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Morocco

General
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Morocco is a North African country and a favourite destination for many Irish tourists. The climate, relative shortness of the flights and the idyllic swimming conditions encourage many to vis
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Safety & Security
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The border regions of the country can be volatile and travellers planning to visit away from the main tourist routes should take extra precautions. The Western Sahara region is still in dispute though there has been an official cease-fire in place since 1991. The possibility of unexploded mines exists though it should be remembered that this area is many miles away from the normal tourist resorts. The level of street crime in Morocco is low but growing. Busy market places, parks and beaches are popular locations for petty criminals. Tourists should take care not to flaunt personal wealth and to avoid travelling away from the main tourist zones late at night. Travelling alone is a particular risk and only authorised guides and taxis should be used. Tourists have been threatened with serious injury at knife point if they have refused to purchase cannabis.
Laws & Customs
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It is an Islamic country and ladies in particular should take care to dress modestly. Islamic festivals can cause significant changes to occur which affect tourists including the holy month of Ramadan when all street cafés close until 5.30pm each day as strict Muslims do not eat during the daylight hours. The main tourist hotels continue to serve food as normal but many shops will remain closed. During these times tourists will need to carefully check their tickets and any travel arrangements may need to be changed. Banks and larger shops will remain open between 9am and 3pm Monday to Friday. Drug offences are treated very seriously and those visiting the Rif Mountains should realise this is a major cannabis growing area. Visitors with Arabic Bibles or those involved in any perceived outreach activity may find they are subjected to prolonged interrogation.
Health Facilities
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The level of health care available in many of the main hotels and resorts is perfectly adequate but care should be taken if your illness necessitates admission. Communication in English may be difficult and many medications will be unavailable. Frequently small private hospitals are used where standards vary greatly. Check that your travel insurance provides adequate cover for repatriation if required.
Food & Water Facilities
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The food and water provided in many of the main tourist resorts is very satisfactory but variations can easily occur and travellers should be careful at all times. Lettuce, undercooked bivalve shellfish (mussels, oysters, clams etc) and untreated water are all frequently implicated in sickness among travellers. Eating previously peeled fruit is also unwise and should be avoided. Bottled water purchased from main shops or hotels should be used for drinking and brushing your teeth.
Insect Bites & Mosquitoes
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There is only a very small risk of malaria transmission throughout Morocco and prophylaxis is not recommended for the majority of tourists. However, sandflies do abound during the summer months and can transmit a nasty disease known as Leishmaniasis. These small flies tend to hover close to the ground in shaded areas and can easily bite without the individual noticing. It is essential to use good insect repellent when at risk and to report any slow healing bite or sore to a doctor after your return home.
Sun Exposure
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The level of sun exposure in Morocco during the summer months can be intense. Take care to avoid the midday sun and use high sun blocking creams at all relevant times. Take particular care of children while in such a hot climate. Extra water and salt will be required to replace the amounts lost through perspiration. Salted crisps and nuts will be a useful source of salt.
Water Sports & Activities
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Many tourist locations in Morocco offer extended water sport facilities for tourists. Always check out what the standard of care is before agreeing to take part. Ask tourists who arrived before you and check with your holiday representative if possible. Confirm that good safety procedures are in place and that your travel insurance covers any accidents as a result of your activities.
Cash Facilities
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Traveller’s cheques and credit cards are accepted in many of the main tourist resorts. ATM machines are available in Casablanca and Rabat. It may be difficult to reconvert Moroccan money back to sterling and so care should be taken not to change too much initially until you clarify your expenses.
Travel by Train
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To visit other parts of the country many travellers use the train journey south from Tangier. However, be wary of any invitation from fellow passengers to alight at Asilah rather than continuing the journey south. A number of tourists have been held hostage and forced to make credit card transactions or cash withdrawals before being freed.
Road Transport
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Many tourists to Morocco hire motorbikes or cars to see more of the country. This is regarded as a high-risk activity and special care will be required at all times. Driving practices throughout Morocco are poor and traffic signals do not always function. Modern freeways link the main cities of Tangier, Rabat, Fez and Casablanca. Flash flooding can occur during the rainy season (November – March).
Rabies
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Rabies does occur in Morocco and it is essential that you avoid any and all contact with at risk animals. Typically this includes dogs, cats and monkeys but this viral disease can infect any warm-blooded animal. Take particular care to warn children to avoid animals and to report any contact as soon as possible.
Vaccinations
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There are no essential vaccines for entry into Morocco from Ireland. However most tourists are advised to consider adequate cover against:
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Poliomyelitis (childhood booster)
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Tetanus (childhood booster)
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Typhoid (food and water disease)
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Hepatitis A (food and water disease)
Those planning a longer or more rural trip will also need to consider cover against diseases like Hepatitis B and Rabies.
Summary
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The majority of tourists visiting Morocco will remain very healthy and well. However, following simple precautions against food and water disease and sun exposure will be essential.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Fri, 27 Sep 2019 06:34:45 +0200 (METDST)
By Sophie Pons

Casablanca, Morocco, Sept 27, 2019 (AFP) - In Morocco, the struggle against HIV has been so successful in recent years that campaigners worry about losing funding for combatting the virus, but for people living with the disease it remains a heavy stigma.   In Casablanca, a group therapy workshop offers HIV patients a rare opportunity to speak openly about their disease.   "Here I feel normal, I'm treated like a human being," said Zineb, a 29-year-old mother.

Organised by the Association for the Fight Against AIDS (ALCS), on a recent Thursday the workshop brought 12 HIV patients together with a psychologist and a therapist.   The ALCS also organises follow-up therapeutic care in hospital, and prevention and screening campaigns, with funding from the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.   These programmes were developed shortly after the first HIV case was detected in Morocco in 1986.   This early start is partly why UNAIDS, the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS, calls Morocco a "model country" for its HIV response.   Thanks to improved screening, access to treatment and monitoring, new HIV infections in Morocco declined by 42 percent between 2010 and 2016, compared to an average reduction of four percent across the rest of the Middle East and North Africa.

Morocco had 350 deaths from AIDS in 2018, from a population of about 35 million.   But some groups remain vulnerable, with intravenous drug users, men who have sex with other men, and sex workers accounting for two thirds of Morocco's 21,000 identified cases.   And the stigma attached to those infected remains high, even within the family.   "My mother treated me like a murderer. For a long time I felt alone in the world," said Youssef, a 28-year-old who has twice attempted suicide.   Like other HIV patients interviewed by AFP, he asked to be identified by a pseudonym.   And all of them -- save for a 40-year-old considered very lucky by the group -- have either hidden their illness or been rejected by loved ones.

- 'Don't tell him anything' -
In this conservative Muslim society, where sex outside marriage and homosexuality are illegal, HIV patients seldom talk publicly about the virus.   "The subject is taboo, because the infection is linked to sex, itself a taboo subject in Morocco," said Yakoub, a 25-year-old ALCS worker.   "The social rejection is such that some (HIV patients) lose everything: family, friends, work, home," he said.

Zineb, like many HIV patients, hides her medication to conceal her illness.   For 10 years, the former teen mother has told her family that she is being treated for diabetes. "My 17-year-old son knows nothing, I can't bring myself to tell him, I'm too afraid," she said with a sad smile.   "Once you're sick, you're no longer a person," said Sakina, a mother who says she never speaks of her illness except with doctors, the ALCS staff and other HIV patients.

Like 70 percent of HIV positive women in Morocco, Sakina was infected by her husband. She cannot bring herself to tell her 15-year-old son that he is also infected.    She has always lied to him but she can "no longer sleep at night", she told the group through tears.    "My advice: above all, don't tell him anything," said a young man.   "For your sake, let him find out from someone else," another group participant suggested.   Then the psychologist interjected to say that private sessions are available to "reflect on these difficult questions".

The shame of HIV is so entrenched, it even permeates the medical establishment.   "For 30 years we've been talking about it, the virus is well known but the discrimination is still there," said Dr Kamal Marhoum El Filali, head of the infectious diseases department at Ibn Rochd Hospital in Casablanca, which hosts an ALCS branch.    "The stigmatisation isn't just from society but also from medical staff within the hospital environment."

Amina, another group therapy participant, experienced this first hand.   "When I went to the hospital to give birth, no one wanted to take care of me, no one wanted to touch me, I ended up in intensive care," she recalled indignantly.   Others in the session though were grateful for the care they had received.    "We are lucky to be under the care of the infectious diseases department: we are well cared for compared to others, considering the lack of funding and disrepair in Moroccan hospitals," said another participant

- 'Victim of own success' -
The emergency room at Ibn Rochd is sometimes overwhelmed with doctors each seeing up to 40 patients a day.   But the infectious diseases department is always spotlessly clean, providing personalised support as ALCS staff liaise with the medical teams.   But how much money Morocco will receive to continue its fight against HIV will be determined at a three-yearly conference for the Global Fund in October.   With funding declining globally and controversy surrounding the management of UNAIDS, ALCS president Mehdi Karkouri fears financial cuts.   "We are a victim of our own success: because our results are good, we risk losing funding," he said.
Date: Mon, 2 Sep 2019 21:08:54 +0200 (METDST)

Rabat, Sept 2, 2019 (AFP) - Morocco authorities said Monday they had found the body of a person missing after a flood hit a football pitch, bringing to eight the number of people killed in last week's tragedy.   The flood took place when a nearby river burst its banks in the southern region of Taroudant on Wednesday.   A 17-year-old boy and six elderly men were killed and have since been buried, while rescuers continued the search for an eight victim who was swept away by the flood, authorities said.

The last body was found some 20 kilometres (12 miles) from the village of Tizret near where an amateur football tournament had been taking place.   Photographs and videos shared on social media showed muddy waters carrying away people who had clambered on top of a building flattened by the flood.   Authorities have opened an investigation and the government has promised to take several measures to avoid such tragedies in the future.   Morocco's national weather service had warned of the risk of stormy rains on Wednesday afternoon in several provinces.    The heavy downpour followed a dry spell, making the floods more violent, local media reported.

Floods are common in Morocco. In late July, 15 people died in a landslide caused by flash floods on a road south of Marrakesh.   In 2014, floods killed around 50 people and caused considerable damage in the south of the country.   Between 2000 and 2013, a series of 13 major floods killed a total of 263 people in Morocco and caused considerable damage to infrastructure worth $427 million, according to the World Bank.   A study published in 2015 pointed to multiple failures in infrastructure maintenance, prevention, warning and emergency management.
Date: Thu, 29 Aug 2019 00:08:33 +0200 (METDST)

Rabat, Aug 28, 2019 (AFP) - At least seven people died Wednesday when a river burst its banks and flooded a village football pitch where a game was being played in south Morocco, local authorities and a witness said.   Eight men who had sought refuge in the changing rooms were swept away in the floodwater after heavy showers hit the Taroudant region late in the day, an eyewitness told AFP on condition of anonymity.   "We're in shock, I'm 64 years old and I've never seen such a downpour," the witness said.

Search and rescue operations were under way to find further victims, officials said.   Photographs and videos shared on social media showed muddy waters carrying away people who had clambered on top of a building flattened by the flooding.    Morocco's national weather service had warned of the risk of stormy rains on Wednesday afternoon in several provinces.    The heavy downpour followed a dry spell, making the floods more violent, local media reported.   Floods are common in Morocco. In late July, 15 people died in a landslide caused by flash floods on a road south of Marrakesh.
Date: Fri, 26 Jul 2019 15:26:58 +0200

Rabat, July 26, 2019 (AFP) - Moroccan emergency crews pulled 15 bodies from the mud after a rare summer downpour triggered a landslide that buried a minibus, authorities said Friday, providing the first official toll.   The victims -- eleven women, three men and one child -- were found in the bus buried some 20 metres (more than 60 feet) under the masses of earth and rock dislodged by the rain, local authorities said.    "There are no survivors," they said in a statement.

The official toll comes after public broadcaster 2M reported Friday morning that 16 bodies had been recovered.   The bus was buried Wednesday evening when a deluge in the Atlas mountains south of Marrakesh triggered flash flooding.   Images released by the authorities show excavators working to dig a path to the bus, more than 24 hours after it was engulfed by the debris.

A weather alert on Tuesday warned of storms in several provinces in the North African country, which rarely receives summer rains.   Investment in Morocco's road network has largely focused on the main transport arteries and many rural areas can be reached only by dirt tracks that are vulnerable to extreme weather.   Every year, nearly 3,500 people are killed on the North African country's roads.
Date: Sat, 2 Feb 2019 14:22:56 +0100

Rabat, Feb 2, 2019 (AFP) - An outbreak of swine flu in Morocco has left nine people dead in the past week, the kingdom's health minister said Saturday.   The spread of the H1N1 virus was "normal" for the time of the year, said Anas Doukkali, quoted by Morocco's official MAP news agency.   The first death in Morocco from the influenza-type virus was reported by local media on Wednesday, since when anxious rumours have spread on social media.   "Vigilant efforts continue to detect possible cases in different hospitals across the kingdom," said government spokesman Mustapha Khalfi.

H1N1 is a respiratory disease contracted through contact between humans and pigs and transmitted between people through inhalation.   A major H1N1 outbreak sparked a World Health Organization pandemic alert in June 2009. It killed around 18,500 people in 214 countries before the alert was lifted in August 2010.
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World Travel News Headlines

Date: Wed, 16 Oct 2019 18:45:39 +0200 (METDST)

Manila, Oct 16, 2019 (AFP) - A child was killed in a strong 6.4-magnitude quake that hit the southern Philippines on Wednesday, a local mayor said, as houses collapsed, power was knocked out and a shopping mall burst into flames.   Residents evacuated homes and buildings across the Mindanao region including a mall that caught fire in the city of General Santos shortly after the quake struck in the evening, officials said.   The child died in a house collapse in the town of Datu Paglas, while four residents of nearby Tulunan town were injured when at least two other houses fell down, Tulunan Mayor Reuel Limbungan told AFP.   "The child was crushed by a collapsed house wall" and pronounced dead in hospital, Limbungan said, adding that he had visited the medical facility and spoken to its director.

Rescue and local officials said there were no immediate reports of deaths elsewhere in Mindanao, and rescue official Anthony Allada told local television that 20 people were treated for injuries in the town of Magsaysay, near the epicentre.   Three other people were hurt in the town of M'lang, added its vice-mayor, Joselito Pinol.   The quake was 14 kilometres (8.7 miles) deep and was followed by at least two aftershocks, according to the United States Geological Survey (USGS).   "It was the most powerful earthquake I have ever experienced," Sara Duterte, mayor of the largest Mindanao city of Davao, and daughter of President Rodrigo Duterte, told local television.

- Falling debris -
The Philippines is part of the Pacific "Ring of Fire", an arc of intense seismic activity that stretches from Japan through Southeast Asia and across the Pacific basin.   An elderly man was treated for injuries after being struck by a falling object during the evacuation of a Davao mall, local TV reported.   Jerome Barranco, civil defence officer for the region, said several people were also injured in the city of Kidapawan "as a result of falling debris".   In General Santos, television footage showed firemen battling a blaze that engulfed the three-storey Gaisano shopping mall.   It was not known if there were still people inside the building, which was evacuated as the quake struck.   The blaze was still raging more than three hours later despite the efforts of nearly 100 firemen, fire officer Redentor Batulan told AFP.

Coastal residents of Davao fled their homes in fear of a tsunami, but rescue workers were trying to convince them to return as no warning was issued, city civil defence chief Rodrigo Bustillo told local television.   "Our volunteers are out to calm the people and tell them there is no tsunami," Bustillo added.   Chief Philippine government seismologist Renato Solidum said there was no risk of a tsunami because the quake occurred inland, but he advised residents to check their homes for possible damage.   "We ran out of the police station, and we also let the inmates at the municipal jail out," patrolwoman Celina Sarte told AFP by telephone from the town of Bansalan.   She said the 10 prisoners were put in handcuffs outside moments later.
Date: Tue, 15 Oct 2019 20:35:37 +0200 (METDST)

Addis Ababa, Oct 15, 2019 (AFP) - Rescue workers on Tuesday used excavators to dig out bodies after a landslide in southern Ethiopia washed away homes and killed more than 20 people, a local official said.    The landslide in the remote district of Konta occurred Sunday following 10 hours of heavy rains, said the official, Takele Tesfu.   "There are 22 people dead and we have only been able to dig up 17 using manpower and machine power," Takele told AFP.   "So far, we cannot get the others, so tomorrow we will continue to dig."     He said the victims included nine women and six children.

While the district -- located in Ethiopia's Southern Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples' Region -- sees landslides with some regularity, Takele said this was the deadliest he could remember.    "The area where this occurred is very mountainous, and this means the landslide was very dangerous," he said.    Ethiopia is nearing the end of its rainy season, but security forces are nonetheless relocating some families for fear that more rain in the coming days could lead to similar disasters, Takele said.
Date: Tue, 15 Oct 2019 10:00:23 +0200 (METDST)

New Delhi, Oct 15, 2019 (AFP) - New Delhi banned the use of diesel generators on Tuesday as pollution levels in the Indian capital exceeded safe limits by more than four times.   Every winter, New Delhi is enveloped in a noxious blanket of smog of car fumes, industrial emissions and smoke from stubble burning at farms outside the megacity of 20 million people.   The ban on generators is part of the Graded Response Action Plan (GRAP) that entered into force on Tuesday.   Other measures that will come into effect as smog levels rise, particularly following the Diwali festival in late October, include banning trucks and setting up a "war room".

From November 4-15, a road-rationing scheme will come into force, meaning cars with odd and even plates would be allowed on alternate days in that period.   "We will hand out anti-pollution masks to schoolchildren next week but the date is yet to be decided," the official told AFP.   Indian authorities have also sought to reduce the burning of stubble by farmers in areas surrounding Delhi.   According to government data, concentrations of particles measuring less than 2.5 microns across -- which can penetrate the lung barrier and enter the blood -- hit 108 icrograms per cubic metre on Tuesday.   This was more than four times the recommended World Health Organization safe daily maximum of 25. In previous years, the level has regularly exceeded 400.   Last year, a UN report found 14 of the world's 15 most polluted cities were in India, with one US study saying it kills a million people prematurely every year.
Date: Tue, 15 Oct 2019 09:50:21 +0200 (METDST)
By Kyoko HASEGAWA

Tokyo, Oct 15, 2019 (AFP) - Rescuers in Japan were working around the clock Tuesday in an increasingly desperate search for survivors of a powerful weekend typhoon that killed nearly 70 people and caused widespread destruction.   Hagibis slammed into Japan on Saturday night, unleashing fierce winds and unprecedented rain that triggered landslides and caused dozens of rivers to burst their banks.   By Tuesday afternoon, local media put the toll at nearly 70, with around a dozen people missing. The government's tally was lower, but it said it was still updating information.   Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said there was no plan to slow rescue operations, with around 110,000 police, coast guard, firefighters and military troops involved.   "Currently in damaged areas rescue work and searches for the missing are continuing around the clock," Abe told parliament.   "Where rivers flooded, work is ongoing to fix spots where banks broke, and water is being pumped out where floods occurred," he added.   The prime minister's office said more than 3,000 people have been rescued in the wake of the disaster, which affected 36 of the country's 47 prefectures.   The defence ministry has called up several hundred reserve troops in addition to active duty soldiers for the first time since the 2011 earthquake and tsunami.

- Rain prompts new warnings -
Government officials warned that more rain was expected throughout the day Tuesday in several parts of the country affected by the typhoon.   "We ask people not to drop their guard and to remain fully alert," chief cabinet secretary Yoshihide Suga. told reporters.   Hagibis crashed into land packing gusts up to 216 kilometres (134 miles) per hour, but it was the storm's heavy rain that caused the most damage.   At least 176 rivers burst their banks, including in central Nagano, where a levee breach sent water from the Chikuma river gushing into residential neighbourhoods and submerging bullet trains in a depot up to their windows.   Deaths were reported across many prefectures and included a man whose apartment was flooded, a municipal worker whose car was caught in rising waters and at least seven crew aboard a cargo ship that sank in Tokyo bay on Saturday night.   By Tuesday morning, some 34,000 households were still without power, and 133,000 homes had no water.   Tens of thousands of people spent Monday night in government shelters, with many unsure when they would be able to return home.   "My frightened daughter can't stop shaking. We want to go home quickly," Rie Nishioka, 39, told Kyodo News agency in Miyagi prefecture.

- Government pledges aid -
The government pledged financial support to affected regions without specifying how much aid it would set aside.   "Support for the victims of the disaster is an urgent task," Abe said.   "There are concerns that the impact on daily life and economic activities may be long-lasting."   Another area affected by the storm was Fukushima, where several bags containing soil and plants collected during nuclear decontamination efforts were washed away.   "Ten bags out of 2,667 were swept into a river during the typhoon, but six of them were recovered yesterday," environment ministry official Keisuke Takagi told AFP, adding that the remaining four bags had been found and would be collected soon.   "Residents must be worried about the environment, but there are no reports that the bags were broken, so there will be nothing to worry about once they have been recovered safely," he said.   Hagibis caused transport chaos over a holiday weekend in Japan, grounding flights and halting train services.   By Tuesday, things were largely back to normal, though some flights were cancelled and train services partially disrupted where tracks or train stock were damaged by the storm.   The typhoon also caused disruption to sporting events, delaying Japanese Grand Prix qualifiers and forcing Rugby World Cup organisers to cancel three matches.   A crunch fixture pitting the hosts against Scotland went ahead on Sunday night, with Japan winning its first-ever quarter final spot.
Date: Mon, 14 Oct 2019 17:55:47 +0200 (METDST)

Harare, Oct 14, 2019 (AFP) - Striking Zimbabwe doctors on Monday defied a court order to return to work, saying a pay rise offered by the government failed to meet everyday costs.   Doctors remained home for a 43rd consecutive day, striking for better pay after their salaries were eroded by the country's spiralling inflation.   Zimbabwe's labour court ruled the action "unlawful" on Friday and ordered the medics back to their wards within 48 hours.

The Zimbabwe Hospital Doctors Association (ZHDA) announced Sunday it would appeal to the Supreme Court.    "We noted the court order but unfortunately we don't have the means by which to comply," said ZHDA spokesman Masimba Ndoro on Monday.   "We remain incapacitated... There is nothing we can do when we don't have the means to go to work and to meet our basic needs," he told AFP.   The doctors say the value of their pay shrank 15-fold over the past year -- a legacy of hyperinflation caused by economic mismanagement under ex-president Robert Mugabe.   His successor Emmerson Mnangagwa has so far failed to redress the situation.    Fuel prices have increased by more than 400 percent since the start of the year, and the ZHDA said that doctors had to use their savings just to show up to hospital each morning.

Negotiations with the government have been deadlocked since the ZHDA rejected a 60-percent salary rise offer.   With pay slips worth less than the equivalent of $100 (91 euros) in some cases, they are demanding doctors' salaries be pegged to the US dollar and have appealed to international bodies to supplement their wages.   "While doctors would want nothing more than to return to work in service of their patients, they continue to be incapacitated and lack the resources to comply with the Labour Court judgement," the ZHDA said in a statement on Sunday.   Nurses joined in the action last week.   "We have reduced the number of days we are coming to work initially to three days a week now we are down to two days," Zimbabwe Nurses Association spokesman Enoch Dongo told AFP.   "If the issue of salaries is not urgently addressed we will soon have a situation where nurses will no longer be able to come to work," he said, adding that nurses were "taking turns" in coming to hospital.      Rural teachers also embarked on strike action on Monday with a stay-at-home protest "against underpayment".   "We urge the government to respect our right to engage in job actions and peacefully protest demanding a living wage," the Amalgamated Rural Teachers Union of Zimbabwe posted on Twitter.
Date: Mon, 14 Oct 2019 16:33:26 +0200 (METDST)
By Daniel BOSQUE

Barcelona, Oct 14, 2019 (AFP) - "I feel fury and a sense of powerlessness," said Joan Guich, a 19-year-old student protesting in Barcelona after Spain's Supreme Court jailed nine Catalan leaders jailed over a failed independence bid.   "They have been convicted for an ideology which I agree with."   Within minutes of the ruling demonstrators had poured onto the streets of the Catalan capital, waving flags and blocking traffic over the conviction of the separatist leaders who organised a 2017 referendum banned by Madrid.   "We have to mobilise and stick up for them ... in a way that has an impact, closing airports, stations, but always avoiding violence," Guich said. "Or at least, it won't be us that provokes it."

Workers rallied outside their offices, university students walked out of classes and regional lawmakers demonstrated inside Catalonia's parliament, where most of the defendants had held a senior role.   "Today is going to be historic, you can feel it in the atmosphere. Serious things are happening, we can't stay home," said Oscar Quiles, a 47-year-old real estate entrepreneur.   News of the verdict reached him as he arrived at the office and he immediately called his mother to join him at a protest in Plaza Cataluna in the centre of Barcelona.   By noon the square was packed with thousands of demonstrators, many waving yellow, red and blue Catalan separatist flags or banners reading "We would do it again" and "Freedom for political prisoners".   The protesters then set off walking towards Barcelona's airport, Spain's second busiest, in the hope of blocking it, just as pro-democracy activists have done recently in Hong Kong.

- 'Weeks of mobilisation' -
Tension gripped Barcelona on Monday morning ahead of the ruling, with a heavy police presence outside the courts, the airport and the city's main train station, as a helicopter flew overhead.    Democratic Tsunami, a group advocating more active forms of civil disobedience, had urged demonstrators to hit the streets as soon as the verdicts were announced.   "Tomorrow everyone ready! When the verdict is out, the response will be immediate," said the group in a message to its roughly 150,000 followers on mobile messaging service Telegram.   Juli Cuellar, a 44-year-old office worker, said he believed the verdict was politically motivated.    "Now all we have left is a life of civil and institutional disobedience," he told AFP, predicting "weeks of mobilisation".   The Catalan National Assembly (ANC) and Omnium Cultural, the region's two biggest grassroots pro-independence groups, have also called supporters to attend an evening rally. They have organised some of the largest separatist protests in recent years.   Several more protests are scheduled over the next few days across Catalonia, as well as a general strike on Friday.

- 'Felt like crying' -
Democratic Tsunami, the group that called the gathering in Plaza Cataluna, only emerged in recent weeks. It says it does not depend on Catalan separatist parties or civil associations for support.   Its leaders remain unknown, keeping in touch with each other through encrypted messaging apps such as Wire.   But supporters tend to be kept in the dark until the last minute.   "We don't know exactly what we have to do," said Arnau Font, a 22-year-old shop assistant who took the week off to protest.   "We have to get involved. Right now I feel really powerless in light of the verdicts," he told AFP.    "When I found out, I felt like crying."   The uncertainty was over a few minutes later when a Telegram message arrived urging everyone to "go to the airport", a 15-kilometre (nine-mile) walk from the city centre.    "The time has come to make our voice felt around the world. The goal: stop the activity of Barcelona's airport," it said.   Spain's airport operator Aena said no flights were disrupted, but many passengers got stuck in traffic jams leading to the airport.
Date: Mon, 14 Oct 2019 14:09:03 +0200 (METDST)

Frankfurt am Main, Oct 14, 2019 (AFP) - German cabin crew union UFO urged members Monday to walk off their jobs at airline giant Lufthansa on October 20, although the carrier contests its right to represent workers.   "We call on all cabin crew... not to show up to work" between six and eleven am (0400 to 0900 GMT) at Germany's two busiest hubs Frankfurt and Munich, Ufo chairman Daniel Flohr said in a video message to staff.   At least five of the Lufthansa group's airlines -- Lufthansa, Eurowings, Germanwings, Cityline and Sunexpress -- would be hit by strikes for higher pay in the coming weeks, Flohr added.

Lufthansa told AFP it would "maintain its entire timetable", calling UFO's call to strike "illegal".   Bosses at the airline group believe UFO may no longer have the legal right to speak for workers and have challenged its status in court.   Internal disputes at the union have cost it members and support among cabin crew, some of whom have now turned to other representative organisations.   Berlin daily Tagesspiegel on Monday called UFO a "half-dead" outfit.   "UFO is battling for its life," agreed business daily Handelsblatt.   "With its far-reaching call for strikes, it wants to show members it remains capable of acting and is representing cabin crew interests."   Lufthansa could also contest before a court whether UFO has the right to initiate a strike -- potentially leaving the worker representatives on the hook for any resulting costs.
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."