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Saint Lucia

St. Lucia US Consular Information Sheet
April 02, 2008
COUNTRY DESCRIPTION:
St. Lucia is an English-speaking, developing Caribbean island nation.
Tourist facilities are widely available.
Read the Department of State Background No
es on St. Lucia for additional information.

ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS:
All Americans traveling by air outside the United States are required to present a passport or other valid travel document to enter or re-enter the United States.
This requirement will be extended to sea travel (except closed loop cruises), including ferry service, by the summer of 2009.
Until then, U.S. citizens traveling by sea must have government-issued photo identification and a document showing their U.S. citizenship (for example, a birth certificate or certificate of nationalization), or other WHTI compliant document such as a passport card for entry or re-entry to the U.S.
Sea travelers should also check with their cruise line and countries of destination for any foreign entry requirements.

Applications for the new U.S. Passport Card are now being accepted.
It is expected that the cards will be available and mailed to applicants in spring 2008.
The card may not be used to travel by air and is available only to U.S. citizens. Further information on the Passport Card is available at http://travel.state.gov/passport/ppt_card/ppt_card_3926.html and upcoming changes to U.S. passport policy can be found on the Bureau of Consular Affairs web site at http://travel.state.gov/travel/cbpmc/cbpmc_2223.html.
We strongly encourage all American citizen travelers to apply for a U.S. passport well in advance of anticipated travel.
American citizens can visit travel.state.gov or call 1-877-4USA-PPT (1-877-487-2778) for information on how to apply for their passports.

Information about dual nationality or the prevention of international child abduction can be found on the State Department web site.
For further information about customs regulations, please read our Customs Information sheet.

SAFETY AND SECURITY:
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 Worldwide Caution, Travel Warnings, and Travel Alerts 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:
In 2006, there were five reported incidents of U.S. citizen visitors to St. Lucia staying in boutique hotels in rural areas being robbed at gunpoint in their rooms; some of the victims were assaulted and one was raped.
In September 2007, a U.S. citizen was robbed in her room at a resort hotel near Castries by armed men.
While authorities detained suspects in some of the cases, no one has been prosecuted.
Efforts by the Saint Lucian authorities to improve public safety on the island are ongoing.
Visitors should inquire about their hotel’s security arrangements before making reservations.
Valuables left unattended on beaches and in rental cars are vulnerable to theft.
Visitors should use caution, especially at night and in lightly frequented areas.

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

See our information on Victims of Crime.

MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION:
Medical care is limited.
There are two public hospitals and one private hospital in St. Lucia, neither of which provide the same level of care found in an American hospital.
The main hospital is Victoria Hospital (Telephone (758) 452-2421).
There is no hyperbaric chamber; divers requiring treatment for decompression illness must be evacuated from the island.
Serious medical problems requiring hospitalization and/or medical evacuation to the United States can cost thousands of dollars.
Doctors and hospitals often expect immediate cash payment for health services.

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 St. Lucia is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.

Vehicles travel on the left side of the road in St. Lucia.
Roads are reasonably well paved but poorly marked, narrow and winding, with steep inclines/declines throughout the island.
There are few guardrails in areas that have precipitous drop-offs from the road.
In spite of these conditions, drivers often travel at excessive speed, and accidents are common.
St. Lucia is served by privately owned and operated mini-buses, plying licensed designated routes.
While most of these services operate only on weekdays during daylight hours, some may operate at night and on weekends and holidays.
Taxis are available at generally reasonable rates, but tourists are vulnerable to being overcharged.
When using minibus or taxi services, travelers should agree to a fare ahead of time. When hiring a service at night, travelers should take precautions such as having their hotel call a reputable company for service.

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.stlucia.org/
AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT:
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the Government of St. Lucia’s Civil Aviation Authority as being in compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards for oversight of St. Lucia’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:
There is no U.S. Embassy or Consulate on St. Lucia.
The U.S. Embassy in Bridgetown, Barbados is responsible for consular issues on St. Lucia, including American citizen services.
U.S. citizens are encouraged to carry a copy of their U.S. passports with them at all times, so that, if questioned by local officials, proof of identity and U.S. citizenship is readily available.
Please see Customs Information.

CRIMINAL PENALTIES:
While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country's laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law.
Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses.
Persons violating St. Lucia laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned.
Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in St. Lucia 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 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 St. Lucia are encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate through the State Department's travel registration web site , and to obtain updated information on travel and security within St. Lucia.
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 in Barbados in the Wildey Business Park, Wildey, St Michael, telephone 1-246-436-4950, web site http://barbados.usembassy.gov/.
The telephone number for the Consular Section is 1-246-431-0225.
The Consular Section fax number is 1-246-431-0179.
Hours of operation are 8:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Monday-Friday, except Barbados and U.S. holidays.
*

*

*
This replaces the Country Specific Information for St. Lucia dated June 6, 2007, to update sections on Entry/Exit Requirements, Safety and Security, Crime, and Medical Facilities and Health Information.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Sat 10 Aug 2019
Source: Coherent Magazine [abridged, edited]

Off the Caribbean islands, the measles-stricken cruise ship, reportedly owned by the Church of Scientology, has been quarantined. A female crew member has been confirmed as a measles case, causing the ship to quarantine since 29 Apr 2019. According to reports, over 300 passengers are on board. According to Church of Scientology's website, the vessel is 440 ft [134 m] long and named Freewinds; [the vessel] hosts religious retreats ministering the most advanced level of spiritual counselling in the Scientology religion. The ship has been quarantined in a port in the Caribbean Island's capital since the officials discovered infected patients.

St. Lucia's chief medical officer Dr. Merlene Fredicks-James said, "Because of the risk of potential infection, not just from the confirmed measles case but from other persons who may be on the boat at the time, we thought it prudent to make a decision not to allow anyone to disembark." St. Lucia was declared measles free since 2016, which means it has been free from local measles transmission as it was last reported in 1991. However, health officials, there is extremely [caution] over travellers importing highly infectious reporters.

"Due to the high intensity of international travel related to the large tourism sector, the Caribbean region remains at high risk for the importation of measles and rubella cases," said Dr. C. James Hospedales, executive director of the Caribbean Public Health Agency.

The measles outbreak is not restricted to St. Lucia; the World Health Organization, [in] April 2019, reported a 300% increase in global measles cases. Moreover, the US has currently 700 confirmed cases of measles in 2019, the highest number of cases since 1994. A lot of health officials around the world are blaming the hesitance toward the vaccination for this outbreak.

The major cause behind the measles outbreak is hesitance toward vaccination and misinformation spread about its efficacy.  [Byline: Sagar Jagtap]
Date: Fri, 3 May 2019 17:56:40 +0200

Castries, Saint Lucia, May 3, 2019 (AFP) - A cruise ship owned by the Church of Scientology that was quarantined in St Lucia for two days because of a measles case has left the Caribbean island and was headed toward Curacao on Friday, maritime tracking services said.   The Freewinds left the port capital Castries on Thursday at 11:15pm (0315 GMT Friday) and was cruising toward Willemstad in Curacao, a distance it previously covered in two days, according to myshiptracking.com and cruisin.me.

A spokeswoman for St Lucia's health ministry confirmed that the ship had left the island. The Church of Scientology says the 440-foot (134-meter) vessel is used for religious retreats and is normally based in Curacao.   The vessel had arrived in St Lucia from Curacao on Tuesday, when it was placed under quarantine by health authorities because of a measles patient -- a female crew member, according to Merlene Fredericks-James, St Lucia's chief medical officer.

Resurgence of the once-eradicated, highly-contagious disease is linked to the growing anti-vaccine movement in richer nations, which the World Health Organization (WHO) has identified as a major global health threat.   There were about 300 people aboard the ship, according to Saint Lucia authorities, which said they provided 100 doses of measles vaccine at no cost.   The church, founded by science fiction writer L Ron Hubbard in 1953, did not respond to requests for comment.   Its teachings do not directly oppose vaccination, but followers consider illness a sign of personal failing and generally eschew medical interventions.
Date: Thu 2 May 2019
Source: Reuters [abridged, edited]

A cruise ship quarantined for a reported case of measles left the Caribbean island of St. Lucia late on Thu [2 May 2019] after health officials provided 100 doses of vaccine to the ship, media reports said.

The Church of Scientology cruise ship was confined in port this week by island health officials after the highly contagious disease was detected on board.

CNN reported the ship had left St. Lucia, and online ship traffic data showed that the vessel was underway and headed for the island of Curacao.

One case of measles had been confirmed on the ship docked in port near the capital of Castries since Tuesday [30 Apr 2019], Dr. Merlene Frederick-James, St. Lucia's chief medical officer, said in a video statement.

"The confirmed case as well as other crew members are presently stable, but remain under surveillance by the ship's doctor," she said, noting that the incubation period of measles is 10-12 days before symptoms appear.

NBC News reported that nearly 300 passengers and crew were aboard the vessel, with one female crew member diagnosed with measles.
========================
[Also see
- Rapp. Mary Marshall.

According to the church's website, Scientologists use prescription drugs and are treated by medical doctors, but the church has not expressed a specific position on vaccinations. In a statement to The Hollywood Reporter in 2016, the church said it "takes no position one way or the other on this issue," despite several high-profile celebrities in the church speaking out against vaccines. - Mod.LK]

Update on cruise ship:
Date: 4 May 2019
Source: USA Today [2019]

Authorities worry that people aboard the ship might have been exposed after a female crew member was diagnosed with measles after coming back from Europe.

Authorities in Curacao boarded a ship that arrived in the Dutch Caribbean island under quarantine, to start vaccinating people to prevent a measles outbreak.

Health officials said only those who already have been vaccinated or have previously had measles will be free to leave the 440-foot (134-meter) ship, Freewinds, which reportedly belongs to the Church of Scientology.

Curacao epidemiologist Dr. Izzy Gerstenbluth told The Associated Press that a small team is assessing more than 300 people aboard the ship, and that the process might take more than a day.
Date: Wed 1 Nov 2017
Source: St Lucia Times [edited]

The Ministry of Health and Wellness has noted a reported increase in the cases of leptospirosis. Though increases in the number cases of leptospirosis is not unusual after periods of heavy rains or flooding it, remains an issue of concern to health authorities.  Leptospirosis is a disease caused by a bacterium, which can be found in some animals, which include rats, cattle, pigs, horses, and dogs. Persons can become ill if they are in contact with urine, water, food, or soil through breaks in the skin, mouth, eyes, or nose.

Symptoms can range from a mild flu-like illness with high fever, chills, headache, muscle pains, red eye, sore throat, and occasionally rash, which may worsen with time. In the more severe phase the disease can affect the liver causing jaundice (which is dark urine and the yellowing of the white part of the eye and the skin), and anaemia. If left untreated the disease can affect organs such as the brain, kidneys, lungs, and other internal organs. In some instances this may result in death.

This condition can be treated effectively with antibiotics if diagnosed on time. Seeking medical care early when these symptoms are noticed can prevent the disease from worsening.

Persons at greatest risk of getting leptospirosis are farmers and agricultural workers, sanitation workers, and sewer workers. However, anyone exposed to rat contaminated water and soil is also at risk of contracting the disease. The Ministry of Health has an established Rodent Reduction Programme, which will be further enhanced to respond to the current increase in leptospirosis. The ministry will also be working with a number of agencies including Ministry of Agriculture, farmer organizations and local government in order to heighten awareness of the disease to persons most at risk of contracting the disease.

The Ministry of Health advises all to take the following measures to reduce the risk of becoming ill with leptospirosis: wear protective clothing, shoes, gloves to avoid coming into contact with contaminated surfaces, soil, water source, or food; avoid contact with surfaces and water sources that may be contaminated with rat urine; keep your home and surroundings free of garbage; avoid leaving food where rats can get to it; keep food in covered containers; cover opened wounds properly; and visit your nearest health facility if there is any suspicion you might have been exposed to leptospirosis.

For further information, please contact the acting National Epidemiologist, Dr Gemma Chery, at telephone numbers 468-5325 and 285-4773.
==================
[Saint Lucia, with a population of 165,595 residents in the 2010 census, is a sovereign island country in the Windward Island chain (Dominica, Martinique, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, and Grenada) that forms the eastern Caribbean Sea boundary with the Atlantic Ocean; the capital of St Lucia is Castries (<https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saint_Lucia>).

A map of the island can be seen at
<http://www.geographicguide.com/america-maps/images/political-saint-lucia.jpg>.

The Windward Islands are the southern islands of the Lesser Antilles, within the West Indies, between the Leeward Islands to the north and Trinidad & Tobago to the south and west of Barbados.

A map of the Caribbean Islands can be found at
<https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Windward_Islands#/media/File:Caribbean_general_map.png>.

Leptospirosis is a zoonotic spirochetal infection that occurs worldwide and is transmitted to humans by exposure to soil or fresh water contaminated with the urine of wild and domestic animals (including dogs, cattle, swine, and especially rodents) that are chronically infected with pathogenic _Leptospira_. _Leptospira_ may survive in contaminated fresh water or moist soil for weeks to months. Outbreaks of leptospirosis frequently follow heavy rainfall, flooding with fresh water, and increasing rodent numbers.

Hurricane Maria reached Category 5 strength on 18 Sep 2017 upon making landfall on Dominica, 172 km (107 mi) to the north of St Lucia, compounding recovery efforts in the areas of the Leeward Islands already struck by Hurricane Irma just 2 weeks prior (<https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hurricane_Maria>). - ProMED Mod.ML]

[A HealthMap/ProMED-mail map can be accessed at:
1 Sep 2014: (SNO )
A ProMED-mail post
<http://www.promedmail.org>

The Ministry of Health has activated an EVD medical team at the Hewanorra International Airport. ...
Reports are that the officials at the airport were planning a protest on Sat [30 Aug 2014] since there was no medical team in place to deal with an international flight that had African nationals who could be possible EVD victims. ...
<http://www.stlucianewsonline.com/ebola-medical-team-activated-at-hewanorra-international/#sthash.DvfoxQER.dpuf>
More ...

World Travel News Headlines

Date: Mon, 14 Oct 2019 11:08:10 +0200 (METDST)

Manila, Oct 14, 2019 (AFP) - Parents lined up from sunrise holding sleeping infants as the Philippines launched a campaign on Monday to vaccinate millions of children against polio, which has re-emerged nearly two decades after the nation's last cases.   Years of falling vaccination rates, made worse by the botched rollout of a dengue vaccine, culminated in an outbreak of the preventable disease in September.   "This is for the welfare of my child," Ruth Miranda told AFP after the vaccine was squirted into her child's mouth at the Manila slum they call home.

Miranda's child is among scores who are unprotected in the capital of about 13 million people, where vaccination rates of young children plunged from 77 percent in 2016 to a mere 24 percent in June.   The atmosphere at the event in Manila was festive -- with ice cream vendors and music -- but the stakes for the campaign are high.

Polio, which can cause paralysis and can be fatal in rare cases, has no cure and can only be prevented with several doses of oral and injectable vaccines.   Two cases were detected in September, the first polio infections in the Philippines since 2001, adding to the woes of a country already hit by deadly measles and dengue epidemic.   The risk of the disease spreading within the Philippines is high, according to World Health Organization, due to low immunisation coverage partly blamed to a dengue vaccine scandal.

The Philippines was the first nation to use Dengvaxia in a mass programme in 2016, but a botched rollout led to claims that children had died after being vaccinated.   A dramatic drop in vaccine confidence followed, with trust plunging from 93 percent in 2015 to 32 percent in 2018, according to a study led by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.   The Philippines polio outbreak has been traced back to the weakened form of the virus used in vaccines, which is excreted by people for a time after they receive it.   According to the WHO, that form can mutate and spread in the surrounding community when immunisation rates get too low.
Date: Mon, 14 Oct 2019 10:25:38 +0200 (METDST)
By Shingo ITO, Sara HUSSEIN

Tokyo, Oct 14, 2019 (AFP) - Tens of thousands of rescue workers in Japan battled on Monday to find survivors of a powerful typhoon that killed at least 43 people, as fresh rain threatened to hamper efforts.   Typhoon Hagibis crashed into the country on Saturday night, unleashing high winds and torrential rain across 36 of the country's 47 prefectures, and triggering landslides and catastrophic flooding.   "Even now, many people are still unaccounted for in the disaster-hit area," Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told an emergency disaster meeting on Monday.   "Units are trying their best to search for and rescue them, working day and night," Abe said.

But even as rescuers, including troops, combed through debris, the country's weather agency forecast rain in central and eastern Japan that it warned could cause further flooding and new landslides.   "I would like to ask people to stay fully vigilant and continue watching for landslides and river flooding," Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a news conference.   In Nagano, one of the worst-hit regions, rain was already falling and was expect to intensify.   "We are concerned about the impact of the latest rain on rescue and recovery efforts," local official Hiroki Yamaguchi told AFP.   "We will continue operations while watching out for secondary disasters due to the current rain."

- 43 dead, 16 missing: NHK -
By late Monday afternoon, national broadcaster NHK said the toll had risen to 43 dead, with 16 others missing and over 200 people injured. The government gave lower figures but was continuing to update its information.   The dead included a municipal worker whose car was overcome by floodwaters and at least seven crew from a cargo ship that sank in Tokyo Bay on Saturday night, a coast guard spokesman said.   Four others, from China, Myanmar and Vietnam, were rescued when the boat sank and the coast guard was still searching for a last crew member.   While Hagibis, one of the most powerful storms to hit the Tokyo area in decades, packed wind gusts of up to 216 kilometres (134 miles) per hour, it was the heavy rains that caused most damage.

A total of 142 rivers flooded, mainly in eastern and northern Japan, with river banks collapsing in two dozen places, local media said.   In central Nagano, a levee breach sent water from the Chikuma river gushing into residential neighbourhoods, flooding homes up to the second floor.   As water slowly receded Monday, television footage showed patients being transferred by ambulance from a Nagano hospital where some 200 people had been cut off by flooding.   Elsewhere, rescuers used helicopters to winch survivors from roofs and balconies, or steered boats through muddy waters to reach those trapped.

- Japan dedicates rugby win to victims -
By Monday afternoon, some 75,900 households remained without power, with 120,000 experiencing water outages.   The disaster left tens of thousands of people in shelters, with many unsure when they would be able to return home.   "Everything from my house was washed away before my eyes, I wasn't sure if it was a dream or real," a woman in Nagano told NHK.   "I feel lucky I'm still alive."   The storm brought travel chaos over the holiday weekend, grounding flights and halting commuter and bullet train services.

By Monday, most subway trains had resumed service, along with many bullet train lines, and flights had also restarted.   The storm also brought havoc to the sporting world, forcing the delay of Japanese Grand Prix qualifiers and the cancellation of three Rugby World Cup matches.   But a crucial decider pitting Japan against Scotland went ahead, with the hosts dedicating their stunning 28-21 win to the victims of the disaster.   "To everyone that's suffering from the typhoon, this game was for you guys," said Japan captain Michael Leitch.
Date: Sun, 13 Oct 2019 23:31:57 +0200 (METDST)

Kinshasa, Oct 13, 2019 (AFP) - Doctors will use a second Ebola vaccine from November in three eastern provinces in the Democratic Republic of Congo to fight the deadly virus, medical officials said Sunday.   "It's time to use the new Ad26-ZEBOV-GP vaccine, manufactured by Johnson & Johnson's Belgian subsidiary," said Dr. Jean-Jacques Muyembe, who leads the national anti-Ebola operation in the DRC.    It will arrive in the eastern city of Goma, in North Kivu province, on October 18 and be used from the beginning of next month, he added.   DRC's latest Ebola epidemic, which began in August 2018, has killed 2,144 people, making it the second deadliest outbreak of the virus, after the West Africa pandemic of 2014-2016.

Muyembe said the communes of Majingo and Kahembe had been selected to receive the vaccine as they were considered the epicentres of the epidemic.   "We will extend this vaccination to our small traders who often go to Rwanda to protect our neighbours," he added.   "If it works well, we will expand vaccination in South Kivu and Ituri."   DR Congo's eastern provinces of Ituri, North Kivu and South Kivu sit on the borders with Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi.   The Belgian laboratory will send a batch of 200,000 doses to neighbouring Rwanda and 500,000 doses in the DRC, Muyembe said.   More than 237,000 people living in active Ebola transmission zones have received a vaccination produced by the pharma company Merck Sharpe and Dohme since August 8, 2018. 

The J&J vaccine had been rejected by DRC's former health minister Oly Ilunga, who cited the risks of introducing a new product in communities where mistrust of Ebola responders is already high.   But Ilunga's resignation in July appears to have paved the way for approval of the second vaccine. He currently faces charges that he embezzled funds intended for the fight against Ebola.   In his letter of resignation Ilunga said "actors who have demonstrated a lack of ethics" want to introduce a second vaccine, but did not elaborate.    Muyembe, who took over the Ebola fight in the DRC in July, said "The Johnson & Johnson vaccine has the most science-based data."
Date: Thu, 10 Oct 2019 20:02:59 +0200 (METDST)
By Robbie COREY-BOULET

Addis Ababa, Oct 10, 2019 (AFP) - A palace that once housed Ethiopia's emperors and also served as a torture site under the communist Derg regime is to open to the public in a controversial government tourism project.    The palace compound in Addis Ababa, which Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed's government has rebranded "Unity Park", was formally launched Thursday and will be open from Friday.    Abiy's office said on Twitter Thursday that the project "symbolises our ability to come together".

But critics have dismissed it as vanity project for Abiy that could prove divisive.   Backed by the United Arab Emirates, the project cost more than $160 million (145 million euros), Ethiopian officials told reporters at a briefing earlier this week.    Built in the late 1800s by Emperor Menelik II, who founded Addis Ababa, the palace was the residence of Ethiopia's rulers for more than a century.   Abiy himself does not live there, and it has seen little activity in recent years.    Abiy's advisers say he has taken a keen interest in transforming the palace into a tourist attraction since coming to power in April 2018 -- visiting the site every day in recent weeks to monitor progress.

The government's "Home-Grown Economic Reform" agenda, unveiled last month, describes tourism as a primary engine of potential job creation.    On Thursday, government officials and the diplomatic corps toured the expansive site before attending a banquet that was expected to draw five regional heads of state and other dignitaries.    The restored rooms feature items like Menelik's sword and a life-size wax replica of former Emperor Haile Selassie, who lived at the palace and was then etained there after the Derg overthrew him in 1974.

The site also includes a sculpture garden with installations representing Ethiopia's nine regions, and a zoo is expected to open by the end of the year.    Aklilu Fikresilassie, an Ethiopian employee of the United Nations who attended the launch Thursday, said he was "really fascinated" to set foot inside a place that had been closed to the public his entire life.    "For us it's like a government house, so now when you enter that palace it tells you that we are getting somehow closer to our leaders," he said.

But not everyone is convinced the palace will succeed in bringing Ethiopians together.   In a country grappling with ethnic divisions, some worry that the palace could alienate ethnic Oromos who contend that their ancestors were forced off their land when Addis Ababa was built.    Journalist and former political prisoner Eskinder Nega said the renovations were undertaken "without consultation from the public", which he called "a huge mistake."    "This is all about heritage, about preserving heritage. The people should have had a say in it," he said.    "Like everything else this was decided from the top and implemented only by the decision of the prime minister."
Date: Thu, 10 Oct 2019 13:13:57 +0200 (METDST)

Hanoi, Oct 10, 2019 (AFP) - Selfie-snapping tourists railed against the closure of Hanoi's 'train street' on Thursday after police blocked off the Instragram-famous tracks for safety reasons.   The narrow railway corridor in central Hanoi has become a hotspot among visitors seeking the perfect holiday snap on the tracks -- often dodging trains that rumble through daily.    But Hanoi authorities said this week they would block people from the tracks to avoid accidents, and police on Thursday erected barricades to keep out disappointed visitors.    "I'm very frustrated because today I can't go in and take a picture," Malaysian tourist Mustaza bin Mustapha told AFP, vowing to come back later.

Dozens of other tourists were turned away, though some managed to get onto still-open sections of the railway, moving out of the way as an afternoon train chugged past.    Built by former colonial rulers, the railway once shipped goods and people across France's former Indochina colony and remains in use today by communist Vietnam's state-run railway company.    The stretch of the tracks was once known as a rough part of town, occupied by drug users and squatters until their recent discovery by camera-wielding holidaymakers who have splashed images of the area across social media.

Cafe owners complained that business would be hurt thanks to the new regulations, and that tourists always moved out of the way for oncoming trains.   "There has never been any regretful accidents here," said Le Tuan Anh, who runs a cafe from his home along the tracks.   "Compared to traffic density elsewhere in the city, this is much safer," he said, referring to Hanoi's chaotic, motorbike-clogged streets.   New signs were installed in the area Thursday, warning passersby not to take photos or videos in the "dangerous area", much to the chagrin of British tourist Harriet Hayes.   "People come from all over the world to Hanoi just to see the train go past," she told AFP.   "It's such a shame that we come and have been told that we have to leave."
Date: Thu, 10 Oct 2019 06:51:42 +0200 (METDST)
By Holly ROBERTSON

Sydney, Oct 10, 2019 (AFP) - Large numbers of tourists are rushing to scale Uluru -- also known as Ayers Rock -- ahead of a looming ban on climbing a site sacred to indigenous Australians.   Photographs of hundreds of people clambering up the giant red monolith have provoked a social media backlash, with critics lashing as "ignorant" those going against the wishes of the traditional Aboriginal owners of the land, the Anangu.   "A mass of morally and ethically bankrupt people," indigenous woman Laura McBride tweeted alongside an image showing a queue of people snaking up the side of Uluru.    "One even hiking a toddler up, teaching the next generation how to be ignorant."   "Imagine rushing to climb Uluru before it closes just so you could brag about disrespecting the oldest living culture in the world," tweeted National Indigenous Television journalist Madeline Hayman-Reber, who called the scenes "embarrassing".

Officials say the ban, which comes into effect on October 26, is intended to show respect for cultural practices, protect the site from further environmental damage and to ensure visitors' safety.    More than 395,000 people visited the Uluru-Kata National Park in the 12 months to June 2019, according to Parks Australia, about 20 percent more than the previous year. Around 13 percent of those who visited during that period made the climb, park authorities said.    More recent figures are not available but Tourism Central Australia CEO Stephen Schwer said there had been a "significant jump" in the number of people visiting in recent weeks, with the period leading up to the ban coinciding in part with school holidays.   "Its been very busy, particularly down in the national park precinct itself," he told AFP.   "We've had quite an issue with accommodation availability, because there's a lot of people want to climb Uluru before it closes. It's been a busier than normal holiday period."   Japanese visitors and Australians on driving holidays were most likely to want to scale Uluru, Schwer said, though he urged them not to do so.

Australian tourist Belinda Moore, 33, drove to Uluru from her home in central Queensland state to ascend the rock, an experience she said she "absolutely loved".   "It's always been something to tick off the bucket list and when we heard it was closing, we knew it was now or never," she told AFP.   Moore said she did not think her climb was disrespectful to traditional owners as she was not Aboriginal.    "It may be for their own people, because it's their sacred site," she said.   "I'm pretty sad that they're closing it, but it's still amazing just to see it. I would still recommend it."   The climb will be permanently closed as of October 26, the anniversary of ownership being handed back to the Anangu people.

Uluru has great spiritual and cultural significance to indigenous Australians, with their connection to the site dating back tens of thousands of years.   Though visitor numbers were expected to decline once the ban was in place, Schwer said local tourism operators were "not particularly concerned" as it would return the area to normality.   "People need to remember that in central Australia we're a very interconnected community," he said. "The people who are requesting the climb closure are our friends and colleagues.   "We're just looking forward to being able to have the climb consigned to the annals of history."
Date: Wed, 9 Oct 2019 22:01:17 +0200 (METDST)

Kinshasa, Oct 9, 2019 (AFP) - Six people were killed in the Democratic Republic of Congo after torrential rains hit the capital Kinshasa, flooding several neighbourhoods. a local official said.    The bodies were found between Tuesday night and Wednesday morning.    Five people were killed in the capital's Selembao municipality where around 30 houses collapsed, local mayor Augustin Mankesi told Top Congo radio station.   One woman died in the Pelende district after she was electrocuted, he added.    "Our community is stricken," Mankesi added, calling on the Congolese authorities for help.   Fatal floods and rains are frequent in Kinshasa. In January last year 48 people were killed in landslides, floods and after houses collapsed, according to authorities.    Residents told AFP the road from the sea port district of Matadi to the Kinshasa turnoff has been closed due to erosion caused by the rain.    The passage is Kinshasa's main supply route for imported goods and also serves as an exit point for exports.
Date: Tue, 8 Oct 2019 04:13:25 +0200 (METDST)
By Margioni BERMÚDEZ

Caracas, Oct 8, 2019 (AFP) - The small waiting room at the home of self-styled healer "Brother Guayanes" in Caracas' rundown Petare district fills up quickly with patients -- business has never been better.   With Venezuela's chronic medicine shortages and hyperinflation, more and more people are turning to alternative medicine to treat common ailments in the crisis-wracked South American country.   "We go to the hospital and there's nothing there. They don't have medicines, or they're too expensive, what are we to do?" said Rosa Saez, 77, who has come to get treatment for a painful arm.   Carlos Rosales -- he uses the more ceremonious "Brother Guayanes" for his business -- is finishing up a "spiritual intervention" on a patient in what passes for his surgery.   The patient lies, eyes closed, on a cot as, in a series of swishes and clicks, the healer waves five pairs of scissors one after another over his prone body.    The healer says he performs 200 such interventions a week in a dim, candle-lit room that features two camp beds and an array of plaster statues that Rosales says represent "spiritual entities".   A regular visitor to the spiritual center, Saez says she has faith in Rosales' methods: "He healed my kidneys."

- Natural healing -
All across Venezuela, but particularly in poor areas like Petare, patients cannot hope to afford the price of medicines that due to the economic crisis, have become exceedingly rare.  Venezuela's pharmacists' federation say pharmacies and hospitals have on average only about 20 percent of the medicine stock needed.   Rosales' clinic is muggy with the smell of tobacco. A crucifix suspended from a chain around his neck, he practices a seeming mixture of smoke-blowing shamanism, plant-based medicine and mainstream religion.    Posters hung near the entrance remind clients to arrive with a candle and tobacco and "Don't forget that payment is in cash".   Much like a general practitioner, Rosales spends time consulting with his patients, examining them with a stethoscope, before offering a diagnosis. Often he prescribes potions based on plants and fruit, such as pineapple and a type of local squash known as chayote.   "We know medicines are necessary," he says. "I'm not against medicine, but my medicine is botany."

- Plants replace drugs -
At her stall in a downtown Caracas market, 72-year-old Lilia Reyes says she has seen her trade in medicinal plants flourish.   "I can't keep up with the demand," she said at her stall, bathed in the aroma of camomile, one of the 150 plants she sells.   Careless consumption of some herbs can be deadly, warns Grismery Morillo. A doctor at a Caracas public hospital, she says she has seen many cases of acute liver failure in people who have eaten certain roots.   According to Venezuela's opposition parties, some 300,000 chronically ill people are in danger of dying from the shortages of medicines.

But despite the risks, people like Carmen Teresa say they have no alternative.    In the kitchen of her restaurant which closed down three years ago as the economic crisis took hold, the 58-year-old Colombian prepares an infusion of fig leaves to treat "diabetic neuropathy".   The painkillers needed for the condition are "too expensive" and prices are going up due to hyperinflation, so she is cutting back on the pills and supplementing her treatment with herbal infusions.   She needs at least four tablets a day to keep her diabetes at bay. Her mother, bedridden since breaking a leg a year ago, suffers from Alzheimer's disease and needs five pills a day for hypertension.   "I'm still taking my pills, but I reduced the dose," says Teresa, who is also replacing cholesterol pills with lemon juice.
Date: Sun, 6 Oct 2019 12:04:37 +0200 (METDST)

Riyadh, Oct 6, 2019 (AFP) - Saudi Arabia announced Sunday it would allow unmarried foreign couples to rent hotel rooms together as the ultraconservative kingdom begins offering up tourist visas for the first time.   The tourism authority said in a statement published on Twitter that Saudi women travelling alone would also be able to check into a hotel by presenting valid ID.

In the past, couples wanting to stay in a hotel had to prove they were married.    "This is no longer required for tourists," the statement said.   Saudi Arabia announced on September 27 it was opening its doors to holidaymakers with the goal of diversifying its oil-dependent economy.   The kingdom had previously only issued visas to Muslim pilgrims, foreign workers, and recently to spectators at sporting or cultural events.

Kickstarting tourism is one of the centrepieces of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's Vision 2030 reform programme to prepare the biggest Arab economy for a post-oil era.   Citizens from 49 countries are now eligible for online e-visas or visas on arrival, including the United States, Australia and several European nations.   On September 28, Saudi authorities warned that tourists who violated "public decency", including with immodest clothing and public displays of affection, would be subject to fines.
Date: Sat, 5 Oct 2019 03:30:17 +0200 (METDST)
By Giovanna FLEITAS

Petorca, Chile, Oct 5, 2019 (AFP) - For Erick Hurtado, the worst thing about the drought that has devastated his family farm in Chile is the dead animals.   "Going out and seeing the animals dead on the ground is so horrible," Hurtado says as he gazes across the dusty paddocks of his farm in Petorca, near the coastal city of Valparaiso.

Farmers are counting the cost of one of the driest austral winters in six decades, which has destroyed crops and left tens of thousands of farm animals dead in the fields of central Chile.   Hurtado's farm, owned by his grandfather, has lost half its 60 head of cattle.   So far, 106,000 animals have died due to lack of water and fodder, mostly goats, cattle and sheep, according to the agriculture ministry.   President Sebastian Pinera, who last month announced a $5 billion plan to improve water distribution, this week set up a crisis group of government agencies to tackle the water crisis, which he said had become "more extensive and more intense."

In Colina, north of the capital Santiago, the drought has been hard on small farmers. Scrawny cattle pick at sprigs of strawy grass on pastures that have turned to dust. Cows, goats and horses roam hungry on hills have turned to a dry muddy brown.   "The drought has been disastrous for us," said Sandra Aguilar. Her family owned about a hundred head of cattle. Today, only half survive thanks to a trickle of water provided by a neighbor who still has some reserves.   "The situation is complicated," said Javier Maldonado, governor of the province of Chacabuco, where several agricultural areas have been hit particularly hard by the drought.    "We have to be realistic, climate change is here to stay," he said.

- Water shortages -
Dominga Mondaca points out the deep fissures that run through the garden behind her house in the village of La Ligua near Valparaiso. The garden used to be full of strawberries and citrus trees; now it's cracked earth.    "We have had many years with little water. But the last year, it didn't rain at all," said the 73-year-old, one of more than 600,000 people the government is supplying by tanker trucks as part of emergency measures.   She says she has had to give up raising chickens, in order to keep what little water she and her husband receive for their own consumption, washing and cleaning. Whatever is left, she uses to sprinkle on herbs in a small kitchen garden.   The agriculture ministry says 37,000 family farms need assistance in the central Chile.

- Thirsty avocados? -
In Petorca, some rivers have run dry, and the landscape has been left parched, but lush avocado and citrus plantations are nevertheless thriving.   Locals in Petorca say the real, long-term problem is the mismanagement of water resources.    "There is an excess of monoculture plantations that consume all the water," said Diego Soto of the Movement for the Defense of Access to Water, Land and Environmental Protection (MODATIMA) told AFP.   Avocados need a lot of water to grow, said Soto.   "An avocado tree needs 600 liters of water per week, whereas humans consume 50 liters a day, or 350 liters a week," he said.   Producers refute these figures and say the real problem is a lack of infrastructure to store water, both above and below ground.    "The avocado is not a crop that needs more water," insisted Francisco Contardo, chairman of the local producers' committee.   Avocados are a key export for Chile, mostly to the US and China, but drought has reduced exports by 25 percent.

- Less snow -
For many though, the changes being wrought by climate change are overwhelmingly obvious. Snow in the highlands of central Chile was relatively scarce this year.    Scientists predict an average decrease of between five and 10 percent snowfall every 10 years in almost the entire Andes mountains, one of the country's main sources of water.   "The central zone of Chile is highly dependent on the summer melt season, its snow and glaciers, which means that if the snow cover is reduced, there is also a reduction in the availability of water resources," said Paul Cordero, climate change expert at the University of Santiago.   Weak snowfall forced the country's main ski resorts to use artificial snow machines much earlier and more often this season than in previous years.    "Chile has been living as if it were a country with an abundance of water," said Pinera.   "Climate change and global warming have changed this situation probably forever."