaccination into the routine immunisation schedule. Having faced 4 outbreaks, #Uganda now qualifies to introduce Yellow Fever vaccine as a long term measure to prevent Yellow Fever outbreaks.

@JaneRuth_Aceng: We anticipate that within the next 2 weeks, vaccines will be available and vaccination will commence in Moyo and Buliisa districts.

@JaneRuth_Aceng: @MinofHealthUG has requested for the Yellow Fever vaccines from the International Coordination Group that manages global stock piles of Yellow Fever and Meningitis vaccines.

@MinofHealthUG working with partners have dispatched Rapid Response Teams to Moyo and Buliisa Districts to support investigations, active search for cases, community mobilization and sensitization.

@JaneRuth_Aceng: At this time, there was little suspicion, however, his blood sample was withdrawn and sent to @UVRIug [Uganda Virus Research Institute] for testing and results showed positive for Yellow fever virus.

@JaneRuth_Aceng: In Buliisa, there are also 2 confirmed cases. A 37-year old male and his 38-year old wife. The husband was a cattle farmer trading in milk between Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

They presented with symptoms of:
- fever
- vomiting
- diarrhea
- fatigue
- headache
- abdominal and joint pain
- confusion
- unexplained bleeding.

@JaneRuth_Aceng: Upon arrival, they got ill and on [3 Jan 2020] were admitted at Logobo Health Center III in Moyo District. They were later referred to Moyo General Hospital.

@JaneRuth_Aceng: In Moyo District, there are 2 confirmed cases, both are males who were dealing in cutting and trading timber between Uganda and South Sudan. On [2 Jan 2020], the 2 cases travelled from South Sudan to Moyo.
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[These 2 small (2 infected individuals in each locality) yellow fever (YF) outbreaks are not interconnected, having occurred at 2 sites at far distances from each other. It is reassuring to learn that the Ministry of Health will be investigating these 2 sites and initiating vaccination in these areas in 2 weeks. There is no indication of the proportion of the residents in these areas who have been vaccinated for YF previously.

Yellow fever is no stranger in Uganda, and outbreaks occur sporadically. The most recent previous outbreak reported by the Ugandan Ministry of Health was in May 2019 after laboratory-confirmed cases were reported from Koboko in the Northern region and Masaka in the Central region districts -- regions 600 km (375 mi) apart. These cases are spillover from endemic sylvan (forest) maintenance of the virus. Maintaining 80%-90% vaccination coverage in these areas is important to prevent initiation of urban transmission of the virus that can quickly get out of hand.

A map showing the location of Buliisa District in the center-west part of Uganda can be accessed at <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Buliisa_District>, and another showing Moyo District in the far north of the country can be seen at <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moyo_District>. - ProMED Mod.TY]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map:
Date: Fri, 24 Jan 2020 12:26:57 +0100 (MET)

Beijing, Jan 24, 2020 (AFP) - China has quarantined cities and shut major tourist attractions from Disneyland to the Forbidden City and a section of the Great Wall as it scrambles to stop a deadly SARS-like virus from spreading further.   The drastic moves come as hundreds of millions of people criss-crossed the country in recent days to celebrate the Lunar New Year holiday, which officially started Friday and is typically a joyous time of gatherings and public celebration.   Here is a rundown of the measures taken so far in an unprecedented quarantine effort:

- Cities under lockdown -
Public transport has been stopped in 13 cities in central Hubei province, with train stations shut, events cancelled and theatres, libraries and karaoke bars closed in some locations.   The epicentre of the outbreak is provincial capital Wuhan, the biggest city on lockdown, where the government has halted all travel out of the Yangtze River metropolis of 11 million.   Wuhan residents have been told to stay home and authorities are limiting the number of taxis allowed on roads. There are few flights available to the city, deepening the isolation.   Similar quarantine measures are being taken in the other, smaller cities. These include strict controls on weddings and funerals, temperature screening of people as they arrive and the suspension of online taxi services.   More than 41 million people in total are affected by the city shutdowns.

- Festivities cancelled -
Wuhan and Beijing have cancelled public events that usually attract hundreds of thousands of people to temples during the New Year holiday.   Gao Fu, head of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, has asked China's 1.4 billion citizens to forego New Year gatherings and confine themselves at home until all is clear.   To discourage nationwide travel, the government also said all tickets for rail, air, road, or water transport could be refunded.

- Attractions closed -
The historic Forbidden City, a sprawling imperial palace in Beijing that is one of the country's most revered cultural sites, will temporarily close from Saturday.   Other famous landmarks including a section of the Great Wall, the Ming Tombs and Yinshan Pagoda are also not open to visitors.   Shanghai Disneyland said it would shut for an indefinite period "to ensure the health and safety of our guests and cast".   Women's Olympics football qualifiers scheduled for February 3-9 in Wuhan have been moved to the eastern city of Nanjing.

- Temperature checks -
Staff in full body protective suits were seen checking the temperatures of people entering a subway station in Beijing on Friday.   The country has ordered sterilisation and ventilation at airports and bus stations, as well as inside planes and trains, while travellers are being screened for fever.   Health authorities are urging people to wash their hands regularly, avoid crowded places, get plenty of fresh air and wear a mask if they have a cough.   In Wuhan, city authorities have made it mandatory to wear a mask in public places.   In response to skyrocketing demand for masks -- starting to sell out at pharmacies and on some popular websites -- China's industry and information technology ministry said it would "spare no effort in increasing supply".

- A new hospital -
In Wuhan, authorities are rushing to build a new hospital in a staggering 10 days as a rising number of patients are infected by the new coronavirus.   The facility is expected to be in use by February 3 and will have a capacity of 1,000 beds spread over 25,000 square metres, according to state media.   Dozens of excavators and trucks were filmed working on the site by state broadcaster CCTV.   Its construction began after reports surfaced of bed shortages in hospitals designated as dealing with the outbreak, which has now infected 830 people across China.
Date: Fri, 24 Jan 2020 11:22:00 +0100 (MET)

Beijing, Jan 24, 2020 (AFP) - China announced Friday it will close a section of the Great Wall and other famous Beijing landmarks to control the spread of a deadly virus that has infected hundreds of people across the country.   A range of Lunar New Year festivities have been cancelled to try to contain the virus, and Beijing's Forbidden City and Shanghai's Disneyland have also been closed temporarily.

The Ming Tombs and Yinshan Pagoda will also be closed from Saturday, the authority that oversees the sites said, while the Bird's Nest stadium -- the site of the 2008 Olympic Games -- was shuttered from Friday.   The Great Wall attracts around 10 million tourists a year and is a popular destination for visitors during the New Year holiday.   The Juyongguan section will close, while the Great Wall temple fair was cancelled at the Simatai section of the famous landmark.

Tourists at the Gubei water town by the Simatai section will have their temperature tested, the authority said in a statement on the WeChat social media app.   The Bird's Nest will be closed until January 30 in order to "prevent and control" the spread of the virus, authorities said. An ice and snow show taking place on the pitch will be closed.   The measures in the capital are the latest to try and control the outbreak of the new coronavirus, after authorities rapidly expanded a mammoth
quarantine effort that affected 41 million people in central Hubei province.

The previously unknown virus has caused alarm because of its similarity to SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome), which killed hundreds across mainland China and Hong Kong in 2002-2003.   Although there have only been 29 confirmed cases in Beijing, city authorities have cancelled large-scaled Lunar New Year events this week.   The city government said it would call off events including two popular temple fairs, which have attracted massive crowds of tourists in past years.   Beijing's Forbidden City -- which saw 19 million visitors last year -- is usually packed with tourists during the Lunar New Year festival, when hundreds of millions of people travel across China.