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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: Fri, 24 Jan 2020 12:26:57 +0100 (MET)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The previously unknown virus has caused alarm because of its similarity to SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome), which killed hundreds across mainland China and Hong Kong in 2002-2003.   Although there have only been 29 confirmed cases in Beijing, city authorities have cancelled large-scaled Lunar New Year events this week.   The city government said it would call off events including two popular temple fairs, which have attracted massive crowds of tourists in past years.   Beijing's Forbidden City -- which saw 19 million visitors last year -- is usually packed with tourists during the Lunar New Year festival, when hundreds of millions of people travel across China.
Date: Fri, 24 Jan 2020 10:40:12 +0100 (MET)
By Sébastien RICCI

Wuhan, China, Jan 24, 2020 (AFP) - Chinese authorities rapidly expanded a mammoth quarantine effort aimed at containing a deadly contagion on Friday to 13 cities and a staggering 41 million people, as nervous residents were checked for fevers and the death toll climbed to 26.

While the World Health Organization (WHO) held off on declaring a global emergency despite confirmed cases in half a dozen other countries, China expanded its lockdown to cover an area with a total population greater than Canada's.   A range of Lunar New Year festivities have been cancelled, while temporary closures of Beijing's Forbidden City, Shanghai's Disneyland and a section of the Great Wall were announced to prevent the disease from spreading further.   The previously unknown virus habeis caused alarm because of its similarity to SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome), which killed hundreds across mainland China and Hong Kong in 2002-2003.

The WHO said China faced a national emergency but stopped short of making a declaration that would have prompted greater global cooperation, including possible trade and travel restrictions.   The outbreak emerged in late December in Wuhan, an industrial and transport hub of 11 million people in China's centre, spreading to several other countries including the United States.   China is in the midst of its Lunar New Year holiday, a typically joyous time of family gatherings and public festivities.   But on Friday Wuhan was a ghost town, its streets deserted and stores shuttered.

- Worried patients -
Hospitals visited by AFP journalists bustled with worried patients being screened by staff wearing full-body protective suits.   At a temperature-check station, a medical staffer in bodysuit, face mask and goggles took a thermometer from a middle-aged woman, pausing to examine the reading before quickly turning back to the patient.   "Have you registered? Then go and see the doctor," the staffer said.   One 35-year-old man surnamed Li voiced the fears of many.   "I have a fever and cough, so I'm worried that I'm infected," he said.   "I don't know the results yet."

With hundreds of millions of people on the move across China for the holiday, the government has halted all travel out of Wuhan, shut down its public transport and told residents to stay home. Deepening the isolation, there were few flights available to the city.   "This year we have a very scary Chinese New Year. People are not going outside because of the virus," said a taxi driver in the city, who asked not to be named.   But said a prolonged shutdown should not pose food-shortage problems because many Chinese had stocked up for the holiday.

Besides Wuhan, 12 other smaller cities nearby have battened down the hatches, with most of them going public on Friday with various measures ranging from closing public venues and restricting large gatherings to halting public transportation and asking citizens not to leave their cities.   Several of the cities have populations numbering several million, led by Huanggang, which has 7.5 million.    The pathogen -- 2019 Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV) -- has caused many outlets in Shanghai, Beijing and other cities to sell out their stocks of face masks.   As reports surfaced of bed shortages in Wuhan hospitals, state media said authorities were rushing to build a new facility devoted to the outbreak in a mind-blowing 10 days.

The Wuhan hospital is targeted to be ready by February 3. Dozens of excavators and trucks were filmed working on the site by state television.   To discourage nationwide travel, the government has said all tickets for rail, air, road, or water transport could be exchanged for a refund.   On Friday, staff in full body protective suits were seen checking the temperatures of people entering a subway station in Beijing.   Thermal cameras scanned passengers arriving at Beijing's West Railway Station.

- 'Work as one' -
Chinese authorities said the number of cases leapt overnight to more than 800, with 177 in serious condition. There were another 1,072 suspected cases.   Officials also said that a virus patient died in Heilongjiang province in China's far northeast, the second death outside the Wuhan epicentre.   Beijing has been praised for its response in contrast to SARS, when it took months to report the disease and initially denied WHO experts any access.

Gao Fu, head of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, asked China's people to forego New Year gatherings this year and confine themselves at home until the all-clear.    "If we all work as one, we can contain the virus in Wuhan and add no more cases exported from Wuhan, so as to stem the virus nationwide," Gao told state TV.   Beijing has cancelled popular New Year public events at temples in the capital, the historic Forbidden City will close from Saturday, and Shanghai Disneyland said it also will shut down for an indefinite period from Saturday to protect visitors and staff.
Date: Fri, 24 Jan 2020 07:46:42 +0100 (MET)

Shanghai, Jan 24, 2020 (AFP) - Shanghai Disneyland will close until further notice this weekend due to a deadly virus outbreak that has infected hundreds of people in China, the amusement park said Friday.   The closure comes as China entered its nearly week-long Lunar New Year holiday, and the home of Mickey Mouse had prepared special "Year of the Mouse" celebrations for its guests.

But the park and resort said on its website it would temporarily close from Saturday "in response to the prevention and control of the disease outbreak and in order to ensure the health and safety" of its guests and staff.   "We will continue to carefully monitor the situation and be in close contact with the local government, and we will announce the reopening date upon confirmation," it said, adding that guests who had purchased tickets or booked a resort hotel would be reimbursed.   The entertainment conglomerate opened its $5.5 billion theme park in Shanghai in June 2016, Disney's sixth amusement park and third in Asia.
Date: Fri, 24 Jan 2020 03:33:13 +0100 (MET)
By Rusmir SMAJILHODZIC with Emmy VARLEY in Belgrade

Sarajevo, Jan 24, 2020 (AFP) - As winter grips the Balkans, the poor are caught in a cruel bind, being forced to light fires at home for heating while fuelling a pollution crisis smothering the region.   In recent weeks, Balkan capitals from Belgrade and Sarajevo to Skopje and Pristina have been ranked among the world's top 10 most polluted major cities, according to the monitoring application AirVisual.

While these are small cities compared to leading Asian polluters like New Delhi and Dhaka, a combination of coal-fired power plants, old cars and fires to heat homes are pumping the air with toxins.   "I know it is polluting. I am not an idiot but my only other choice would be to heat this home with electricity and that is damn expensive," said Trajan Nestorovski, who like many in his working-class Skopje neighbourhood burns wood to stay warm in winter.   His wife Vera added: "There are a couple of factories near our neighbourhood that are burning God knows what in the evenings".

Thanks to the rise of mobile phone apps that measure air quality, like the local Moj Vozduh (My Air) created by a Macedonian developer, citizens are finally grasping the full extent of the crisis.    "Serbia is suffocating, has anyone seen the minister of the environment?", said a recent headline in Belgrade's local Blic newspaper, speaking of the fog and dirty air enveloping the city.   Protests have been erupting around the region in recent days.

In Skopje, the capital of North Macedonia, young people have taken inspiration from Swedish activist Greta Thunberg by holding a spate of protests on Fridays.    "Greta inspired all of us," said 17-year-old Iskra Ilieska.   "In winter, half of my school class is absent because of lung problems. That is not normal," she said.

In neighbouring Bosnia, several hundred people wearing face masks gathered in the city of Tuzla to demand a plan from authorities to tackle pollution and phase out coal-fired plants in the next five years.   "The only recommended measures are that we stay shut up at home... when you go out on the streets, in the playgrounds, you won't see children anywhere," said Alisa Kasumovic, a mother in her forties.

- Silent killer -
According to a recent UN environment report, air pollution causes nearly 20 percent of premature deaths in 19 Western Balkan cities.   The main sources of the dust, soot and smoke are low-grade coal plants and household heating, the report said.    More than 60 percent of people in the region rely on coal and firewood to heat their homes, the report said. Only 12 percent of buildings are connected to district heating systems.

Governments need to make "clean energy more accessible", ban old polluting vehicles and tighten regulations on industry emissions and power plants, the UN urged.    Many people cannot afford cleaner heating options at home in countries where average wages are around 500 euros or less.   Sali Ademi, a 78-year-old in Kosovo's capital Pristina, uses coal.     "There's no worse thing, but what can you do?" he said in a city whose air is already poisoned by two nearby coal-fired power plants running on outdated technology.

- Cable car escape -
Those who warm their homes with fires also bear the brunt of health risks, according to experts.   "Some of the emissions from these stoves stay in the house and poison them," warned Anes Podic, president of an environmental group in Bosnia who has called on the government to replace inefficient wood stoves in the country.

In cities like Sarajevo and Skopje, a circle of mountains helps trap the hazardous air in the valleys where residents live.   Sakiba Sahman, 60, is a Sarajevan taking advantage of a recent reduction on ticket prices for a cable car that rides to the top of the 1,160-metre-high (3,800-foot-high) Mount Trebevic, which peaks above the smog over the Bosnian capital.   "We've come to spend a few hours to ventilate the lungs," she told AFP.   Down below, "the pollution is enormous, there are a lot of cars, everything is dirty, grey and depressing."
Date: Fri, 24 Jan 2020 00:46:15 +0100 (MET)

Lima, Jan 23, 2020 (AFP) - Peru's government promised on Thursday to protect the Machu Picchu sanctuary and other Inca ruins when building a new airport to serve the ancient civilization's capital of Cusco.   Machu Picchu and the Inca road system are UNESCO World Heritage sites, and the UN agency has previously expressed concerns over the proposed airport at Chinchero, less than 60 kilometers from the Inca sanctuary that was built in the 15th century.   "We have made a commitment that before work begins on constructing the Chinchero airport, in June of this year, we will present the heritage impact study that UNESCO demands," Transport Minister Edmer Trujillo, who is responsible for the project, told journalists.

UNESCO has told Peru that even though the airport will be built outside of the archeological areas, it is necessary to study how a potential increase in tourists would affect them.   The new airport will be able to receive six million passengers per year -- 60 percent more than the current Cusco airport, which has a capacity for 3,000 passengers a day but receives 5,000.

The existing airport cannot grow because it is inside Cusco, a major Andean city in southeast Peru.   Machu Picchu -- the most iconic site from the Inca empire that ruled a large swathe of western South America for 100 years before the Spanish conquest in the 16th century -- is Peru's most popular tourist attraction, located about 100 kilometers (60 miles) from Cusco.   Trujillo said construction of the new airport would be constantly monitored
by culture ministry experts in case archeological ruins are found.

The airport will be built at 3,780 meters above sea level in the old Inca Sacred Valley.   Many have criticized the impact it could have not only on the country's national treasures but on rural communities.   "Building an airport in the Sacred Valley will have irreparable effects in terms of noise, increase in traffic and uncontrolled urbanization," historian Natalia Majluf said in August.   But local Cusco authorities say it will bring in vital tourism revenue, which the region depends on.
Date: Tue 21 Jan 2020
Source: Channels TV [edited]

In Ondo state, 16 people have been confirmed killed as a result of a Lassa fever outbreak. The state chief epidemiologist, Dr Steven Fagbemi, disclosed this on Tuesday [21 Jan 2020] at the governor's office in the Government House in Akure, the state capital.

Dr Fagbemi made the disclosure while briefing Governor Oluwarotimi Akeredolu as well as the local government chairmen from Ondo North and Central senatorial districts of the state. He also revealed that 84 cases have been reported so far in the state since 1 Jan 2020.

According to the epidemiologist, 16 of the patients have passed on, as their cases had reached the advanced stage before they were taken to the hospital. He added that 47 patients on admission were responding to treatment, while 21 others had already been treated and discharged.

The outbreak is said to have affected Owo, Akoko South-West, Akure South, and Ondo West LGAs of the state.

Also confirming the outbreak, the commissioner for health, Dr Wahab Adegbenro, noted that the disease has been occurring in the state for some years, especially during the dry season. He therefore advised Nigerians to visit hospitals when they noticed symptoms of fever.

Earlier, Governor Akeredolu advised the local government chairmen in the state to deploy cleaners to markets and public places to prevent the outbreak of diseases. He also called on residents to maintain a high level of hygiene to curtail further spread of the Lassa virus in the state.
====================
[The 81 new confirmed and 159 suspected cases in week 3 of 2020 indicate that Lassa fever (LF) virus transmission is continuing to accelerate. The 1st report above confirms that Ondo state has the majority of cases, tied with Edo state. Nigeria is now entering the period of the year when fewer cases usually occur, as illustrated in the graph in Figure 6 (at the source URL above). There has been a peak in case numbers between weeks 1 and 11 (January-March) over the past 3 years and probably will be the case again this year (2020).

Transmission of LF virus occurs when individuals are in contact with rodent reservoir host excreta or are within healthcare facilities. It would be interesting to know whether the prevalence of Lassa fever virus has been increasing in populations of rodent hosts in areas where human cases are occurring.

Images of the rodent reservoirs of Lassa fever virus:
_Mastomys natalensis_: <https://www.inaturalist.org/taxa/45326-Mastomys-natalensis>
_Mastomys erythroleucus_ and _Hylomyscus pamfi_: <http://punchng.com/nigerias-large-rat-population-threatens-lassa-fever-war/>

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

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

[Maps of Nigeria:
Date: Tue 21 Jan 2020
Source: Ahora Noticias, Costa Rica [in Spanish, machine trans., edited]
<https://www.ahoranoticiascr.com/2020/01/21/autoridades-cerraron-pizzeria-debido-a-casos-de-hepatitis-a-en-san-ramon/>

As many as 22 people suffered from hepatitis A infection in San Ramon de Alajuela, and consequently the Health authorities closed a pizzeria in the area. A source close to this media confirmed the existence of the cases which were detected since 13 Jan 2020.

The cases were thought to be related to food consumption in that establishment 4 of patients were employees of the pizzeria. In statements to the media La Nación, Azalea Espinoza of the Directorate of Surveillance of the Ministry of Health, said they intervened in the business, issued a closing health order, and proceeded to cleaning and disinfecting it. [Byline: Carlos Miranda]
========================
[Although the eating establishment was identified as a pizzeria, pizza itself is not likely to be the vehicle of transmission as it is cooked before serving unless ingredients are added after the cooking process. It is unclear if the pizzeria employees were the source of, or just part of, the outbreak.

With an incubation period averaging 28 but up to 45 days, more cases may occur. The cases are not broken down in regard to age. In children, most cases of HAV infection are subclinical so it is likely that the cases reported were in adults. In the developing world, HAV is not reported much in adults as most children have been infected, and therefore immune to subsequent infection, by the age of 10. That outbreaks are occurring in the area suggests improvement in potable water so fewer children are infected and therefore still susceptible to HAV as adults. - ProMED Mod.LL]

[HealthMap/ProMED map available at: Costa Rica:
<http://healthmap.org/promed/p/17>]
Date: Thu, 23 Jan 2020 17:57:34 +0100 (MET)
By Eva XIAO

Beijing, Jan 23, 2020 (AFP) - The first fatality of China's new virus would come to represent a common set of traits for those who died to the disease: he was over the age of 60 and in poor health.   Since China reported the emergence of a new coronavirus at the end of December, the SARS-like virus has infected more than 500 and killed 17.   So far, the majority of the victims were elderly individuals with pre-existing health conditions, such as diabetes and liver cirrhosis.   All hailed from central Hubei province, where a local seafood market in the capital city of Wuhan is believed to be the epicentre of the epidemic.   But while older individuals have died from the Wuhan virus, some younger patients -- including a 10-year-old boy -- have since been released from the hospital.   Here's what we know so far about the deaths:

Most victims were over 60
According to details released by China's National Health Commission (NHC) on Thursday, the 17 victims of the virus were between 48 and 89 years old.   Only two were under the age of 60, while the average age of the victims was 73.   Most of them died this week, according to the NHC.   Among those who have been discharged from the hospital were younger patients, including a 35-year-old man from Shenzhen, a bustling tech hub in southern Guangdong province.   He was released from the hospital on Thursday, according to the local health commission, as well as the 10-year-old boy who had visited relatives in Wuhan before falling ill.

Many had pre-existing health conditions
Many of those who died from the virus also had pre-existing health issues before contracting the Wuhan disease, such as diabetes and hypertension.   One man, an 86-year-old who was hospitalised on January 9, had surgery for colon cancer four years prior, on top of suffering from high blood pressure and diabetes.   Another, an 80-year-old woman surnamed Hu, had Parkinson's Disease and more than 20 years of high blood pressure and diabetes in her medical history.

Some were hospitalised for weeks before dying
Several of the 17 victims were hospitalised for weeks before dying -- raising questions on the preparedness of hospitals that may have to treat patients for long periods of time.   The youngest victim of the Wuhan virus, a woman surnamed Yin, was hospitalised for more than a month before succumbing to the virus.   On December 10, the 48-year-old woman reported a fever, coughing, body soreness, and fatigue, and underwent anti-infection treatment for two weeks, according to the NHC.   Later in the end of the month, Yin suffered shortness of breath and chest tightness, and she passed away on January 20.

Not all of them had a fever
Currently, Wuhan authorities are screening passengers for fever at the airport, railway stations, and bus terminals.   At four airports in Thailand, authorities introduced mandatory thermal scans of passengers arriving from high-risk areas of China.   But not all those who died after being infected reported a fever before being hospitalised, according to the NHC.   A 66-year-old man surnamed Luo reported a "mainly dry cough" but no fever on December 22 before suffering from shortness of breath more than a week later.

By mid-January, Luo required a ventilator to help him breathe.   "A major concern is the range of severity of symptoms this virus is causing," said Dr Jeremy Farrar, Director of the Wellcome Trust.   "It is clear some people are being affected and are infectious while experiencing only very mild symptoms or possibly without experiencing symptoms at all," he said in an emailed statement.   "This may be masking the true numbers infected and the extent of person to person transmission," he added.
Date: Thu, 23 Jan 2020 16:05:30 +0100 (MET)

Singapore, Jan 23, 2020 (AFP) - Singapore Thursday confirmed its first case of the new SARS-like virus which has killed 17 people in China and spread to multiple countries including the United States.   The Ministry of Health (MOH) said the patient was a 66-year-old man from Wuhan who arrived in Singapore with his family on Monday.    He was immediately isolated after arriving at a hospital with a fever and cough, and test results later confirmed he was infected with the coronavirus.   One of his travelling companions, a 37-year-old man from Wuhan, has also been admitted to hospital as a suspect case.

Prior to admission, they had stayed at a hotel on the resort island of Sentosa, the ministry said.   It added that Singapore was expecting more cases and alarms "given the high volume of international travel".   Singapore's Changi Airport started screening flights from Wuhan at the beginning of the month, and on Wednesday extended the checks to all flights from China.   The travel hub receives over 430 flights from China every week.   The virus has caused alarm in China and abroad because of its genetic similarities to Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), which killed nearly 650 people across mainland China and Hong Kong in 2002-2003.

Singapore was among the hardest hit by SARS with 33 deaths.   Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, who is in Davos for the World Economic Forum, said there was "no need to panic".   Speaking to reporters travelling with him, Lee said Singapore has beefed up its hospital facilities and laid out response measures since the SARS epidemic.   "I think we are much better prepared now," he said in remarks carried by the Straits Times newspaper.