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Lesotho

Lesotho US Consular Information Sheet
May 28, 2008
COUNTRY DESCRIPTION:
Lesotho is a constitutional monarchy with a democratically elected lower house of parliament.
The upper house, the Senate, is comprised of appointed hereditary ch
efs and politicians.
A Prime Minister is the head of the government.
Geographically, Lesotho is an extremely mountainous developing nation completely surrounded by the country of South Africa.
The capital, Maseru, is at 5,000 feet (1,500M) above sea level, and the mountains reach to 11,400 feet (3,500M). Facilities for tourism are limited.
A limited number of restaurants are available in Maseru.
Read the Department of State Background Notes on Lesotho for additional information.

ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS:
A passport is required, but no visa for U.S. citizens is needed for visits of 180 days or less.
Vaccination for yellow fever is a common requirement and travelers should carry their international vaccination cards with them.
For more information concerning entry requirements, travelers may contact the Embassy of the Kingdom of Lesotho, 2511 Massachusetts Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20008, telephone (202) 797-5533.
Visit the Embassy of Lesotho’s web site at http://www.lesothoemb-usa.gov.ls/ for the most current visa information.

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

SAFETY AND SECURITY:
Lesotho held a general election in February 2007, which international and local observers considered peaceful and independent.
Opposition parties disputed the allocation of parliamentary seats following the election, leading to a protracted political impasse, massive rallies, and several work stoppages in 2007 which disrupted public transportation and some commercial activity.
Although the Southern African Development Community (SADC) undertook a mediation effort aimed at achieving dialogue and reconciliation, senior political and government figures were targeted in a spate of armed attacks in June 2007.
These attacks, including the kidnapping of Lesotho Defense Force (LDF) guards and the seizure of military weapons, resulted in a government-imposed daily curfew from June 15 to June 22, 2007, and reports of harassment at security checkpoints and roadblocks.
Efforts by the Maseru City Council to disperse unlicensed street vendors in the central business district led to confrontations between police and vendors.
U.S. citizens should avoid political gatherings and street demonstrations and maintain security awareness at all times.

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

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

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

CRIME:
U.S. citizens should remain vigilant about their surroundings at all times.
Lesotho has a high level of crime and foreigners are frequently targeted, robbed and sometimes killed.
American citizens reported an increased number of incidents in the first half of 2008, including armed and unarmed confrontations, carjackings, and home invasions.
However, there are no indications that U.S. citizens are being specifically targeted or that there is an increase in the overall crime rate.

The Lesotho Mounted Police Service reported the presence of a number of armed gangs.
Lesotho’s high unemployment rate, aggravated by the return of large numbers of unemployed miners from South Africa, and the ongoing effects of social upheaval due to high HIV/AIDS rates of infection, continue to contribute to an increasing number of reported crimes.
These types of crimes occur primarily in the capital city of Maseru, but can occur elsewhere in Lesotho.
Crime scenes have included popular restaurants, pedestrian overpasses, unlit or poorly lit roads, and other locations foreigners are known to frequent.
Victims have included foreign diplomats, volunteer workers, employees of non-governmental organizations, and nationals of Lesotho.
U.S. citizens are advised to avoid large groups and demonstrations, walking and driving at nighttime if possible, and walking in the capital city of Maseru even during daylight.
Personal crime is more likely to occur at night, but there have been numerous recent incidents in the middle of the day.
Traveling alone or at night is particularly dangerous.
The Lesotho Mounted Police Service handles policing duties.
Police resources are limited and response time varies widely.
U.S. citizens should report crime to the police and to the Embassy consular section.

There is a serious baggage pilferage problem at Johannesburg International Airport, also known as Oliver Tambo International Airport, in South Africa.
Persons traveling by air to Lesotho must travel via Johannesburg.
The pilferage problem particularly affects travelers changing airlines and those flying on smaller airlines.
Passengers flying on major international carriers may not be affected to the same degree.
Travelers are encouraged to secure their luggage, use an airport plastic wrapping service, and avoid placing currency, electronics, jewelry, cameras or other valuables in checked luggage.
Make an inventory of items in checked baggage to aid in claims processing if theft does occur.
The claims processing procedure can be time-consuming.

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 facilities in Lesotho are limited.
Good medical service is available in Bloemfontein, South Africa, 90 miles west of Maseru.
There is no reliable ambulance service in Lesotho.
The Embassy maintains a list of physicians and other health care professionals in Lesotho who may see U.S. citizen patients.
The Embassy does not guarantee their services or provide recommendations.
Many medicines are unavailable at facilities in Lesotho; travelers should carry with them an adequate supply of needed medicines and/or prescription drugs, along with copies of prescriptions.
Lesotho has a very high HIV/AIDS prevalence rate, currently estimated at over thirty percent of the adult population.
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 Lesotho is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.
Traffic moves on the left, with right-hand drive vehicles.
Never assume right-of-way, as aggressive and undisciplined local driving habits result in frequent collisions.
Lesotho has a high number of traffic-related deaths and injuries given its small size.
The previous king died in a road accident in 1996.
Driving after dark is dangerous due to the absence of street lighting, livestock on the roads, and the prevalence of crime, including incidents of carjacking.
American citizens may encounter roadblocks manned by unauthorized or off-duty police officers soliciting cash payments for alleged traffic violations.
Travel is best done by private car.
Rental cars are available, and cars rented in neighboring South Africa may be brought into Lesotho with written permission from the rental company.
Although bus and public taxi services exist, chronic overloading combined with inadequate vehicle maintenance and lack of driver training make them unsafe.
Some private taxi service exists in the capital, but roving mini-bus taxis should be avoided.
There is no passenger train service in the country.
Although the number of paved roads is gradually increasing, the majority of Lesotho’s 5,000 miles of roads are unpaved.
A few main rural highways are comparable to U.S. two-lane rural roads, but lane markings, signs, shoulders and guardrails are not to U.S. standards, and unfenced livestock pose a particular danger.
Lesotho's mountainous terrain makes driving on secondary roads hazardous.
Unpaved roads in the interior, often narrow, twisty and steep, are poorly maintained. For travel in the interior, especially in wet or snowy weather, a high ground clearance or four-wheel-drive vehicle is recommended.
Four-wheel-drive is required for entering Lesotho through the Sani Pass on the eastern border.
The authority for road safety issues rests with the Lesotho Mounted Police Service.
There are no auto clubs or reliable ambulance services.
Drivers should contact the police in emergencies.
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.lesothoemb-usa.gov.ls/tourism.htm.

AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT:
As there is no direct commercial air service to the United States by carriers registered in Lesotho, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not assessed Lesotho’s Civil Aviation Authority for compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards.
For more information, travelers may visit the FAA’s web site at http://www.faa.gov/safety/programs_initiatives/oversight/iasa.

The only scheduled air service is between Maseru and Johannesburg on a South African Airways subsidiary. There is no scheduled service among towns within Lesotho.

SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES:
Tap water is not reliably potable.
Visitors to the interior of Lesotho should bring clothing and equipment suitable for cold weather during the winter months (June - October).
In the mountains, weather conditions can deteriorate rapidly.
In winter snow often closes mountain passes and temperatures often drop below freezing during the night, even in the lowlands.

Please see our Customs Information.

CRIMINAL PENALTIES:
While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country's laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law.
Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses.
Persons violating Lesotho laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned.
Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Lesotho are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines.
Engaging in sexual conduct with children or using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is a crime, prosecutable in the United States.
Please see our information on Criminal Penalties.

CHILDREN'S ISSUES:
For information see our Office of Children’s Issues web pages on intercountry adoption and international parental child abduction.

REGISTRATION / EMBASSY LOCATION:
Americans living or traveling in Lesotho 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 Lesotho.
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 254 Kingsway, Maseru West; the mailing address is PO Box 333, Maseru 100, Lesotho.
The telephone number is 266-22-312-666. The Embassy’s e-mail address is infomaseru@state.gov and the URL is http://maseru.usembassy.gov/.
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This replaces the Country Specific Information for Lesotho dated December 19, 2007 to update sections on Entry/Exit Requirements, Crime, and Traffic Safety and Road Conditions.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Mon 27 May 2019
Source: The Post [edited]

Over 50 people were taken ill this week after they ate meat from cattle that died of anthrax in Qeme last Saturday [18 May 2019]. About 55 were rushed to nearby clinics while 18 of them were given prophylaxis and treated as outpatients. Most of the victims developed blisters and had swollen limbs while others suffered from severe stomach-aches and diarrhoea. So far more than 20 cattle have died from anthrax.

The Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security this week declared that there had been an anthrax outbreak in Qeme area. The disease was 1st noticed in the villages of Ha-Tseka and Ha-Au in Qeme last Saturday [18 May 2019] after the villagers informed the ministry that their cattle were dying. The minister of agriculture, Mahala Molapo, told the post that they ensured that the carcasses were buried and those who ate meat of dead cattle were rushed to health centres for treatment.

A rapid response team comprising the Ministries of Agriculture and Health has since responded to the outbreak in the district. The team is comprised of experts from the Disease Control Unit, the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the epidemiologists who swiftly moved to contain the disease. "Our main focus is treating those who ate the infected animals and how to properly bury the carcasses," Molapo said. "We are also testing water sources in the area." He said they are also going to hold public gatherings where they are going to sensitize the communities about the disease. Molapo said they have also banned the movement of animals in and out of the Qeme area, and next week they are going to embark on vaccination campaigns.

The minister said no one has died so far as a result of eating the contaminated meat. He said neighbouring countries have been notified and no movement of animals will be allowed between Lesotho and its neighbours until the disease is contained. He added the country's export of animal products such as skins and meat has also been banned until the crisis is addressed. "We are also planning to provide vaccines countrywide to prevent other diseases like Black Quarter," he said. The minister maintained they have put in place control measures to contain the disease in the affected areas to prevent more cattle from dying.

Meanwhile, the district administrator of Maseru, Mpane Nthunya, said they will start the vaccination campaigns next week. Nthunya said their work will be to meet the community leaders in the affected areas to sensitize them about the outbreak.  [byline: Tokase Mphutlane]
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communicated by:
Sabine Zentis
Castleview English Longhorns
Gut Laach
D-52385 Nideggen
Germany
===========================
[These human cases are in relation to the same villages reported in the previous OIE report (See: ProMED-mail. Anthrax - Lesotho: (MS) cattle, OIE http://promedmail.org/post/20190524.6485405.] With 3 villages affected a human case load of 50 is not unexpected in spite of the optimistic response of the local authorities. To locate the affected area go to the OIE report to see their map. - ProMED Mod.MHJ]

[HealthMap/ProMED map available at:
Date: Fri, 9 Sep 2016 05:27:46 +0200
By Julie JAMMOT

Semonkong, Lesotho, Sept 9, 2016 (AFP) - Across the rough grasslands of Lesotho, jockeys wearing wool balaclavas and scruffy old helmets urge their horses towards the finishing post as hundreds of spectators cheer from a nearby hillside.

Horseracing in the mountain kingdom of Lesotho is not like at Ascot or Longchamp, but it is still highly competitive, involves lots of gambling and is a major social occasion.   The course at Semonkong, in the centre of the landlocked nation, hosts races once a month in the winter, with the most prestigious days marking King Letsi III's birthday in July and independence day in October.   Before each race, the horses are paraded in front of a crowd that expertly assesses breeding, formation and fitness of runners with such exotic names as "4x4", "Cain" and "Jerusalem".   Then the gambling begins.

Most bets are head-to-head wagers over which of two selected horses will be faster, rather than the overall race winner.   "It's an entertainment but it's also our culture, and it refreshes the mind," Mohale Mpapa, 45, a leading racehorse owner and farmer, told AFP.   "It's important to me because I get money if my horse wins, and for the country it's very important because we teach kids how to ride horses.   "If you take care of someone, if you respect him, you make them a good jockey. It's the same with a horse, you need to treat it well."   The horses are either cross-breeds, thoroughbreds from neighbouring South Africa or local "Basotho" ponies, which are better suited to the terrain and climate, and are still used for everyday transport.

- The will to win -
Mpapa's current jockey is Modikeng Tladi, 16, who also works for him as a shepherd.   Tladi -- wearing bright earrings -- rises at dawn and looks after racehorses and sheep that all live in one small, corrugated-iron shed.   "I will be very excited if I win, and very proud, because I will have won a professional race in front of everyone," he said before a recent race meeting.

"In my first race, I was so scared, now I'm used to it. I feel comfortable and excited when I ride the horse, I want to win all the time."   Tladi takes the patchwork blanket off a horse called "Kodi-a-Malla" and walks him over the hills to the racecourse -- a difficult job as the animal is twice his size and full of energy.   When race time finally comes, tensions mount as Mpapa checks the small saddle and issues last-minute instructions to Tladi before helping him on board.

Without stalls, the horses line up chaotically and -- after several false starts -- set off at a furious pace when an official waves his white flag and just avoids being trampled.   Tladi only manages fourth, but the team is happy enough.   "During training my horse got injured, so I didn't train him very hard, and next time it will be better," said Mpapa, who owns 15 horses in total.

- Unique heritage -
The Lesotho races are growing as a cultural event, and have received government sponsorship to boost visitor numbers to a nation that boasts stunning landscapes and a unique heritage independent from surrounding South Africa.

The owners of the first four horses in each race win between $20 and $70, with more than $1,000 on offer during the day.   "I have loved horses since I was very young, and they're part of my business," said Jonathan Hales, 46, who owns the nearby Semonkong Lodge that caters for tourists.   "The future of the horses of Lesotho comes out of these races, where all the breeders and owners can analyse and look at them.   "Tourism is also connected to the horses, so we promote them and care for them -- it's all about fun, not about winning and losing."

Jockeys such as Tladi may not agree.   After riding in several races and making some small bets, he made about $60 during the day -- 10 days of normal pay.   While the owners of victorious horses celebrate with joyful dancing, the jockeys barely manage a smile as they quickly ride over to collect their cash.   For the spectators, many of them wearing traditional blankets, racing combines their passion for animals with a chance to test their luck and judgement.   "The horse I bet on just lost, but I will keep gambling, I just love horses," said 50-year-old Motseki Pakela.
Date: Sat, 13 Aug 2016 05:04:53 +0200
By Julie JAMMOT

Sephareng, Lesotho, Aug 13, 2016 (AFP) - For farmer Mohlakoane Molise, the view of the enormous Katse dam from his smallholding high in the mountains of Lesotho taunts him daily.   His country is suffering through its worst drought in 35 years, but the vast and vital water reserves remain out of reach, destined instead for export to neighbouring South Africa.   "I am very angry about that water, because it could benefit us, we could use it to water the crops when there is a drought. But that's not happening," the 65-year-old widower told AFP.

Kneeling in front of his round, thatch-roofed hut, he sorted through his maize, examining each grain, one-by-one.   The operation didn't take long. His total annual harvest filled just two large sacks, in place of the usual dozen.   According to the World Food Programme (WFP), the 2016 harvest for Lesotho's primary crop maize is estimated at 25,000 tonnes, a dramatic drop from last year's 78,000-tonne haul.

Instead, the mountainous kingdom -- entirely landlocked by South Africa -- must import food from its larger neighbour.   But it too has been hit by the drought after the El Nino weather phenomenon wreaked havoc on the region's rainfall patterns, and maize prices have sky-rocketed by 60 percent in the last year.   According to the United Nations, 40 million people across southern Africa risk malnutrition by next year's harvest.   "From September, we'll have nothing left and we'll struggle to buy maize from the shop," said Molise.   Below, the immense dark blue of the dam stood out in stark contrast to the bare, brown mountains.

- 'It's like a desert' -
The valley here was flooded in the nineties to make way for Katse. The deal: hydroelectricity for impoverished Lesotho in exchange for a reliable water supply to the bustling cities of Johannesburg and Pretoria.   "There were fields around the river before the dam was built, and there were trees, but they are covered by water," said Molise.   "Since the dam is here, it's difficult to get water. The crops are very poor, even the grazing land. It's like a desert."   In Sephareng, the village tap has run dry for months. Residents must instead make their way up the mountain -- a good half-hour walk along a rocky trail -- to a communal pump. There, a feeble trickle of water fills their buckets, while their cows and donkeys drink from the small puddles left behind by a vanishing stream.

For its part, Africa's second-largest dam is fulfilling its mandate, despite the drought.   "The level today is about 63.4 percent, which is quite low," said Tatuku Maseatile, Katse acting branch manager for the Lesotho Highlands Development Authority (LHDA).   "We are still able to meet our annual targets in terms of both generation and water transfer."   From his office high up on the soaring dam wall, he had an unparalleled view of the waters below.   "I do think people are benefiting from the dam," he said, ticking the projects off: a water supply system, construction jobs, two industrial fishing projects, schools.   "And roads in the mountains, tarred roads brought by the project -- another direct spin-off -- and a clinic built and transferred to the government."

- Disastrous consequences -
Along those tarred roads, women trudged uphill for hours to reach the clinic for the WFP's monthly food distribution.   "We give them four packs each," explained Mamakase Grace Sello, 21, a nutrition student interning with the WFP.   "It's for lactating or pregnant mothers, and infants below the age of two. But we know that often the whole family eats some, including the fathers, even if they should not. The nutrients are for the babies."   In a country where the overwhelming majority of families depend on their own crops for food and where nearly a quarter of the population is affected by AIDS, charities are predicting disastrous consequences by next year's harvest.

Earlier this year, the Lesotho government declared the drought a natural disaster.   "I've never seen a drought like this," said shepherd Ntoaesele Mashongoane, 32.   "This drought is really terrible, especially for the pregnant sheep. They don't have enough grass and there's no water."   His flock moved down the steep mountainsides to the water's edge for a drink -- a small consolation -- and the deep blue of the dam reflected the skies above, not a raindrop in sight.
Date: Thu, 1 Nov 2012 17:33:42 +0100 (MET)

MASERU, Lesotho, Nov 01, 2012 (AFP) - The Lesotho government fears it may not raise enough cash to avert a pending food crisis caused by two successive crop failures, the head of the country's disaster management authority said Thursday. "We are far from reaching the amount required to bail the country out of the food crisis it's facing, we may not even get half of that money and we strongly appeal for more donors to assist us," said Mats'eliso Mojaki. The tiny mountainous country is trying to raise 1.8 billion maloti, or around $200 million it believes is needed to avert disaster caused by unfavourable weather. "We are in a dire situation and can only appeal to the international community to assist."

Mojaki indicated that the country has not developed alternative plans in case they fail to get the entire amount. "At the present moment we do not have a plan B, but are however devising a long term prevention and adaptation plan. UNICEF Deputy Representative Naqib Safi described the situation as "dire". "More than two thirds of the country's population is facing a serious food crisis and we need assistance." Around 725,000 people out of a population of 1.8 million are said to be at serious risk this year and next. The kingdom relies on subsistence agriculture for income.
Date: Fri, 28 Sep 2012 15:15:28 +0200 (METDST)

GENEVA, Sept 28, 2012 (AFP) - More than 725,000 people face a food crisis in the tiny southern African nation of Lesotho after successive disastrous harvests cut production by 70 percent, the World Food Programme said Friday.   "Lesotho is facing the devastating effects of two successive crop failures due to drought and late rainfall," WFP spokeswoman Elisabeth Byrs told reporters in Geneva.

More than one third of the country's nearly two million people were at risk because of the poor harvests, Byrs said, describing the crop deficit as a "catastrophe for this little country".   Production of maize, the main staple food in Lesotho, has declined by 77 percent compared with last year, the food agency said.

Levels of other cereals such as sorghum and wheat were down by 80 percent and 52 percent respectively, meaning that the country will have less than 10 percent of its requirements for 2012/13, the WFP added in a statement.   Among those facing the food crisis, 230,000 people were "particularly vulnerable" to hunger, the agency said, especially the very poor, orphans and those with HIV/AIDS, an illness that affects 25 percent of the population.

Announcing an appeal for $38 million (29.3 million euros) in association with other humanitarian partners, the WFP said it aimed to provide life-saving help to 118,000 "of the most deprived".   It would also meet the needs "of all 725,000 food-insecure people" by boosting crop production and improving food security, health and nutrition.   The development follows Lesotho's declaration of an emergency food crisis on August 9, Byrs said.
More ...

World Travel News Headlines

Date: Tue, 10 Dec 2019 10:50:09 +0100 (MET)

Sydney, Dec 10, 2019 (AFP) - The death toll from New Zealand's White Island volcano eruption rose to six late Tuesday, after an injured person died in an Auckland hospital, police said.   "Police can confirm a further person has died following the eruption on Whakaari/White Island, bringing the official toll to six," a police statement said.   Eight more people who remain missing are presumed dead after the volcano erupted Monday.
Date: Tue, 10 Dec 2019 09:27:57 +0100 (MET)
By Andrew BEATTY, with Daniel de Carteret in Gosford

Sydney, Dec 10, 2019 (AFP) - Toxic haze blanketed Sydney Tuesday triggering a chorus of smoke alarms to ring across the city and forcing school children inside, as "severe" weather conditions fuelled deadly bush blazes along Australia's east coast.   Fire engines raced office-to-office in the city centre with sirens blaring, as inland bushfires poured smoke laden with toxic particles into commercial buildings.   Emergency services responded to an "unprecedented" 500 automatic call-outs inside a few hours according to New South Wales Fire and Rescue's Roger Mentha.

A regional fire headquarters miles from the nearest blazes was itself evacuated while throngs of mask-wearing commuters choked their way through thick acrid air and the organisers of a harbour yacht race declared it was unsafe to proceed.   "The smoke from all the fires is just so severe here on the harbour that you just can't see anything, so it's just too dangerous," said spokeswoman Di Pearson of an event that normally foreshadows the famed Sydney-Hobart yacht race. "The vision is just so poor."   Some of the city's commuter ferries were also cancelled "due to thick smoke" and school kids were kept inside at breaktime and sent home early as pollution levels soared far above "hazardous" levels.

For weeks the east of the country has been smothered in smoke as drought and climate-fuelled bushfires have burned. But the scale of the problem on Tuesday shocked even hardened residents.   Bruce Baker -- an 82-year-old who lives in Gosford, north of Sydney -- said he was skipping his daily morning walk because of the smoke.   "This is the worst it's been, for sure," he told AFP. "It dries your throat. Even if you're not asthmatic, you feel it."   Authorities recommended that the vulnerable cease outdoor activity altogether and that everyone stay inside as much as possible, although one couple braved the toxic air to get married on the waterfront in front of Sydney Harbour Bridge shrouded in smog.

A cricket match between New South Wales and Queensland also went ahead, despite a barely visible ball.   Tuesday had been expected to bring strong winds and high temperatures that made for "severe conditions where embers can be blown ahead of the fire into suburbs and threaten properties."   But New South Wales Rural Fire Service said "deteriorating fire conditions have been delayed by a thick blanket of smoke" over the east of the state.   As the day developed there were nearly 100 bushfire incidents in the state of New South Wales alone and dozens more in Queensland.   Total fire bans were put in place across much of the east of the country and in large parts of western Australia.   Temperatures in some inland areas eased past 44 degrees Celsius (111 Fahrenheit).

- The 'big dry' -
To the northwest of Sydney, several fires already burning for weeks have combined to create a "megafire" that has already destroyed 319,000 hectares (788,000 acres) of land, mostly inside national parks.   Prime Minister Scott Morrison  -- who for weeks has not commented on the smoke haze -- defended his government's handling of the fires and said there were no plans to professionalise the countryside's largely volunteer force.    "Our policy is sensible when it comes to addressing and taking action on climate change. Our actions on climate change are getting the results they're intended to get," he said.   Morrison's conservative coalition has been criticised by former fire chiefs for failing to heed warnings about climate change.   The crisis has been propelled by a prolonged drought that has made vegetation tinder dry.

The Bureau of Meteorology has reported that Australia experienced its driest November on record this year.   The "big dry" has left farmers desperate and small towns facing the prospect of running out of water completely.   A swathe of the east of the country has seen "rainfall deficiencies" since early 2017 -- almost three years.   Many dams in New South Wales are empty and almost all are well below capacity.   Firefighters south of Brisbane recently reported 1,000 litres of water were stolen from tanks at their station.   Amid the shortage, Tuesday also saw the toughest water restrictions in a decade being introduced for Sydney -- with curbs on everything from hosepipe use to washing cars.
Date: Tue, 10 Dec 2019 03:09:17 +0100 (MET)
By Allison JACKSON

Sao Paulo, Dec 10, 2019 (AFP) - Gripping the deadly snake behind its jaws, Fabiola de Souza massages its venom glands to squeeze out drops that will save lives around Brazil where thousands of people are bitten every year.   De Souza and her colleagues at the Butantan Institute in Sao Paulo harvest the toxin from hundreds of snakes kept in captivity to produce antivenom.    It is distributed by the health ministry to medical facilities across the country.

Dozens of poisonous snake species, including the jararaca, thrive in Brazil's hot and humid climate.    Nearly 29,000 people were bitten in 2018 and more than 100 died, official figures show.   States with the highest rates of snakebite were in the vast and remote Amazon basin where it can take hours to reach a hospital stocked with antivenom.   Venom is extracted from each snake once a month in a delicate and potentially dangerous process.

Using a hooked stick, de Souza carefully lifts one of the slithering creatures out of its plastic box and maneuvers it into a drum of carbon dioxide.    Within minutes the reptile is asleep.    "It's less stress for the animal," de Souza explains.    The snake is then placed on a stainless steel bench in the room where the temperature hovers around 27 degrees Celsius (80 degrees Fahrenheit).    De Souza has a few minutes to safely extract venom before the snake begins to stir.      "It's important to have fear because when people have fear they are careful," she says.

- Antivenom 'crisis' -
The snakes are fed a diet of rats and mice that are raised at the leafy institute and killed before being served up once a month.   After milking the snake, de Souza records its weight and length before placing it back in its container.    The antivenom is made by injecting small amounts of the poison into horses -- kept by Butantan on a farm -- to trigger an immune response that produces toxin-attacking antibodies.

Blood is later extracted from the hoofed animals and the antibodies harvested to create a serum that will be administered to snakebite victims who might otherwise die.   Butantan project manager Fan Hui Wen, a Brazilian, says the institute currently makes all of the country's antivenom -- around 250,000 10-15 millilitre vials per year.

Brazil also donates small quantities of antivenom to several countries in Latin America.    There are now plans to sell the life-saving serum abroad to help relieve a global shortage, particularly in Africa.    About 5.4 million people are estimated to be bitten by snakes every year, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). 

Between 81,000 and 138,000 die, while many more suffer amputations and other permanent disabilities as a result of the toxin.   To cut the number of deaths and injuries, WHO unveiled a plan earlier this year that includes boosting production of quality antivenoms.   Brazil is part of the strategy. It could begin to export antivenom as early as next year, Wen says.   "There is interest for Butantan to also supply other countries due to the global crisis of antivenom production," she says.
Date: Mon, 9 Dec 2019 14:14:15 +0100 (MET)

Dec 9, 2019 (AFP) - New Zealand, struck by a deadly volcanic eruption Monday, lies in a zone where Earth's tectonic plates collide, making it a hotspot for earthquakes and volcanic activity.   In one of its worst natural disasters, a huge mass of volcanic debris from the eruption of Mount Ruapehu triggered a mudslide in 1953 that washed away a bridge and caused a passenger train to plunge into a river with the loss of 151 lives.  After Monday's eruption on New Zealand's White Island, here is a recap of some of the deadliest volcanic eruptions around the world in the past 25 years.

- 2018: Indonesia -
In December the Anak Krakatoa volcano, a small island in the Sunda Strait between Java and Sumatra, erupts and a section of its crater collapses, sliding into the ocean and generating a tsunami. More than 420 people are killed and 7,200 wounded.

- 2018: Guatemala -
The June eruption of the Fuego volcano, about 35 kilometres (22 miles) from the capital, unleashes a torrent of mud and ash that wipes the village of San Miguel Los Lotes from the map. More than 200 people are killed.

- 2014: Japan -
The sudden eruption in September of Mount Ontake, in the central Nagano region, kills more than 60 people in Japan's worst volcanic disaster in nearly 90 years. The mountain is packed with hikers at the time. In 1991 an eruption of the southwestern Unzen volcano kills 43.

- 2014: Indonesia -
At least 16 people are killed on the island of Sumatra in February by a spectacular eruption of Mount Sinabung, which had lain dormant for 400 years before roaring back to life five months earlier. In 2016 villages are scorched and farmland devastated after another eruption kills seven.

- 2010: Indonesia -
Indonesia's most active volcano, Mount Merapi on Java island, starts a series of explosions in October, eventually killing more than 320 people. An 1930 eruption of the volcano killed 1,300 people and one in 1994 claimed more than 60 lives.

- 2002: DR Congo -
The eruption in July of Mount Nyiragongo in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo destroys the centre of Goma town, along with several residential areas, and kills more than 100 people.

- 1997: Montserrat -
The capital of the small British colony, Plymouth, is wiped off the map and 20 are killed or left missing in avalanches of hot rock and ash clouds when its volcano erupts in June.

- 1995: The Philippines -
At least 70 are killed and another 30 missing after the crater of the Parker volcano in the south of the island of Mindanao collapses. Five years earlier the eruption of Mount Pinatubo, 80 kilometres north of the capital Manila, kills more than 800 people.

- Worst ever -
The explosion of Indonesia's Krakatoa volcano in 1883 is considered the worst ever seen. The eruption sent a jet of ash, stones and smoke shooting more than 20 kilometres (12 miles) into the sky, plunging the region into darkness, and sparking a huge tsunami that was felt around the world. The disaster killed more than 36,000 people.

The most famous eruption in history is that of Mount Vesuvius in modern-day Italy in 79 AD, which destroyed the towns of Herculaneum, Stabiae and Pompeii, wiping out an estimated 10 percent of the population of the three cities.
Date: Mon 9 Dec 2019
Source: Fox 29 Philadelphia [edited]

A total of 31 people have been sickened by salmonellosis at 4 health care facilities in south-eastern Pennsylvania. A majority of those cases occurred after individuals ate pre-cut fruit from New Jersey-based Tailor Cut Produce. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced the salmonellosis outbreak in conjunction with the Pennsylvania Department of Health (DOH) on [Fri 6 Dec 2019]. The North Brunswick distributor has recalled its fruit mix with cantaloupe, honeydew, pineapple and grapes as a result.

Tailor Cut Produce reports that its products may be found in restaurants, banquet facilities, hotels, schools and institutional food service establishments in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York. "We recommend that any facility who use Tailor Cut Produce pre-cut fruit to immediately stop and throw it away," Pennsylvania Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine said.

Salmonellosis is an infection caused by _Salmonella_ bacteria that generally affects the intestinal tract. People usually become infected by either eating or drinking contaminated food or water, by contact with infected people or animals, or through contact with contaminated environmental sources.
Date: Mon 9 Dec 2019
Source: Sixth Tone [edited]

Dozens of researchers in northwestern China's Gansu province have been infected with brucellosis, an animal-borne disease that causes flu-like symptoms and, potentially, lingering problems. In a statement [Fri 6 Dec 2019], the Lanzhou Veterinary Research Institute, an affiliated institute of the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences, said that the 1st few grad students from the institute's foot-and-mouth disease prevention team tested positive for brucellosis antibodies on [28 Nov 2019]. The labs affected have been closed, the institute said, and national and local health authorities have assembled a team to investigate the outbreak.

Li Hui, an official at the health commission in Lanzhou, the provincial capital, told Sixth Tone on [Mon 9 Dec 2019] that the total number of brucellosis cases at the institute had climbed to 96. None have shown clinical symptoms, according to domestic media, and it remains unclear how they were exposed to the bacteria.

Brucellosis -- also known as Malta, Mediterranean, or undulant fever -- is a zoonotic disease that mainly affects animals, including livestock and dogs, which can in turn transmit the bacteria to humans through direct contact. Symptoms include fever, chills, sweating, lethargy, and aches and pains, according to the WHO. In the absence of early diagnosis and treatment, brucellosis can become a chronic condition that is difficult to cure.

In China, brucellosis is a Class B disease, ranking below a more serious category that includes cholera and plague. Human-to-human transmission has only been known to occur between lactating mothers and their babies. According to state broadcaster China National Radio, the brucellosis outbreak at the Gansu veterinary institute has prompted health checks among local students and staff who fear that they may have come into contact with infected animals.

One of the last brucellosis outbreaks in China occurred in 2011, when an agricultural university in the northeastern Heilongjiang province reported 28 cases stemming from infected goats being used in lab research. The school publicly apologized, fired 2 administrators, and offered each of the students' affected monetary compensation.

Scientific labs are subject to different experimental standards depending on their biosafety level, according to a researcher surnamed Yang at the Shanghai Institutes for Biological Sciences, an affiliate of the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

"If the protection levels don't keep pace (with biosafety levels), there will be a risk of infection," Yang, who studies viruses and works in a Biosafety Level 2+ lab, told Sixth Tone. As a result, labs generally require researchers to undergo safety training or even pass an exam to earn a certification, said Yang, who only used her surname because she was not authorized by her employer to speak to media.

The Lanzhou Veterinary Research Institute describes itself as "China's only authorized research center for working with the live virus that causes foot-and-mouth disease," a highly contagious disease affecting livestock. The institute is reportedly also one of the few in China with Biosafety Level 3 labs, which are required for _brucella_ pathogen studies, according to the National Health Commission.

As the local agriculture department tries to ascertain the source of the recent infections, Lanzhou's health commission said [Fri 6 Dec 2019], it is implementing precautionary measures so that brucellosis does not pose a threat to neighbouring communities. [Byline: Yuan Ye]
=================
[An earlier report suggested that 4 persons were clinically ill but this is not confirmed here.  Brucellosis (<http://www.medicinenet.com/brucellosis/article.htm>) is a disease that is thought to have existed since ancient times, as it was 1st described more than 2000 years ago by the Romans and Hippocrates. It was not until 1887 that a British physician, Dr. David Bruce, isolated the organism that causes brucellosis from several deceased patients from the island of Malta. This disease has had several names throughout its history, including Mediterranean fever, Malta fever, Crimean fever, Bang's disease, and undulant fever (because of the relapsing nature of the fever associated with the disease).

The symptoms and signs of brucellosis may develop from days to months after the initial exposure to the organism. While some individuals may develop mild symptoms, others may go on to develop long-term chronic symptoms. The signs and symptoms of brucellosis are extensive, and they can be similar to many other febrile illnesses, so recognition of potential exposure -- from ingestion of unpasteurized milk or cheese, employment as a veterinarian or veterinary student, in a slaughter house or meat processing plant, or working in a microbiology lab -- is vital. In this outbreak, it is not clear what symptoms the students had or whether they were just seropositive. ProMED would like more information about this episode. - ProMED Mod.LL]

[HealthMap/ProMED map available at:
Gansu Province, China: <http://healthmap.org/promed/p/333>]
Date: Tue 3 Dec 2019
Source: Outbreak News Today [edited]

In late November [2019], Uganda health authorities notified the World Health Organization of a fatal Rift Valley fever (RVF) case from Obongi district.  The case was a 35-year-old man from South Sudan who was living in the Palorinya Refugee camp in Obongi district, Uganda. The case had travel history to South Sudan between 12 and 19 Nov 2019 to harvest cassava. While in his home country, he developed fever and other symptoms and was treated for malaria; however, his condition got worse.  He later returned to the refugee camp in Uganda and his symptoms progressed and he was hospitalized. Viral hemorrhagic fever was suspected. Samples were collected and sent to the Uganda Virus Research Institute; however, the patient died. A safe and dignified burial was performed on 22 Nov 2019. As of 24 Nov 2019, a total of 19 contacts were recorded during the active case search including 10 healthcare workers.
===================
[The circumstances and specific location under which the man became infected with Rift Valley fever (RVF) virus in South Sudan is not mentioned. It is worth noting that there was an RVF outbreak in the Eastern Lakes region of South Sudan during the 1st 3 months of last year (2018). At the end of that outbreak, the OIE's follow-up report no. 3 reported: "The event cannot be considered resolved, but the situation is sufficiently stable. No more follow-up reports will be sent. Information about this disease will be included in the next 6-monthly reports."

There were more human cases than animal ones in that outbreak, prompting Mod.AS to comment: "Unfortunately, during the recent South Sudan RVF event, as in most -- if not all -- previous RVF events in other African countries, humans served as sentinels. Improved surveillance in animals is desperately needed in Africa, to allow timely measures applied, predominantly preventive vaccination, before the development of a full-blown epizootic involving secondary infection in humans." Intensified surveillance is needed in South Sudan in those localities where the affected man had been prior to his return to Uganda.

It is likely that RVF virus has persisted in this area in transovarially infected eggs of _Aedes_ mosquito vectors. These eggs can remain viable for long periods of time and hatch when flooded during future rain events, with the subsequent emergence of infected females ready to transmit the virus. This risk provides justification for maintaining livestock of the area well vaccinated into the future. This may have accounted for the reappearance of RVF in South Sudan in 2018, after nearly 2 years without additional reported cases in humans or livestock and again with this human case in 2019. - ProMED Mod.TY]

Obongi district, Uganda is located approximately 50 km (30 mi) from the South Sudan border.
HealthMap/ProMED-mail maps:

According to OIE's data, a total of 2 outbreaks of RVF affecting animals have been reported from Sudan during the event. The 1st outbreak started in the Arabaata dam area, Red Sea state, on 25 Sep 2019, affecting goats. The 2nd (and, so far, last) outbreak started 10 Oct 2019 in the River Nile state, affecting sheep and goats. Both outbreaks have been declared as 'resolved' on 14 Nov 2019.

Outbreak summary:
Total outbreaks = 2 (Submitted)
Species / Susceptible / Cases / Deaths / Killed and disposed of / Slaughtered
Goats / 1700 / 37 / 7 / 0 / 0
Sheep / 1550 / 37 / 5 / 0 / 0

According to the recent (5 Dec 2019) OCHA (UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs) update, the (human) RVF situation in Sudan, as of 26 Oct 2019, was the following: "a total of 345 suspected RVF cases -- including 11 related deaths -- reported in the states of Red Sea (128), River Nile (212), Khartoum (1), White Nile (1), Kassala (2), and Gedaref (1). The most affected age group is 15 to 45 years, which accounts for 83% of the total suspected cases. The male to female ratio is 2.6, with a high proportion of the cases being farmers (37.5 per cent). RVF is endemic in Sudan and 3 outbreaks affecting people have been documented in 1973, 1976, and 2008. During the outbreak in 2008, a total of 747 laboratory-confirmed cases were reported, including 230 deaths."

Egypt suffered its 1st RVF outbreak in 1977/78 with serious human disease and death as well as severe losses in livestock; several additional events have been recorded since. A recent historical review paper [1] concluded: "due to the availability and abundance of the potential vectors, the suitability of environmental conditions, continuous importation of livestock's from Sudan, and the close association of susceptible domestic animals with humans, the RVF virus could possibly occur and circulate in Egypt."   (https://tinyurl.com/whz3pz5)

Reference
---------
1. Kenawy MA, Abdel-Hamid YM, Beier JC. Rift Valley fever in Egypt and other African countries: Historical review, recent outbreaks, and possibility of disease occurrence in Egypt. Acta Trop. 2018; 181: 40-49; <https://doi.org/10.1016/j.actatropica.2018.01.015>  - ProMED Mods.AS/TY]
Date: Fri 6 Dec 2019 5:53 PM MST
Source: CTV News [edited]

A syphilis outbreak is worsening in Alberta [Canada], and the majority of new cases are in the Edmonton zone. Edmonton saw 1186 of the 1753 infectious syphilis [primary, secondary and early latent syphilis] cases reported in Alberta in 2019, a total of 68 per cent.

Alberta Health Services [AHS] declared an outbreak in July 2019, saying cases had 'increased dramatically' in the province since 2014. The number increased again in July [2019]  [<https://edmonton.ctvnews.ca/alberta-declares-province-wide-syphilis-outbreak-1.4510737>].

AHS sent a new public health alert to doctors on [27 Nov 2019], asking for their help to control the outbreak [<https://www.albertahealthservices.ca/assets/info/hp/phys/if-hp-phys-moh-ez-syphilis-outbreak.pdf>]. "It's very significant," said Dr Ameeta Singh, a clinical professor in infectious diseases. "That's an alarming rise in new syphilis cases in Alberta." She said it's the highest number of cases the province has seen since the 1940s.

According to Dr Singh, the increase in cases being reported is partially due to a greater number of people getting tested. "We know more people are coming in to get tested, but if we look a bit closer at the data we have, we do see there's, in fact, a [bigger] rise in the number of cases than we would expect to see," said Singh.

Another factor could be the rise in methamphetamine use in Edmonton. "I believe this is a major factor. Meth also stimulates risky sexual behaviour and increases the chance people will engage in multiple, usually casual or anonymous partners as well and not use precautions such as condoms to protect themselves during sex," she said.

What's also alarming, Singh said, is the spike in cases of congenital syphilis, where the disease is passed on to newborns. According to AHS, there have been 38 cases of congenital syphilis in 2019, 31 of which were in the Edmonton area. That accounts for more than half of the 61 cases of congenital syphilis reported since 2014.

"Those are not numbers we should be talking about in Canada ever...in a country that has universal access to health care, in a major city in Canada where syphilis testing is offered to all pregnant women who access prenatal care," she said. "What we're seeing with the congenital syphilis cases is many of the women are not accessing prenatal care until they come into the hospital to deliver and then the tests are being done."
===================
[A recent ProMED-mail post (Syphilis - Canada (04): (AB) RFI http://promedmail.org/post/20190718.6574300) reported a rise in "infectious syphilis" cases over a 4-year period: from 2014 to 2018 but made no mentioned of contributing factors. As illicit drug use has been cited as a contributing factor to recent increases in syphilis cases in the Canadian provinces of Ontario and Manitoba, I questioned in this prior ProMED-mail post if use of illicit drugs, in particular, methamphetamine, could similarly be contributing to the rise of syphilis cases in Alberta. The news article above reports that the rise in methamphetamine use in Edmonton, as well as increased testing for syphilis, are thought to be contributing factors in Alberta.

Methamphetamine can be swallowed, snorted, smoked or injected by needle and syringe

When methamphetamine is injected, transmission of syphilis may occur as a consequence of sharing a needle/syringe contaminated with infected blood from somebody who has primary or secondary syphilis (<https://ucsdnews.ucsd.edu/archive/newsrel/health/04-28TransmissionSyphilis.asp>); but syphilis can also be acquired by direct contact with an infected lesion during oral, vaginal, or anal sex when the drug is taken by any route of administration. Methamphetamine use is associated with sexual behaviors that increase the risk for acquiring syphilis and other sexually transmitted diseases, including having multiple sex partners, inconsistent condom use, and exchange of sex for drugs or money (<https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/68/wr/mm6806a4.htm>).

The linkage of methamphetamine use and syphilis transmission is reminiscent of the increase in syphilis among heterosexuals during the crack cocaine epidemic of the 1980s and 1990s, when the practice of trading sex with multiple partners for drugs, especially crack cocaine, played a major role in the transmission of syphilis. Under these circumstances, the identities of sex partners are often unknown, which weakens the traditional syphilis-control strategy of partner notification.

Bacteremia due to _Treponema pallidum_, the cause of syphilis, which occurs during primary, secondary, and latent syphilis, can result in transplacental transmission of this organism to the fetus during pregnancy and cause congenital syphilis. An increase in the incidence of syphilis in women in the population is commonly accompanied by increasing rates of congenital syphilis.

Edmonton, with a population of 932 546 residents in 2016, is the capital of the Canadian province of Alberta
(<https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edmonton>).

A map showing the location of Edmonton can be found at
<https://goo.gl/maps/Rfq6XC2vvwi19ypb6>. - ProMED Mod.ML]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map of Alberta, Canada:
9 December 2019
https://www.who.int/bangladesh/news/detail/09-12-2019-cholera-vaccination-campaign-launched-to-protect-635-000-people-in-cox-s-bazar

Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh

Over 635,000 Rohingya refugees and Bangladeshi host community will be vaccinated against cholera in a 3-week-long campaign beginning today at the refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar and nearby areas, to protect vulnerable population against the deadly disease amidst increasing number of cases of acute watery diarrhoea (AWD).


The Oral Cholera Vaccination (OCV) campaign will be implemented in the refugee camps from 8-14 December to reach 139,888 Rohingya aged 1 year and less than 5 years. In the host community, the campaign will take place from 8-31 December and aims to reach any person older than 1 year (495,197). In total, 635,085 people are expected to be reached.

Led by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, with support of the World Health Organization (WHO), UNICEF and other partners, the campaign aims to reach people who missed some or all previous cholera vaccination opportunities. The campaign, including operational costs, is funded by Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance.

“We want to equip these populations with more protection against diarrheal diseases. Despite the progresses made to ensure access to quality water and sanitation, such diseases remain an issue of concern: approximately 80% of host community living near the camps have not been targeted in previous OCV campaigns and are still vulnerable”, says Dr Bardan Jung Rana, WHO Representative in Bangladesh.

Earlier rounds of cholera vaccination, which have taken place since the beginning of the emergency response in 2017, have helped prevent outbreaks of the disease. To this date, over 1 million people were vaccinated against cholera.
6th December 2019
https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/dec/06/flooding-hits-new-zealand-tourist-hubs-of-wanaka-and-queenstown

Heavy rain has led to rivers bursting their banks, forcing the closure of shops and restaurants

Streets in the South Island tourist towns of Wanaka and Queenstown were slowly going under water on Friday, after Lake Wanaka and Lake Wakatipu burst their banks earlier in the week, flooding businesses and sewerage systems.

Water and large debris closed the main street of Wanaka, a popular spot with Instagrammers thanks to its famous tree that appears to have grown out of the lake. On Friday businesses were sandbagging as heavy rain continued to fall.

Sewerage systems in the town were also at risk of contaminating the lake, with the Queenstown Lakes District council taking the precautionary measure of shutting down the sewer connection to a handful of premises.

Wanaka residents were told to be on “high alert” with heavy rain predicted all weekend.

The streets of the usually bustling tourist town were largely empty, and the popular cafes and restaurants on the lake shore were closed.