WORLD NEWS

Getting countries ...
Select countries and read reports below or

Morocco

General
********************************************
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
t.
Safety & Security
********************************************
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
********************************************
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
********************************************
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
********************************************
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
********************************************
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
********************************************
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
********************************************
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
********************************************
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
********************************************
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
********************************************
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
********************************************
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
********************************************
There are no essential vaccines for entry into Morocco from Ireland. However most tourists are advised to consider adequate cover against:
*
Poliomyelitis (childhood booster)
*
Tetanus (childhood booster)
*
Typhoid (food and water disease)
*
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
********************************************
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: Mon 12 Nov 2018, 9.54 AM EST
Source: The Guardian [edited]

A Briton has died after contracting rabies while visiting Morocco, public health officials have said. The UK resident was infected with the disease after being bitten by a cat, Public Health England (PHE) said on [Mon 12 Nov 2018]. PHE did not release any further details but reassured the public there was no wider risk. It said health workers and close contacts of the deceased were being assessed and offered vaccination where necessary.

Jimmy Whitworth, the professor of international public health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, told the Press Association: "My understanding is that this is somebody who had contact with a cat that was behaving abnormally and sought care, I believe in Morocco and in the UK, but unfortunately didn't receive vaccination until it was too late. I believe that the cat bit this person a few weeks ago."

He said that symptoms typically took 2 to 3 months to appear but could materialise in as little as a week. "That's why seeking prompt care and getting vaccination is so important," he said. "In this tragic case the person didn't get the vaccine in time." Given the lack of information, Whitworth said it was impossible to know whether the delay was in the UK or Morocco but it illustrated the importance of health workers being aware of the possibility of the disease.

There are no documented instances of direct human to human transmission of rabies. The disease does not circulate in either wild or domestic animals in the UK, although some species of bats can carry a rabies-like virus.

[Rabies] is common elsewhere, including in parts of Asia and Africa. PHE said the case was a reminder to travellers to rabies-affected countries to avoid contact with dogs, cats and other animals wherever possible, and seek advice about the need for a rabies vaccine prior to travel.

Dr Mary Ramsay, the head of immunisations at PHE, said: "This is an important reminder of the precautions people should take when travelling to countries where rabies is present. If you are bitten, scratched or licked by an animal you must wash the wound or site of exposure with plenty of soap and water and seek medical advice without delay."

It is only the 6th case of human rabies in the UK since 2000, all but one caused by animal exposure overseas. The last was in 2012, when a woman in her 50s died in London after being bitten by a dog in South Asia. She was reportedly turned away twice by doctors at a hospital in Kent before she was finally diagnosed.  [byline: Haroon Siddique]
======================
[According to another media source, the victim, a 58 year old man from Aylesbury Bucks, was staying 30 miles away from the Moroccan capital Rabat, visiting family, when he was infected with the disease. He did receive treatment but allegedly was not given anti-rabies serum in time;  <https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-6382379/PICTURED-British-father-two-died-rabies-UK.html>.

The following statistics on rabies in animals were submitted by
Morocco for 2016 (last available annual report):
Official vaccinations in dogs: 71 759
Rabies outbreaks: 76

species / cases / deaths / killed
dogs / 41 / 28 / 13
cats / 12 / 11 / 1
bovine / 71/ 62 / 9
equine / 44/ 38/ 6
ovine / 6 / 5 / 1

The numbers of human cases, as reported to the OIE for the years 2010-2015, were 19, 18, 19, 24, 20, and 19, respectively. The number of human cases during 2016 (the most recent available data) was 17.

The tourism industry is well developed in Morocco; in 2017, Morocco was Africa's top tourist destination, with 10.3 million tourist arrivals, most of them from Europe, predominantly France and Spain. In the past, cases of rabies in animals illegally introduced from Morocco with returning visitors were recorded in France

The event is being investigated. - ProMED Mod.AS]

[HealthMap/ProMED maps available at:
England, United Kingdom: <http://healthmap.org/promed/p/279>
Date: Mon, 12 Nov 2018 15:54:12 +0100

London, United Kingdom, Nov 12, 2018 (AFP) - A Briton has died after being bitten by a cat with rabies in Morocco, officials said Monday, only the seventh known case in the United Kingdom since 2000.   England's health service issued a reminder Monday for travellers to avoid coming into contact with animals when travelling to rabies affected countries, particularly those in Asia and Africa.

Rabies has been effectively eradicated in Britain, although they do still spread among some bats.   "There is no risk to the wider public in relation to this case but, as a precautionary measure, health workers and close contacts are being assessed and offered vaccination when necessary," said Mary Ramsay, the health service's chief of immunisation.   The Press Association news agency said the person was bitten a few weeks ago and not given potentially life-saving treatment early enough.

Rabies is a viral disease that causes an inflammation of the brain. It is usually fatal by the time the first symptoms emerge.   England's health service said that no cases of humans acquiring the disease from any animal other than a bat have been recorded within the country since 1902.   One person acquired it from a bat in Scotland in 2002, and five people contacted while travelling between 2002 and 2017, the health service said.
Date: Thu 25 Oct 2018
Source: Medias24.com [In French, trans. ProMED Corr.SB, edited]

Cases of cutaneous leishmaniasis have been confirmed in Tata. The treatment of all cases of cutaneous leishmaniasis recently recorded in the province of Tata have been paid for, free of charge, by the health services under the Ministry of Health, said the regional department of this department at Massa.

"Following the information relayed about the appearance of cases of leishmaniasis in the commune of Kasbat Sidi Abdellah Ben M'bark, in the province of Tata, the Directorate undertook on [19 and 21 Oct 2018] in-depth research thanks to a team of senior staff from the regional directorate of the Ministry of Health at the provincial level; samples were taken from patients suspected of having cutaneous leishmaniasis, and the necessary laboratory tests confirmed that a certain number of students were suffering from this disease," said the same source in a statement.

All the registered cases were taken care of, says the same source, at the health centre level 1 of the commune of Akka, and the rural health centre level 1 of the commune Kasbat Sidi Abdellah Ben M'bark, under the responsibility of province of Tata.

The same source confirmed that "the urban health centre and the rural health centre have all the medicines needed to treat such cases." The provincial health services of Tata remain mobilized, along with other stakeholders, to overcome the causes and effects of this disease, the statement added.
=====================
[The _Leishmania_ situation in Morocco according to the WHO

This environmental complexity is reflected in the diversity of leishmaniasis. _Leishmania infantum_, _Leishmania major_ and _Leishmania tropica_ all occur, each in a specific range of vegetation types (bioclimatic stages).

Zoonotic cutaneous leishmaniasis due to _L. major_ occurs in unpredictable outbreaks in the south and south-east; _Phlebotomus papatasi_ is the vector, and the reservoir host has been identified as _Meriones shawi_. The transmission of _L. major_ from rodents to humans occurs at the end of the sandfly season (September and October). After a short incubation period of one week to 2 months, the lesions start to be seen in humans in late autumn and usually heal in less than 6 months. Sporadic zoonotic cutaneous leishmaniasis cases due to variants of _L. infantum_ occur in the north of the country.

Anthroponotic cutaneous leishmaniasis due to _L. tropica_ occurs in towns and villages in the centre of the country. The epidemiology of cutaneous leishmaniasis due to _L. tropica_ in Morocco is much more complex and less well understood than that of either visceral leishmaniasis or zoonotic cutaneous leishmaniasis.

The disease occurs at hypo-endemic intensity in separate foci between Tadla and Agadir, in the "subhumid" climate zone north and west of the High Atlas. Studies have shown discrepancy between the parasites in humans and vectors, this being an anomaly that requires further investigation, and strongly indicates the possibility of an unknown reservoir host.

Recent studies have found new focus on anthroponotic cutaneous leishmaniasis, and the emergence of cutaneous leishmaniasis is a current public health problem in Morocco. - ProMED Mod.EP]


HealthMap/ProMED map:
Date: Mon 1 Oct 2018
Source: Le Maroc Aujourd'hui [in French, trans. ProMED Mod.AB, edited]

Rabies continues to spread in Morocco despite the existence of a national multisectoral strategy. According to the latest statistics from the Ministry of Health, published on the occasion of the World Day [28 September] against this disease, 15 cases of human rabies were notified in 2017. The Ministry also reports that 65 000 people were vaccinated in 2017 while receiving post exposure prophylaxis (PEP) after being bitten or scratched by animals, especially by stray dogs. In 9 out of 10 cases, the affected person was contaminated by a rabid dog. Indeed, the reservoir and main vector of this disease is the dog, which is at the origin of the majority of the contaminations as WHO points out: "In up to 99 per cent of the cases in humans, the disease is transmitted by domestic dogs, but the virus can infect other domestic animals as well as wildlife. It is transmitted to humans, in general, by the saliva of infected animals during a bite or scratch." In Morocco, 400 cases of animal rabies are reported each year.

As regards the distribution of human rabies cases by region, Casablanca-Settat is 1st, with 83 cases notified during the period 2000-2017, followed by the regions of Rabat-Sale-Kenitra (55 cases), Marrakech-Safi (49 cases), Souss-Massa (42 cases), Fes-Meknes (37 cases), Tangier-Tetouan-Al Hoceima (32 cases), Beni-Mellal-Khenifra (30 cases), Oriental (22 cases) and Draa-Tafilalet (17 cases). The provinces most affected are those that concentrate a high density of the canine population. The analysis of epidemiological data shows that 9 provinces record more than 40 per cent of cases. They are Kenitra, El Jadida, Settat, Sidi Kacem, Kela Sraghna, Chtouka Ait Baha, Errachidia, Taounate, and Beni Mellal.

The national rabies strategy has not succeeded so far in eradicating rabies in Morocco. There are several reasons for this situation, starting with the lack of reliable statistics on the canine population, especially domestic dogs. There is a lack of continuing education among health professionals and especially a lack of an evaluation of the national program. The lack of awareness and communication about this disease among citizens is another major problem. Other obstacles include weak intersectoral coordination between the animal health and human health sectors at both central and provincial levels, non-compliance by local communities with hygiene standards in slaughterhouses and landfills, and inadequate vaccination measures in animals.

Post-exposure prophylaxis raises the issue of accessibility and availability of vaccines and other anti-rabies treatments in rabies centres. To this is added the problem of the availability of trained personnel in the field of prophylaxis.

The major challenge is to eliminate rabies in Morocco by moving from a control strategy to an eradication strategy. This serious viral disease could be virtually eradicated if 70 per cent of dogs were vaccinated, as recommended by WHO. The Ministry of Health is optimistic and says it will be possible to eliminate the disease by 2030.  [byline: Laila Zerrour]
======================
[Numerous obstacles are listed to address the challenges facing rabies control in Morocco, despite the availability of preventive vaccines for animal use and the almost satisfied demand for vaccines given to humans following animal bites and scratches. Another crucial issue is the lack of reliable statistics on the canine population, from which any ambitious national program that can achieve the target of ending human rabies by 2030 should start. This is what Cote d'Ivoire has done to get off to a good start in the realization of its national program. - ProMED Mod.AB]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map of Morocco:
Date: Thu 5 Jul 2018
Source: Eurosurveillance [edited]

[ref: Gassowski M, Michaelis K, Wenzel JJ, et al: Two concurrent outbreaks of hepatitis A highlight the risk of infection for non-immune travellers to Morocco, January to June 2018. Euro Surveill. 2018; 23(27):pii=1800329]
----------------------------------------------------------------------
We report on 2 distinct hepatitis A virus strains that are causing cases in travellers returning from Morocco and autochthonous cases in several European countries between 1 Jan and 18 Jun 2018.

On 2 May 2018, Denmark reported a cluster of hepatitis A virus (HAV) infections with the subgenotype IA strain DK2018_231, through the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC)'s Epidemic Intelligence Information System (EPIS) for food- and waterborne diseases and zoonoses (FWD). 1 of the 3 confirmed cases had travelled to Morocco. In response, 5 additional European Union (EU) countries (France, Germany, the Netherlands, Spain, and the United Kingdom (UK)) reported cases (n=20) infected with the same strain between 21 Jan and 10 Apr 2018. Concurrently, Germany reported to EPIS that it observed more cases of hepatitis A with travel history to Morocco than expected, compared with the same period in the previous 5 years. Molecular analysis of the HAV VP1/P2A region revealed an unrelated cluster of the HAV subgenotype IB strain V18-16428. Cases infected with this unrelated strain were also reported from France, the Netherlands, Sweden, and UK.

The appearance of clusters with a link to Morocco triggered further epidemiological investigations.
For the investigation of the 2 clusters, the case definitions in the Box were used. The Figure shows the epidemiological curve depicting both clusters [for Box and Figure, see source URL above - ProMED Mod.LL]

In order to consider possible mutations, we included closely related strains with a cut-off of 2 nucleotides (99.4 percent identity) in the case definition.

Subgenotype IA cluster (DK2018_231)
-----------------------------------
As at 18 Jun 2018, 55 cases belonging to the subgenotype IA-cluster were reported from 8 European countries. The UK reported the highest number of cases (n=36). Denmark, France, Germany, Ireland, the Netherlands, Spain, and Sweden each reported between 1 and 6 cases. Some few cases (n=22/55) identified in Ireland, Spain, and the UK differ from strain DK2018_231 by 1 or 2 nucleotides in the VP1/P2A junction.

Onset of symptoms among the cases ranged between mid-January and mid-June 2018. Cases were between 3 and 81 years old with a median of 31 years (interquartile range (IQR): 12.5-52 years); 47 percent (n=26/55) were female. 3 cases reported travel to Morocco within 50 days before disease onset; 1 case in their early 50s who had no known pre-existing conditions, died as a result of HAV infection.

Variants of strain DK2018_231 differing by only 1 or 2 nucleotides are considered as part of this cluster. The occurrence of closely related strains of HAV have been observed in other major food-borne outbreaks [1-3]. It is, however, still possible that cases actually belong to separate transmission chains.

Subgenotype IB cluster (V18-16428)
----------------------------------
As at 18 Jun 2018, the subgenotype IB-cluster consisted of 33 confirmed cases; 25 travel-related and 8 autochthonous (Table [for Table, see source URL - Mod.LL]). Most cases were reported by Germany (n=15), France (n=8), and the UK (n=6), with Sweden and the Netherlands only reporting 1 and 3 cases, respectively. Sequencing results of the VP1/P2A junctions revealed a 100% identity. Onset of symptoms ranged from the beginning of April to mid-May. All travel-related cases reported travel to Morocco in March. The overall age range of cases were between 8 and 76 years, with a median of 51 years (IQR: 26-61 years); 55 percent (n=18/33) were female.

Early results from case interviews in Germany and France
--------------------------------------------------------
The travel-related cases in Germany were initially suspected to belong to the IA cluster, but the sequencing results revealed a different subgenotype. A case-control study of the German cases is underway, and 16 travel-related cases (8 confirmed, 8 possible) and 4 autochthonous cases have been interviewed so far for potential exposures. All autochthonous cases have reported consumption of food items brought home by travelers returning from Morocco, with dates being the only food item reported by all 4 cases. Among the 16 travel-associated cases, 14 reported date consumption during their stay in Morocco. In France, 1 patient reported bringing dates back from Morocco and eating these together with 2 other persons, all 3 of whom developed symptoms after the same incubation time.

Based on these preliminary results, dates are currently the suspected vehicle in this cluster, though investigation is ongoing.

Vaccination status
------------------
Information regarding hepatitis A vaccination status was collected from the German travel-related cases via interview, including reasons for non-vaccination. Preliminary results show that of the 15 travel-related cases (1 case refused to be re-interviewed), 13 were either not vaccinated or unsure of their vaccination status. 11 cases stated that they had been unaware of the risk of HAV in Morocco, while 6 reported that they did not know there was a vaccination against hepatitis A. During the interviews, several cases stated that there was a lack of information regarding vaccination recommendations for Morocco in the travel guides and tour operator documents they had used when preparing for their trip.

Unvaccinated travel-related cases were also reported from Denmark (n=3), France (n=41), the Netherlands (n=3), and Spain (n=5); reasons for non-vaccination were not collected. Vaccination status was not available for all other travel-related cases from these countries or from Ireland, Sweden, and the UK.

Discussion and conclusion
-------------------------
The occurrence of the 2 concurrent HAV clusters in the 1st 6 months of 2018 serve as a reminder of the risk of contracting hepatitis A in Morocco, a country with intermediate endemicity [4,5]. HAV subgenotypes IA and IB are known to circulate in Morocco and strain DK2018_231 has been observed in sporadic cases with travel history to Morocco in previous years [6-8]. Despite the different characteristics of the 2 reported clusters, cases with a travel history to Morocco feature in both. In a recent study of European travellers, Turkey, Egypt, and Morocco were listed as the top 3 destinations for acquiring travel-associated hepatitis A and accounted for 1/3 of cases in the period 2009-15 [9]. The epidemiological link to Morocco is more apparent in cluster IB, where the majority of cases had confirmed travelling to Morocco and all interviewed autochthonous cases had reported consuming food items brought home from there.

In the IA cluster, only 3 cases had travelled to Morocco. However, the large proportion of autochthonous cases and their spatial distribution in this cluster suggest that an imported food item may have served as the vehicle in this outbreak. Large food-borne hepatitis A outbreaks from frozen berries and semi-dried tomatoes have previously affected European countries, further indicating that imported contaminated food products pose a risk to the increasingly susceptible general population in Europe [10-13].

The outbreaks described here illustrate the increased risk that non-immune travellers face when visiting HAV-endemic areas like Morocco. All of the 8 countries where cases occurred have explicit recommendations of hepatitis A vaccination for travel to endemic countries, in accordance with World Health Organization (WHO) recommendations [14,15]. Yet it appears that it is not uncommon for people to travel unvaccinated to HAV-endemic countries. An outbreak investigation of hepatitis A in travellers to Egypt between 2012 and 2013 found a high proportion of travellers who were not immunised before travelling [16,17]. Interviews with the German cases have rendered similar results, suggesting that there may be an information gap regarding both the risk of hepatitis A and the availability of a safe and effective vaccine.

Conclusions
-----------
Thus, vaccination recommendations for hepatitis A need to be repeatedly emphasised, particularly before and during peak travel seasons. In order to better reach individuals travelling to endemic countries, we propose engaging travel companies and airlines to inform and remind travellers about vaccination recommendations, as has been suggested by others [16,18]. Special attention should also be given to populations with a Moroccan origin living in the EU/EEA, who may regularly be travelling to Morocco. These populations need to be alerted that particularly their children are most likely susceptible to HAV infection and should be vaccinated [19]. Finally, as hepatitis A vaccination does not protect from many other foodborne infections, additional recommendations to follow sound hygiene including hand hygiene should be given to the public.

References:
Complete references are available at the source URL above.
=====================
[These concurrent hepatitis A outbreaks were introduced into the EU by visitors to Morocco who either were infected in the African country or brought contaminated food back to the EU. To prevent HAV infections, travelers to countries with high endemicity should be immunized prior to travel. - ProMED Mod.LL]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail maps:
More ...

World Travel News Headlines

Date: Thu, 13 Dec 2018 06:41:40 +0100

Hanoi, Dec 13, 2018 (AFP) - Floods caused by heavy downpours have killed 13 people in central Vietnam, officials said Thursday, as farmers scrambled to save crops and livestock ahead of more bad weather forecast for this week.   Torrential rains have lashed six provinces in the centre of the country since Saturday, killing thousands of cows and chickens and flooding several cities -- including the coastal resort town of Danang.    More than 50 centimetres (20 inches) of rain hit some areas, with more downpours expected in the coming days, the disaster management office said Thursday.   "Thirteen people were killed, while one remains missing in Quang Ngai province," the office said.    Around 12,000 hectares of crops were destroyed, and some 160,000 livestock killed, it added.

One farmer in Quang Nam province said he lost all his chickens in the flooding, costing him tens of thousands of dollars.       "The water receded but thousands of our chickens were dead. We had to collect them for burial as the smell was so bad," Nguyen Thanh said, quoted by state-run Tuoi Tre newspaper.    Several areas in Quang Nam and Quang Ngai provinces were still inundated on Thursday after hydropower plants discharged reservoir waters.    Vietnam is frequently hit by heavy downpours during the typhoon season from May to October, but forecasters said the rains arrived late this year.     More than 200 people have been killed in weather-related disasters in 2018, down from 389 last year.
Date: Wed, 12 Dec 2018 08:14:22 +0100

Bangkok, Dec 12, 2018 (AFP) - A French tourist was gunned down early Wednesday by an off-duty Thai cop after a drunken bar fight in a seedy Bangkok district, police said.   The 41-year-old Parisian was shot dead at a downtown apartment block after an altercation with the police sergeant major who had approached the tourist's Thai girlfriend.     "They were drunk... they started to argue and then had a fist fight but the policeman couldn't fight back," the Chief of Thailand's Immigration Police Surachate Hakpan told AFP.   "The policeman followed him back to his place and shot him twice," he said, adding the victim had been in Thailand for several months.

The officer has been arrested and "will be fired... and prosecuted on a murder charge", Surachate added.   Police are hunting a second suspect seen on CCTV.    Gruesome pictures circulated on Thai media showed the victim lying in a pool of blood in front of a doughnut shop at his apartment block.    Bangkok is one of the world's most visited cities, famed for its food and racy nightlife, much of it around Nana district where the murder took place.    Thailand as a grim reputation for its gun culture, with drunken arguments, business disputes and soured romances frequently resolved by violence.
Date: Wed, 12 Dec 2018 02:09:59 +0100

Mexico City, Dec 12, 2018 (AFP) - A massive fireworks explosion during a procession at a Mexican church killed eight people Tuesday and left some 50 wounded, authorities said.   Two children aged 11 and 12 were among those killed in the accident, which occurred around dawn at the San Jose parish atrium in Tequisquiapan, some 145 kilometres (90 miles) northwest of Mexico City.

Parishioners had donated the fireworks for a festival, but "something went wrong and they exploded," said Gabriel Bastarrachea, emergency response official for the state of Queretaro.   A video posted on social media showed people marching toward the church in a festive procession when suddenly a giant, fiery blast sent them running and screaming.

It was the latest in a string of deadly fireworks accidents in Mexico, where a thriving but dangerous cottage industry supplies a seemingly endless array of colourful explosives to celebrate holidays and festivals.   At least 24 people were killed in a series of fireworks explosions last July in the town of Tultepec in central Mexico, and 42 people were killed there when a rocket exploded in December 2016 at the height of the Christmas fireworks rush.
Date: Tue, 11 Dec 2018 22:14:43 +0100

Bogota, Dec 11, 2018 (AFP) - The abandoned building where Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar lived will be covered in posters paying tribute to the victims of his Medellin Cartel before it is torn down next year.   The exhibition is part of a move by municipal authorities to tell the other side of Escobar's story -- that of his victims -- to counter a surge of television series glamorizing his life and that of his cartel.   "Respect our pain, honour our victims (1983-1994). 46,612 fewer lives," reads the message on one of the posters that now greet Medillin's "narco-tourists" flocking to the Monaco apartment block.

Portraits of slain journalist Guillermo Cano, gunned down in 1986, former presidential candidate Luis Carlos Galan and police chief Valdemar Quintero -- both murdered in 1989 -- are emblazoned over a message that reads, in English: "It is not fiction, it is reality."   Mayor Federico Gutierrez told reporters that the tourist site had become a "symbol of illegality."   "Now, there are messages that should lead us to reflect," he said.   The posters will remain affixed to the building until municipal workers tear it down on February 22, more than 25 years after Escobar was shot dead by police in 1993.     The former luxury block will be replaced by a municipal park.
Date: Tue, 11 Dec 2018 19:29:44 +0100

Beni, DR Congo, Dec 11, 2018 (AFP) - Children account for a third of Ebola cases in an outbreak of the disease in the Democratic Republic of Congo, with hundreds orphaned or isolated, the United Nations said on Tuesday.   Nearly 300 people have died from the highly contagious disease since August in the restive east around the city of Beni.

The UN children's agency UNICEF said the organisation and its partners had identified more than 400 children who have been orphaned or isolated during the outbreak.    "We are deeply concerned by the growing number of children confirmed to have contracted Ebola," said UNICEF's Regional Director for West and Central Africa, Marie-Pierre Poirier, returning from Beni.    "The earlier children infected with Ebola receive treatment in a specialised health facility, the greater their chances of survival. Community mobilisation and public awareness activities are also crucial."

After it was declared on August 1 -- the tenth outbreak in DR Congo since 1976 -- at least 285 people have died, according to the last health ministry update on December 9.   Nearly 44,000 people have been vaccinated.   The outbreak has hit an area already struggling with violence from armed groups.   In November, medical and vaccination efforts were briefly suspended and health workers evacuated after clashes between UN peacekeepers and fighters from the local Allied Democratic Forces militia.
Date: Tue, 11 Dec 2018 14:28:55 +0100

Paris, Dec 11, 2018 (AFP) - The soaring Arc de Triomphe at the top of the Champs-Elysees in Paris will reopen Wednesday after being covered in graffiti and ransacked during anti-government protests which rocked the capital on December 1, the French monuments commission said.   The arc, under which lies the tomb of the unknown soldier, commemorating France's war dead, has been a focal point of the "yellow vest" rallies against fuel tax increases and the cost of living which began on November 17.   But the demonstrations degenerated into daylong clashes with police early this month, with protesters spray-painting the arc with slogans such as "the yellow vests will win."

The protesters later managed to break into the monument where they smashed sculptures and display cases in an underground gallery and snatched commemorative medals and other items.   They also snuffed out the eternal flame burning on the tomb of the unknown soldier.    Some protesters were also seen on the top of the landmark building which offers panoramic views of the capital.   "All the networks and equipment essential for the security and proper functioning of the monument will have been restored and repaired," the commission said in a statement Tuesday.   "Some furniture, notably in the gift shop and library, have been temporarily repaired while awaiting new installations," it added.   It said the damage was estimated at several hundred thousands of euros (dollars).   Thirteen people were charged last week over the looting and destruction and investigations are continuing to identify other suspects.
Date: Tue, 11 Dec 2018 13:30:30 +0100

Madrid, Dec 11, 2018 (AFP) - Spanish railway workers will stage a nationwide strike on December 21 and January 7 during the busy Christmas holiday period over job cuts and working conditions, a union said Tuesday.   The "main reason" for the strike is the "continued reduction in the number of staff" at state train operator Renfe and state rail infrastructure company Adif, the CCOO union, one of the main trade unions representing rail workers, said in a statement.   "We are mobilising to recover the jobs which have been lost, improve purchasing power and ensure agreed pay increases come into effect," said Manuel Nicolas Taguas, general secretary of the railway workers sector at the CCOO.   The union says that since 2005 the workforce employed by the two companies in charge of Spain's rail network has been slashed by around 5,000 workers to roughly 26,000 employees.   The union representing Renfe rail guards has called a one day strike on December 14 to protest working conditions.
Date: Mon, 10 Dec 2018 14:05:06 +0100

Nairobi, Dec 10, 2018 (AFP) - South Sudan will vaccinate key health workers against Ebola close to the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo, which faces a new epidemic, the World Health Organization said Monday.   The ministry of health's vaccination campaign, with cooperation from the WHO, will target healthcare and frontline workers in the high-risk states of Juba, Yei, Yambio and Nimule, the UN agency said in a statement.   South Sudan is one of several countries bordering the vast DRC, where the new outbreak of the highly contagious viral disease had since August claimed 271 lives by December 6, according to Congolese Health Minister Oly Ilunga Kalenga.

A total of 2,160 doses of the experimental vaccine rVSV-ZEBOV have been allocated to South Sudan for a programme starting on December 19. This trial vaccine is not yet licenced but is considered safe and provided "under the compassionate-use guidelines in response to the ongoing Ebola outbreak in DRC", the WHO said.   Like neighbouring Uganda, where similar measures have been taken for health personnel, South Sudan has declared a state of alert because of the risk that Ebola may be carried into its territory. At present, no cases have been reported, according the WHO.   The experimental vaccine first went on trial during the terrible epidemic of Ebola that ravaged parts of West Africa between the end of 2013 and 2016, at a cost of more than 11,300 lives. The disease spreads through contact with bodily fluids from other people or infected animals.

The vaccine was created by Canadian public health specialists at the National Microbiology Laboratory and is considered highly effective by the WHO, but it works only against the Ebola virus-Zaire strain, confirmed in the outbreak in the DRC.   South Sudan has been torn by civil war for five years in a conflict that has left nearly 400,000 dead. More than four million people -- about a third of the population -- have fled.   The main belligerents signed a peace accord in September, but the work of humanitarian organisations remains complicated and dangerous.   Participants in the vaccination programme have been trained on rVSV-ZEBOV and undertaken a simulation exercise. Meanwhile, the Ebola preparedness contingency plan covers measures ranging from screening travellers, community engagement and provision for safe and dignified funerals, the WHO said.
Date: Mon, 10 Dec 2018 11:42:55 +0100

Bangkok, Dec 10, 2018 (AFP) - An Iranian man has been arrested after using travel freebies to lure an unsuspecting Japanese tourist into smuggling a bag of clothes laced with crystal meth, Thai police said Monday.   The tourist, whose name has not been disclosed, found the deal on a travel website that offered free getaways to Thailand, Shanghai and Frankfurt, complete with thousands in spending money.

But after arriving in Thailand last week, he was handed "suspicious" luggage for his next trip to Shanghai, Itthipol Itthisarnronnachai, deputy chief of Thailand's immigration department, told reporters.   "Inside the bag, he found clothes that felt more solid than usual. He then contacted the Japanese embassy," Itthipol said.   Police said the clothes had been coated with crystal methamphetamine -- known as ice.

Four bags of the drug were also found, adding up to 2.2 kilogrammes (4.9 pounds) in total.    Thailand gets 35 million tourists a year and some fall prey to low-level scams or robbery, but few are swept up in transnational drug-running.   "It's a never-seen-before method, luring tourists to traffick drugs out of the country," Itthipol added.

Demand for meth is surging in the region at a time when authorities are attempting to crack down on the lucrative business.   Police said the Iranian national was arrested when he went to retrieve the luggage after the Japanese man pretended to be sick and said he wanted to cancel the trip.   They found 10 kilogrammes of ice and ice-coated clothing in the suspect's apartment.   "We will pursue this case and investigate networks in Thailand and Japan to take down this scam," Itthipol said.
Date: Mon, 10 Dec 2018 08:53:28 +0100

Frankfurt am Main, Dec 10, 2018 (AFP) - Germany was plunged into transport chaos Monday as most train services were halted by a railworkers' strike over pay, affecting millions of passengers.   Inter-city and regional services as well as many urban commuter trains were cancelled throughout Europe's biggest economy by the four-hour stoppage from 5:00 am (0400 GMT), Deutsche Bahn (DB) said.   The strike halted all high-speed ICE trains and other inter-city services as well as most cargo trains, and its ripple effects and delays were expected to continue well into the afternoon.   In the capital Berlin, where additionally the entire public announcement system broke down, frustrated commuters were asked to switch from S-Bahn commuter trains operated by DB to subways, buses or trams.

The strike came after talks broke down Saturday between the DB and the EVG rail workers' union, which is demanding a 7.5-percent salary rise for 160,000 employees.   "The employer made offers which did not correspond to the demands of our members," said EVG negotiator Regina Rusch-Ziemba.   DB shot back and described the strike as a "completely unnecessary escalation", insisting its offer was "attractive and met the main demands" of employees.   DB had offered a pay rise of 5.1 percent in two phases, with an option for staff to take extra time off instead, and a one-off payment of 500 euros ($570), the DPA national news agency reported.   Deutsche Bahn in a tweet also denied it had broken off the negotiations, charging that "the EVG left the talks and went on strike".   "DB remains ready to continue the negotiations at any time. There is an open invitation for today."

The strike also impacted DB customer services offices, meaning that in many stations passengers were left without information over loudspeakers or display boards.   DB said that purchased tickets would remain valid until next Sunday or could be refunded and urged passengers to delay travel where possible.   It also called on the union -- which threatened follow-up strikes if necessary -- to return to the negotiating table quickly.   A DB spokeswoman said: "Parties that negotiate must be prepared to make concessions. DB has asked the EVG to continue the talks this afternoon."