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Lithuania

Lithuania US Consular Information Sheet
May 19, 2008
COUNTRY DESCRIPTION:
Lithuania is a stable democracy undergoing rapid economic growth. Tourist facilities in Vilnius, the capital, and to a lesser extent in Kaunas and Klaipeda, are simi
ar to those available in other European cities. In other parts of the country, however, some of the goods and services taken for granted in other countries may not be available. Read the Department of State Background Notes on Lithuania for additional information.
ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS: A valid passport is required to enter Lithuania. As there are no direct flights from the U.S. to Lithuania, U.S. citizens should be aware of passport validity requirements in transit countries. American citizens do not need a visa to travel to Lithuania for business or pleasure for up to 90 days. That 90-day period begins with entry to any of the “Schengen Group” countries: Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Spain, and Sweden. Multiple visits to Schengen countries may not exceed 90 days in any 6 month period. Travelers remaining in Lithuania for more than 90 days within any six-month period must apply for temporary residency.

Lithuanian authorities recommend applying or a residency permit through a Lithuanian embassy or consulate before initial entry into Lithuania, as processing times can run beyond 90 days. All foreigners of non-European Union countries seeking entry into Lithuania must carry proof of a medical insurance policy contracted for payment of all costs of hospitalization and medical treatment in Lithuania. Visitors unable to demonstrate sufficient proof of medical insurance must purchase short-term insurance at the border from a Lithuanian provider for roughly $1.00 per day. The number of days will be calculated from the day of entry until the date on the return ticket. Children residing in Lithuania must have written permission to travel outside the country from at least one parent if their parents are not accompanying them on their trip. This policy is not applicable to temporary visitors. See our Foreign Entry Requirements brochure for more information on Lithuania and other countries. Visit the Embassy of Lithuania web site at www.ltembassyus.org for the most current visa information.
Note: Although European Union regulations require that non-EU visitors obtain a stamp in their passport upon initial entry to a Schengen country, many borders are not staffed with officers carrying out this function. If an American citizen wishes to ensure that his or her entry is properly documented, it may be necessary to request a stamp at an official point of entry. Under local law, travelers without a stamp in their passport may be questioned and asked to document the length of their stay in Schengen countries at the time of departure or at any other point during their visit, and could face possible fines or other repercussions if unable to do so.
Information about dual nationality or the prevention of international child abduction can be found on our web site. For further information abut customs regulations, please read our Customs Information sheet.
SAFETY AND SECURITY: Civil unrest is not a problem in Lithuania, and there have been no incidents of terrorism directed toward American interests. Incidents of anti-Americanism are rare.

For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs’ web site, where the current Travel Warnings and Travel Alerts, including 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., 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: Lithuania is a relatively safe country. Visitors should maintain the same personal security awareness that they would in any metropolitan U.S. city. Large amounts of cash and expensive jewelry should be secured in a hotel safe or left at home. Crimes against foreigners, while usually non-violent, do occur. Pickpocketing and thefts are problems, so personal belongings should be well protected at all times. Theft from cars and car thefts occur regularly. Drivers should be wary of persons indicating they should pull over or that something is wrong with their car. Often, a second car or person is following, and when the driver of the targeted car gets out to see if there is a problem the person who has been following will either steal the driver’s belongings from the vehicle or get in and drive off with the car. Drivers should never get out of the car to check for damage without first turning off the ignition and taking the keys. Valuables should not be left in plain sight in parked vehicles, as there have been increasing reports of car windows smashed and items stolen. If possible, American citizens should avoid walking alone at night. ATMs should be avoided after dark. In any public area, one should always be alert to being surrounded by two or more people at once. Additionally, criminals have a penchant for taking advantage of drunken pedestrians. Americans have reported being robbed and/or scammed while intoxicated.
Following a trend that has spread across Eastern and Central Europe, racially motivated verbal, and sometimes physical, harassment of foreigners of non-Caucasian ethnicity has been reported in major cities. Incidents of racially motivated attacks against American citizens have been reported in Klaipeda and Vilnius.
In many countries around the world, counterfeit and pirated goods are widely available. Transactions involving such products may be illegal under local law. In addition, bringing them back to the United States may result in forfeitures and/or fines. More information on these serious problems is available at http://www.cybercrime.gov/18usc2320.htm.
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. For more information about assistance for victims of crime in Lithuania, please visit the Embassy’s web site at http://vilnius.usembassy.gov/service/crime-victim-assistance.html.
See our information on Victims of Crime.
MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION: Medical care in Lithuania has improved in the last 15 years, but medical facilities do not always meet Western standards. There are a few private clinics with medical supplies and services that nearly equal Western European or U.S. standards. Most medical supplies are now widely available, including disposable needles, anesthetics, antibiotics and other pharmaceuticals. However, hospitals and clinics still suffer from a lack of equipment and resources. Lithuania has highly trained medical professionals, some of whom speak English, but their availability is decreasing as they leave for employment opportunities abroad. Depending on his or her condition, a patient may not receive an appointment with a specialist for several weeks. Western-quality dental care can be obtained in major cities. Elderly travelers who require medical care may face difficulties. Most pharmaceuticals sold in Lithuania are from Europe; travelers will not necessarily find the same brands that they use in the United States. Serious medical problems requiring hospitalization and/or medical evacuation can cost thousands of dollars or more. Doctors and hospitals often expect immediate cash payment for health services, particularly if immigration status in Lithuania is unclear.

Tick-borne encephalitis and lyme disease are widespread throughout the country. Those intending to visit parks or forested areas in Lithuania are urged to speak with their health care practitioners about immunization. Rabies is also increasingly prevalent in rural areas.
The Lithuanian Government does not require HIV testing for U.S. citizens. However, sexually transmitted diseases are a growing public health problem.
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.
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. All foreigners of non-European Union countries seeking entry into Lithuania must carry proof of a medical insurance policy contracted for payment of all costs of hospitalization and medical treatment in Lithuania (please see entry/exit requirements above). 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 Lithuania is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.
The Police allow Americans to drive in Lithuania with an American driver’s license for up to 90 days. Americans who reside in Lithuania for 185 days or more in one calendar year and who wish to continue driving in Lithuania must acquire a Lithuanian driver's license. The foreign license must be given to the Lithuanian Road Police to be processed by the Consular Department of the Lithuanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which in turn sends it to the U.S. Embassy’s Consular Section, where the owner is expected to claim it.
Roads in Lithuania range from well-maintained two- to four-lane highways connecting major cities to small dirt roads traversing the countryside. Violation of traffic rules is common. It is not unusual to be overtaken by other automobiles, traveling at high speed, even in crowded urban areas. Driving at night, especially in the countryside, can be particularly hazardous. In summer, older seasonal vehicles and inexperienced drivers are extra hazards. Driving with caution is urged at all times. Driving while intoxicated is a very serious offense and carries heavy penalties. The speed limit is 50 km/hr in town and 90 km/hr out of town unless otherwise indicated. The phone number for roadside assistance is 8-800-01414 from a regular phone and 1414 from a GSM mobile phone.
Seatbelts are mandatory for the driver and all passengers except children under the age of 12. During the winter, most major roads are cleared of snow. Winter or all-season tires are required from November 10th through April 1st. Studded tires are not allowed from April 10th through October 31st. Drivers must have at least their low beam lights on at all times while driving. Public transportation is generally safe.
Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information. Visit the website of the country’s national tourist office and national authority responsible for road safety at www.tourism.lt and at www.lra.lt/index_en.html.
AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT: As there is no direct commercial air service to the United States by carriers registered in Lithuania, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not assessed Lithuania’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 www.faa.gov/safety/programs_initiatives/oversight/iasa.
SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES: Lithuanian customs authorities may enforce strict regulations concerning the temporary importation into or export from Lithuania of items such as firearms and antiquities. Please see our Customs Information.
Telephone connections are generally good. American 1-800 numbers can be accessed from Lithuania but not on a toll-free basis; the international long distance rate per minute will be charged. Local Internet cafes offer computer access. ATMs are widely available. Most hotels and other businesses accept major credit cards.
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 Lithuanian laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned. Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Lithuania are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines. Engaging in sexual conduct with children or possessing or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is a crime prosecutable in the United States. For more information about arrest procedures in Lithuania, please visit the Embassy’s web site at http://vilnius.usembassy.gov/arrests.html. Please see our information on Criminal Penalties.
CHILDREN'S ISSUES: For information on international adoption of children and international parental child abduction, see the Office of Children’s Issues web page.
REGISTRATION / EMBASSY LOCATION: Americans living or traveling in Lithuania are encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate through the State Department’s travel registration web site, and to obtain updated information on travel and security within Lithuania. 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 Akmenu Gatve 6, tel. (370) (5) 266-5500 or 266-5600; fax (370) (5) 266-5590. Consular information can also be found on the Embassy Vilnius web site at http://vilnius.usembassy.gov/.
* * *
This replaces the Consular Information Sheet dated November 5, 2007 to update sections on Crime and Medical Facilities and Health Information.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Wed 7 Aug 2019 01:17:58 EEST
Source: Xinhua News Agency [edited]

The rate of tick-borne encephalitis in Lithuania remains the highest in Europe, announced the country's Center for Communicable Diseases and AIDS (ULAC) on [Tue 6 Aug 2019].

According to ULAC, the rate of tick-borne encephalitis cases was 16.6 cases per 100 000 population in 2017, based on the latest data provided by the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) in its latest annual epidemiological report.  "In Lithuania the rate of encephalitis remains the highest in Europe," said ULAC.

Lithuania was followed by the Czech Republic and Estonia with the rate of 6.4 cases per 100 000 population, according to ULAC.  ULAC notes the largest proportion of tick-borne encephalitis cases is at the age group of 45-64 years and the lowest among the children of the age of 0-4 years.  "ULAC medics remind vaccination is the most reliable protection from tick-borne encephalitis," said ULAC in the announcement, noting vaccines have a reliability rate of 98 percent.

ULAC's warning comes amid increasing number of tick-borne encephalitis cases this year [2019] in Lithuania, a Baltic country with a population of around 3 million.  More than 90 cases of tick-borne encephalitis were reported during the 1st half of the year [2019] in Lithuania, 1/3 more compared to the same period last year [2018], according to local data by ULAC.

According to the ECDC's report, the highest prevalence of tick-borne encephalitis historically is found in the Baltic countries. Tick-borne encephalitis usually reaches its seasonal peak during the warmest months -- July and August.

Tick-borne encephalitis is a human viral infectious disease of central nervous system caused by infected ticks, usually found in woodland habitats. The disease manifests itself with symptoms similar to fever, fatigue, headache, nausea, and can cause meningitis.
=====================
[Cases of tick-borne encephalitis (TBE) have been reported before (see ProMED mail archive Tick-borne encephalitis - EU (Czech Rep., Latvia, Lithuania) http://promedmail.org/post/20040624.1677). Given the high rate of TBE cases in Lithuania reported above, there doubtless have been cases occurring there annually in recent years.

A report in Eurosurveillance Weekly in 2004 stated, "Tick-borne encephalitis (TBE) is endemic in virtually all countries in Central and Eastern Europe. It is caused by several closely related but distinct flaviviruses. 3 subtypes are recognised at present: a Far-Eastern subtype, a Siberian subtype and a European subtype. The Siberian subtype is associated with Russian spring-summer encephalitis and is transmitted predominantly by the tick _Ixodes persulcatus_, whereas the European subtype causes central European encephalitis and is transmitted by _Ixodes ricinus_.

The clinical spectrum of acute TBE ranges from symptoms of mild meningitis to severe meningoencephalitis with or without myelitis. The incubation period of central European TBE is 7-14 days. Onset is generally biphasic. The 1st phase involves a non-specific influenza-like illness with fever, headache, nausea, and vomiting, lasting about a week. After a period of remission lasting a few days, the fever returns with aseptic meningitis or encephalomyelitis. The case fatality rate is 1-5 percent and about 20 percent of survivors have neurological sequelae. Residual motor defects are rare." - ProMED Mod.TY]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map of Lithuania:
Date: Wed, 3 Jul 2019 15:49:43 +0200

Vilnius, July 3, 2019 (AFP) - Lithuania declared an emergency on Wednesday as a severe drought hit the Baltic EU state, threatening to slash this year's harvest by up to half.   Apart from jeopardising crops, scant rainfall has also drastically reduced water levels in some rivers, threatening fish stocks and shipping activities.

The formal declaration of an "emergency situation" will allow the government to compensate farmers for some losses as well as help them to avoid EU financial sanctions should they fail to reach production goals.   "Farmers believe their harvest can be slashed by 40 percent or 50 percent, while fish stocks are also endangered," environment minister Kestutis Mazeika told AFP.

Mazeika said "nobody has any doubt" that global climate change is behind the prolonged and more intensive dry spells and heatwaves in recent years.   He also appealed to neighbouring Belarus to increase the water level in the Neris river by allowing more water to flow from its reservoirs.   Last month was the hottest June ever recorded with soaring temperatures worldwide capped off by a record-breaking heatwave across Western Europe, satellite data showed Tuesday.   Lithuania also registered its hottest-ever June, with a peak of 35.7 degrees Celsius (96.2 degrees Fahrenheit) recorded on June 12.

Over the last week, firefighters have fought wildfires triggered by the heat in peat bogs in western Lithuania and neighbouring Latvia.   Elsewhere in Central Europe, Polish authorities said this week that varying degrees of drought have put grain crops at risk in 14 of the EU country's 16 regional districts.   The Czech Academy of Sciences said it expects drought to affect the entire country, with 80 percent of the territory facing "exceptional to extreme drought".
Date: Thu, 13 Jun 2019 15:12:32 +0200

Vilnius, June 13, 2019 (AFP) - Lithuanian temperatures have hit record June highs, meteorologists said Thursday, as a heatwave forced school closures and threatened to reduce harvests in the draught-hit Baltic region.   Kaisiadorys in central Lithuania was the hottest place at 35.7 degrees Celsius (96.2 degrees Fahrenheit) on Wednesday, the highest-ever temperature recorded for June in the country, weather forecaster Paulius Starkus told AFP.   Six people drowned in the Baltic EU state on Wednesday, the deadliest day of the year to date, while some schools put classes on hold or cut lessons short due to the heatwave.

Scientists say the extreme weather is in part a result of climate change.   "Lithuania used to have heatwaves but now they occur more often and are more intense due to climate change," Vilnius University climatologist Donatas Valiukas told AFP.   Starkus said a downpour with thunder and hail could follow in some areas on Thursday afternoon.   Agriculture Minister Giedrius Surplys told lawmakers that some areas were experiencing "a real climatic draught" threatening harvests, while hydrologists warned that river water levels posed a threat to fish.   Demand for air-conditioning has also soared in recent weeks.   Lithuania's hot weather is expected to last through the week, then temperatures may ease below 30 degrees Celsius starting Monday.   Fellow Baltic state Latvia is also experiencing unusual heat for June, with temperatures over 32 degrees Celsius.

In recent days, Latvia's western region of Kurzeme saw thunderstorms with hail damaging buildings, smashing greenhouses and tearing power lines.   Two people have been hospitalised in the northern Latvian town of Cesis after a tree fell on their camper van while they were inside.    Fellow Baltic state Estonia had a heatwave last week and is now experiencing rainy and windy weather.   Poland has also been experiencing high temperatures this month, which has resulted in increased air-conditioner use. The power transmission system operator PSE said that on Wednesday there was record electricity demand for a summer morning at nearly 24.10 gigawatts (GW).   Forty-two people have already drowned in Poland this month, according to the government security centre RCB.
Date: Sat 30 Mar 2019
Source: PM News Nigeria [abridged, edited]

Measles in Lithuania is up to 310 cases this year [2019] compared to 30 cases for 2018 in total. The number of measles cases is projected to increase further in Lithuania, as people have lost their collective immunity to this highly contagious viral disease, Director of Lithuania's Centre for Communicable Diseases and AIDS (ULAC), Saulius Caplinskas, said on Fri [29 Mar 2019].  "The collective immunity has been lost, as a 95 per cent measles vaccination coverage rate is considered as minimum to prevent an outbreak. There are new suspected cases of measles; blood samples are being examined. I have no doubt that in the nearest future, there will be new cases,'' Caplinskas was quoted as saying by local news website lrt.lt.

Recent data from ULAC shows that the proportion of children vaccinated against measles in the country has decreased from 97 per cent in 2009 to 92.2 per cent in 2018 due to parents' reluctance to vaccinate their kids.  According to ULAC, every year, some 5000 children are not vaccinated in Lithuania. "Measles outbreaks feature certain upswings and descents, yet we will have to live under the threat of measles for a while,'' Caplinskas said.

In total, 310 cases of measles have been registered as of Fri [29 Mar 2019] in Lithuania this year [2019], compared to 30 cases for the whole of 2018, ULAC data showed.  The largest number of cases, 149, was registered in Kaunas, Lithuania's 2nd largest city. In Vilnius, the capital, 39 measles cases have been registered to date. Measles is a highly contagious, serious disease caused by a virus, says the World Health Organization.
Date: Thu, 11 Oct 2018 13:38:41 +0200

Vilnius, Oct 11, 2018 (AFP) - Lithuania's parliament on Thursday passed a law that will allow doctors to prescribe marijuana-based medicine in the Baltic EU state.   The lawmakers voted 90-0 with three abstentions in favour of the legislation that will now go to President Dalia Grybauskaite to be signed into law.   "It is a historic decision to ensure that patients can receive the best possible treatment," said lawmaker Mykolas Majauskas who tabled the bill.

Other European countries have legalised cannabis for medical purposes including Austria, Britain, Croatia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece and Italy among them.   "Of course, it does not mean cannabis will be available to get at a drugstore to smoke before going to a nightclub," Majauskas said.   The law will come into force in May next year. Selling the drugs will require a licence from the state regulator.    Recreational use of marijuana remains illegal in Lithuania, a Baltic state of 2.8 million people.
More ...

World Travel News Headlines

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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