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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
t.
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: Tue, 18 Feb 2020 15:26:41 +0100 (MET)
By Ismail BELLAOUALI

AIT-BEN-HADDOU, Morocco, Feb 18, 2020 (AFP) - Millions worldwide may have seen the desert fortress in the hit fantasy series "Game of Thrones", but fewer know they can visit the Moroccan village of Ait-Ben-Haddou.   The fortified old settlement at the foot of the majestic Atlas mountains enchanted audiences in the HBO series and also served as a dusty backdrop in Ridley Scott's epic swords-and-sandals film "Gladiator".

But unlike other famous locations from movie and television history, this UNESCO World Heritage Site has so far missed out on a mass influx of tourism -- something some of its inhabitants are eager to change.    "Several people have told me that they came here to see the filming location of 'Game of Thrones'," said Ahmed Baabouz, a local tour guide. "There is tourism linked to cinema here but frankly we have not developed it to the extent it could be."   Ait-Ben-Haddou is southern Morocco's most famous fortress. Time seems to have stopped at the site overlooking a valley some 30 kilometres (18.6 miles) from the town of Ouarzazate.

After passing through the imposing entrance way, visitors navigate a labyrinth of winding alleys that eventually lead onto a public square where the settlement's inhabitants once gathered.    There is a mosque and two cemeteries -- one for Muslims and one for Jews. Most inhabitants have long since departed though, with a few homes converted into stalls selling handicrafts.    The fortress is an ideal film setting, located a short distance from the studios of Ouarzazate, the "Mecca" of Moroccan cinema. Productions ranging from "Lawrence of Arabia" to "The Mummy" have been filmed here.

More recently, scenes from the cult series "Game of Thrones" were shot at Ait-Ben-Haddou, with the site standing in for the fictional Yellow City of Yunkai which is conquered by Daenerys Targaryen, a key character in the "GOT" universe.   Hammadi, 61, is a privileged witness to the location's cinematic history.   "All of these productions have contributed to the reputation of the region," he said, grinning widely.    Hammadi himself has appeared as an extra in a number of films. And while like most people he lives in a more modern home in a village on the other side of the valley, he continues to return to Ait-Ben-Haddou to welcome tourists.

-'House of the Dragon' -
On a wall at the entrance to Hammadi's former home, photos bear witness to the projects he has worked on.    One shows him dressed as an ancient Roman with director Ridley Scott on the set of "Gladiator".    "We have a very rich cinematic heritage that we hope to use to attract tourists," said tour guide Baabouz, who is 29.   But "nothing indicates that 'Game of Thrones' was shot here," he added.    On Morocco's Atlantic coast, the city of Essaouira also formed the backdrop to scenes from the series.    But there too, Moroccan tourism promoters are yet to capitalise on the connection.

In comparison, Northern Ireland, Malta and Dubrovnik in Croatia have attracted hordes of fans from around the world, drawn by their links to the franchise.    To remedy this, Baabouz and other young people in the village are pooling their limited resources towards an ambitious project: a museum in the fortress, gathering photography from the productions that have been filmed here.    US channel HBO has commissioned a prequel to "GOT", called "House of the Dragon". George R.R. Martin, the author of the books on which the series is based, wrote on his blog that shooting would also take place in Morocco.
Date: Wed, 5 Feb 2020 16:03:48 +0100 (MET)

Rabat, Feb 5, 2020 (AFP) - A record 13 million tourists visited Morocco in 2019, up 5.2 percent from the previous year, official figures showed Wednesday.    The number includes Moroccans from the diaspora, who account for around half of visitors annually.  Tourism revenues hit 78.6 billion dirhams ($8.16 billion) in 2019, up from 73.04 billion dirhams ($7.58 billion) the year before, the Moroccan Tourism Observatory said.   It attributed the rise -- for the first crossing the 12-million mark -- to its primary markets, France and Spain.

The North African country has benefited from increased air links, with low-cost carriers launching new routes to Europe.   The former imperial city of Marrakesh, with its UNESCO-listed Old Town, and Agadir on the coast together accounted for 57 percent of the 25.2 million hotel stays last year, the Observatory said.   Tourism accounts for about 10 percent of GDP and is one of the country's main sources of foreign currency, alongside exports and remittances from Moroccans working abroad.
Date: Fri, 15 Nov 2019 01:13:41 +0100 (MET)
By Sophie PONS

Dakhla, Western Sahara, Nov 15, 2019 (AFP) - In the heart of disputed Western Sahara, a former garrison town has become an unlikely tourist magnet after kitesurfers discovered the windswept desert coast was perfect for their sport.  In Dakhla, an Atlantic seaport town punctuated with military buildings in Morocco-administered Western Sahara, swarms of kitesurfers now sail in the lagoon daily.y    "Here there is nothing other than sun, wind and waves. We turned the adversity of the elements to our advantage: that's the very principle of kitesurfing," said Rachid Roussafi. 

After an international career in windsurfing and kitesurfing, Roussafi founded the first tourist camp at the lagoon at the start of the 2000s.    "At the time, a single flight a week landed in Dakhla," the 49-year-old Moroccan said.   Today, there are 25 a week, including direct flights to Europe.   "Dakhla has become a world destination for kitesurfing," said Mohamed Cherif, a regional politician.

Tourist numbers have jumped from 25,000 in 2010 to 100,000 today, he said, adding they hoped to reach 200,000 annual visitors.    The former Spanish garrison is booming today with the visitor influx adding to fishing and trade revenue.   Kitesurfing requires pricey gear -- including a board, harness and kite -- and the niche tourism spot attracts well-off visitors of all nationalities.    Peyo Camillade came from France "to extend the summer season", with a week's holiday costing about 1,500 euros ($1,660). 

Only the names of certain sites, like PK 25 (kilometre point 25), ruined forts in the dunes and the imposing and still in-use military buildings in Dakhla, remind tourists of the region's history of conflict.   In the 1970s, Morocco annexed Western Sahara, a former Spanish colony, and fought a war with the Algeria-backed Polisario Front from 1975 to 1991, when a ceasefire deal was agreed.   A United Nations mission was deployed to monitor the truce and prepare a referendum on Western Sahara's independence from Morocco, but it never materialized.   Without waiting for the political compromise that the UN has been negotiating for decades, hotels have sprouted from the sand along the coast, and rows of streetlights on vacant lots announce future subdivisions.

- 'Good communication' -
"The secret to success is to develop kitesurfing with good communication focused on the organisation of non-political events," said Driss Senoussi, head of the Dakhla Attitude hotel group.    Accordingly, the exploits of kitesurfing champions like Brazilian Mikaili Sol and the Cape Verdian Airton Cozzolino were widely shared online during the World Kiteboarding Championships in Dakhla last month.   The competition seemed to hold little interest for Dakhla's inhabitants however.

Only a few young people with nothing to do and strolling families found themselves on the beach for the finals.   Just as rare are the foreign tourists who venture into the town of 100,000 residents to shop.   Like her friends, Alexandra Paterek prefers to stay at her hotel, some 30 kilometres (19 miles) from downtown.    "Here is the best place in the world for learning kitesurfing," said the 31-year-old Polish stewardess.    On her understanding of the broader regional context, she said: "It's an old Spanish colony and they have good seafood, for sure."

Like many tourists, she was under the impression that the area belonged to Morocco, as the destination tends to be marketed in the travel industry as "Dakhla, Morocco".   That angers the Polisario, which wants independence for the disputed region and tried last year in vain to sue businesses it said were "accomplices to the occupying military power."   The independence movement is now focused on challenging commercial deals between Morocco and the European Union that involve Western Sahara, according to the group's French lawyer Gilles Devers.   Moroccan authorities are looking actively for investors for their development projects on the west coast, the most ambitious being the Dakhla Atlantique megaport with a budget of about $1 billion to promote fishing.

- Environmental concerns -
On the lagoon, surrounded by white sand and with its holiday bungalows, "there is a struggle between developing aquaculture and tourism," said a senior regional representative, who spoke on condition of anonymity.    "One has less impact on the environment, but the other generates more revenue and jobs," said the representative, adding that "pressure from real-estate investors is very high."

With the influx of tourists, the protection of the environment has become a major concern.   "Everything is developing so quickly... we need to recycle plastic waste and resolve the issue of wastewater," said Rachid Roussafi.    Daniel Bellocq, a retired French doctor, worries for the future of this lagoon, that was "once so wild" that he has kitesurfed in for 20 years.   "There is green algae that wasn't there before, it's becoming a septic tank," he said.   Regional councillor Cherif, though, insists the bay is clean, saying: "All the hotels are equipped with wastewater management systems."   For him, the real threat is from plastic waste, whether it is dropped by tourists or brought by sea currents.
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.
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United Kingdom

United Kingdom and Gibraltar (England, Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland) US Consular Information Sheet
October 09, 2008
COUNTRY DESCRIPTION:
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is a highly developed constitutional mon
rchy composed of Great Britain (England, Scotland, and Wales) and Northern Ireland.
Read the Department of State Background Notes on the United Kingdom for additional information.
Gibraltar is a UK Overseas Territory bordering Spain, and is located at the southernmost tip of Europe at the entrance to the Mediterranean Sea.
It is one of 13 former British colonies that have elected to continue their political links with London.
Tourist facilities are widely available throughout the United Kingdom and Gibraltar.

ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS:
A UK visa/entry clearance is not required for tourist or business visits to the United Kingdom of less than six months in duration.
Visitors wishing to remain longer than one month in Gibraltar should regularize their stay with Gibraltar immigration authorities.
Those planning to visit the United Kingdom for any purpose other than tourism or business, or who intend to stay longer than six months, should consult the website of the British Embassy in the United States at http://ukinusa.fco.gov.uk/en for information about current visa/entry clearance requirements.
Those who are required to obtain a visa/entry clearance and fail to do so may be denied entry and returned to their port of origin.
The U.S. Embassy cannot intervene in UK immigration matters.

In the past year, the British government has completely restructured its immigration system, tightening visa/entry clearance regulations and enforcement at its borders.
All American travelers to the United Kingdom are urged to check the web site of the British Embassy in the United States at http://ukinusa.fco.gov.uk/en or the web site of the UK Border Agency at http://www.bia.homeoffice.gov.uk/ to determine whether they must have a visa/entry clearance before traveling to the United Kingdom.
Students should be especially alert to UK visa/entry clearance requirements.
Under no circumstances should Americans seeking to study or work in the United Kingdom attempt to enter the country without the appropriate visa/entry clearance from a British Consulate in the United States.
If you do so, you are likely to be detained by UK immigration officials at the port of entry and held in an immigration detention facility until you can be returned to the United States.
Again, the U.S. Embassy cannot intervene in UK immigration matters.

In addition to the British Embassy web site at http://ukinusa.fco.gov.uk/en, those seeking current UK visa/entry clearance information may also contact UK consular offices in the United States via their premium rate telephone service at 1-900-656-5000 (cost $3/minute) or 1-212-796-5773 ($12 flat fee).
There is also a no-fee website for visa information at www.visainfoservices.com.

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

SAFETY AND SECURITY:
The United Kingdom is politically stable, with a modern infrastructure, but shares with the rest of the world an increased threat of terrorist incidents of international origin, as well as the potential, though significantly diminished in recent years, for isolated violence related to the political situation in Northern Ireland (a part of the United Kingdom).

Like the United States, the United Kingdom shares its national threat levels with the general public to keep everyone informed and explain the context for the various increased security measures that may be encountered. UK threat levels are determined by the UK Home Office and are posted on its web site at http://www.homeoffice.gov.uk/security/current-threat-level/.

Information from the UK Security Service, commonly known as MI5, about the reasons for the increased threat level and actions the public can take is available on the MI5 web site at http://www.mi5.gov.uk/.
American citizens are advised to check with the UK Department for Transport at http://www.dft.gov.uk/transportforyou/airtravel/airportsecurity/ regarding the latest security updates and carry-on luggage restrictions.

The British Home Secretary has urged UK citizens to be alert and vigilant by, for example, keeping an eye out for suspect packages or people acting suspiciously at subway (called the Tube or Underground) and train stations, as well as at airports, and reporting anything suspicious to the appropriate authorities.
Americans are reminded to remain vigilant with regard to their personal security and to exercise caution.
For more information about UK public safety initiatives, consult the UK Civil Contingencies Secretariat web site at http://www.ukresilience.gov.uk.

The political situation in Northern Ireland has improved dramatically.
The potential remains, however, for sporadic incidents of street violence and/or sectarian confrontation.
American citizens traveling to Northern Ireland should therefore remain alert to their surroundings and should be aware that if they choose to visit potential flashpoints or attend parades, sporadic violence remains a possibility.
Tensions may be heightened during the summer marching season (April to August), particularly during the month of July (around the July 12th public holiday).

The phone number for police/fire/ambulance emergency services – the equivalent of 911 in the United States – is 999 in the United Kingdom and 112 in Gibraltar.
This number should also be used for warnings about possible bombs or other immediate threats.
The UK Anti-Terrorist Hotline, at 0800-789-321, is for tips and confidential information about possible terrorist activity.

For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs’ web site at http://travel.state.gov, where current Travel Warnings and Travel Alerts, as well as the Worldwide Caution, can be found.
Recent communications from U.S. Embassy London to the local American citizen community, called Warden Messages, can be found on the U.S. Embassy's American Citizens Services web page at http://london.usembassy.gov/cons_new/acs/index.html.

Up-to-date information on safety and security can also be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll free in the United States, or for callers outside the United States 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:
The United Kingdom and Gibraltar benefit from generally low crime rates, which decreased slightly in 2007 in significant categories, including violent crime.
The crime situation in the United Kingdom is similar to that in the United States: typical incidents include pick pocketing; muggings; “snatch and grab” thefts of mobile phones, watches and jewelry; and thefts of unattended bags, especially at airports and from cars parked at restaurants, hotels, and resorts.
Pickpockets target tourists, especially at historic sites and restaurants, and on buses, trains, and the London subway (known as the Tube or Underground).
Thieves often target unattended cars parked at tourist sites and roadside restaurants, looking for laptop computers and handheld electronic equipment, especially global positioning satellite equipment.
Walking in isolated areas, including public parks, especially after dark, should be avoided, as these are advantageous venues for muggers and thieves.
At night or when there is little foot traffic, travelers should be especially careful using the underground pedestrian tunnels.
As a general rule, either walk the extra distance to use a surface crossing or wait until there are other adult pedestrians entering the tunnel.

In London, travelers should use only licensed Black Cabs or car services recommended by their hotel or tour operator.
Unlicensed taxis or private cars posing as taxis may offer low fares, but are often uninsured and may have unlicensed drivers.
In some instances, travelers have been robbed and raped while using these cars.
You can access 7,000 licensed Black Cabs using just one telephone number: 087-1871-8710.
This taxi booking service combines all six of London’s radio taxi circuits, allowing you to telephone 24 hours a day if you need a cab.
Alternatively, to find a licensed minicab, text HOME to 60835 on your mobile phone to get the telephone number to two licensed minicab companies in the area.
If you know in advance when you will be leaving for home, you can prebook your return journey.
The Safe Travel at Night partnership among the Metropolitan Police, Transport for London, and the Mayor of London maintains a web site with additional information at http://www.cabwise.com/.
Travelers should not leave drinks unattended in bars and nightclubs.
There have been some instances of drinks being spiked with illegal substances, leading to incidents of robbery and rape.

Americans should take steps to ensure the safety of their U.S. passports.
Visitors in England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, and Gibraltar are not expected to produce identity documents for police authorities and thus may secure their passports in hotel safes or residences.
Abundant ATMs that link to U.S. banking networks offer an optimal rate of exchange, and they preclude the need to carry a passport to cash travelers’ checks.
Travelers should be aware that U.S. banks might charge a higher processing fee for withdrawals made overseas.
Common-sense personal security measures taken in the United States when using ATMs should also be followed in the United Kingdom.
ATM fraud in the United Kingdom is becoming more sophisticated, incorporating technologies to surreptitiously record customer ATM card and PIN information.
Travelers should avoid using ATMs that look in any way temporary in structure or location, or are located in isolated areas.
Travelers should be aware that in busy public areas, thieves use distraction techniques, such as waiting until the PIN number has been entered and then pointing to money on the ground, or attempting to hand out a free newspaper.
When the ATM user is distracted, a colleague will quickly withdraw cash and leave.
If distracted in any way, travelers should press the cancel transaction button immediately and collect their card before speaking to the person who has distracted them.
If the person’s motives appear suspicious, travelers should not challenge them but remember the details and report the matter to police as soon as possible.
In addition, travelers should not use the ATM if there is anything stuck to the machine or if it looks unusual in any way.
If the machine does not return the card, report the incident to the issuing bank immediately.

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 at the opening of the next business day.
The U.S. Embassy or Consulate issues replacement passports only during regular business hours.
If you are the victim of a crime while overseas, report it to local police.
The nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate will also be able to assist by helping you to find appropriate medical care, contacting family members or friends, and explaining 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.

Visit the Victim Support web site, maintained by an independent UK charity to help people cope with the effects of crime: http://www.victimsupport.org.uk/.

See our information for Victims of Crime.
MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION:
While medical services are widely available, free care under the National Health System is allowed only for UK residents and certain EU nationals.
Tourists and short-term visitors will be charged for medical treatment in the United Kingdom.
Charges may be significantly higher than those assessed in the United States.

Hiking in higher elevations can be treacherous.
Several people die each year while hiking, particularly in Scotland, often due to sudden changes in weather.
Visitors, including experienced hikers, are encouraged to discuss intended routes with local residents familiar with the area, and to adhere closely to recommendations.

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 from 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.

MEDICAL INSURANCE:
The Department of State strongly urges Americans to consult with their medical insurance companies prior to traveling abroad to confirm whether their policy applies overseas and whether it will cover emergency expenses such as a medical evacuation.
If your medical insurance policy does not provide overseas coverage, you may want to purchase a short-term policy for your trip.
The Department of State provides an online list of travel insurance companies that can provide the additional insurance needed for the duration of one’s trip abroad.

Remember also that most medical care facilities and medical care providers in the United Kingdom do not accept insurance subscription as a primary source of payment.
Rather, the beneficiary is expected to pay for the service and then seek reimbursement from the insurance company.
This may require an upfront payment in the $10,000 to $20,000 range

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 the United Kingdom is provided for general reference only and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.

UK penalties for driving under the influence of even minimal amounts of alcohol or drugs are stiff and often result in prison sentences.
In contrast to U.S. and continental European traffic, which moves on the right side of the road, UK traffic moves on the left.

The maximum speed limit on highways/motorways in the United Kingdom is 70 mph.
Motorways generally have a hard shoulder (breakdown lane) on the far left, defined by a solid white line.
It is illegal to stop or park on a hard shoulder unless it is an emergency.
In such cases, you should activate your hazard lights, get out of your vehicle, and go onto an embankment for safety.

Emergency call boxes (orange telephone booths with SOS printed on them) may be found at half-mile intervals along the motorway.
White and blue poles placed every 100 yards along the motorway point in the direction of the nearest call box.
Emergency call boxes dial directly to a motorway center.
It is best to use these phones rather than a personal cell phone, because motorway center personnel will immediately know the location of a call received from an emergency call box.

Roadside towing services may cost approximately £125 (as of 10/08, approximately $225).
However, membership fees of automotive associations such as the RAC (Royal Automobile Club) or AA (Automobile Association) often include free roadside towing service.

Visitors uncomfortable with or intimidated by the prospect of driving on the left-hand side of the road may wish to avail themselves of the United Kingdom’s extensive bus, rail, and air transport networks.
Roads in the United Kingdom are generally excellent but are narrow and often congested in urban areas.
If you plan to drive while in the United Kingdom, you may wish to obtain a copy of the Highway Code, available at http://www.direct.gov.uk/en/TravelAndTransport/Highwaycode/index.htm.

Travelers intending to rent cars in the United Kingdom should make sure that they are adequately insured.
U.S. auto insurance is not always valid outside the United States, and travelers may wish to purchase supplemental insurance, which is generally available from most major rental agents.
A congestion charge of £8 (as of 10/08, approximately $15) is imposed on all cars entering much of central London Monday through Friday from 7:00 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.
Information on the congestion charge can be found at http://www.tfl.gov.uk/roadusers/congestioncharging/.
Public transport in the United Kingdom is excellent and extensive.
However, poor track conditions may have contributed to train derailments, resulting in some fatalities.
Repairs are under way and the overall safety record is excellent.
Information on disruptions to London transportation services can be found at http://www.tfl.gov.uk/tfl/livetravelnews/realtime/tube/default.html and information about the status of National Rail Services can be found at http://nrekb.nationalrail.co.uk/service_disruptions/today.html.
Many U.S. pedestrians are injured, some fatally, every year in the United Kingdom because they forget that oncoming traffic approaches from the opposite direction than in the United States.
Extra care should be taken when crossing streets; remember to remain alert and look both ways before stepping into the street.

Driving in Gibraltar is on the right-hand side of the road, as in the United States and continental Europe.
Persons traveling overland between Gibraltar and Spain may experience long delays in clearing Spanish border controls.
Please refer to our Road Safety Overseas page for more information.
For specific information concerning UK driving permits, vehicle inspection, road tax, and mandatory insurance, refer to the UK Department of Environment and Transport web site at http://www.dft.gov.uk/ or the Driving Standards Agency web site at http://www.dsa.gov.uk/.
The U.S. Embassy London’s web site at http://london.usembassy.gov/ also provides information.

AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT:
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the UK Government’s Civil Aviation Authority as being in compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards for oversight of the United Kingdom’s air carrier operations.
For further information, travelers may visit the FAA's web site at http://www.faa.gov/safety/programs_initiatives/oversight/iasa.

Back to Top
SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES:
The legal drinking age in the United Kingdom is generally lower than that in the United States, and social drinking in pubs is often seen as a routine aspect of British life.
Parents, organizers of school trips, and young travelers should be aware of the impact that this environment may have when combined with the sense of adventure that comes with being abroad.
Please see our Students Abroad web site as well as Studying Abroad to help students plan a safe and enjoyable adventure.

The United Kingdom has strict gun-control laws, and importing firearms is extremely complicated.
Travelers should consider leaving all firearms in the United States.
Restrictions exist on the type and number of weapons that may be possessed by an individual.
All handguns, such as pistols and revolvers, are prohibited, with very few exceptions.
Licensing of firearms in the United Kingdom is controlled by the police.
Applicants for a license must be prepared to show “good reason” why they require each weapon.
Applicants must also provide a copy of their U.S. gun license, a letter of good conduct from their local U.S. police station, and a letter detailing any previous training, hunting, or shooting experience.
Background checks will also be carried out.
Additional information on applying for a firearm certificate and/or shotgun certificate can be found on the Metropolitan Police Firearms Enquiry Teams web site at http://www.met.police.uk/firearms-enquiries/index.htm.

A number of Americans are lured to the United Kingdom each year in the belief that they have won a lottery or have inherited from the estate from a long-lost relative.
Americans may also be contacted by persons they have “met” over the Internet who now need funds urgently to pay for hospital treatment, hotel bills, taxes, or airline security fees.
Invariably, the person contacted is the victim of fraud.
Any unsolicited invitations to travel to the United Kingdom to collect winnings or an inheritance should be viewed with skepticism.
Also, there are no licenses or fees required when transiting a UK airport, nor is emergency medical treatment withheld pending payment of fees.
Please see our information on International Financial Scams.

Please read ourCustoms Information.

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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 British law, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested, or imprisoned.
Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in the United Kingdom are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines.
Engaging in sexual conduct with children or using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is a crime, prosecutable in the United States.

Please see our information on Criminal Penalties.

Many pocket knives and other blades, and mace or pepper spray canisters, although legal in the United States, are illegal in the United Kingdom and will result in arrest and confiscation if detected.
A UK Metropolitan Police guide to items that are prohibited as offensive weapons is available at http://www.met.police.uk/youngpeople/guns.htm.
A UK Customs Guide, detailing which items visitors are prohibited from bringing into the United Kingdom, is available at http://customs.hmrc.gov.uk/channelsPortalWebApp/downloadFile?contentID=HMCE_CL_001734.

Air travelers to and from the United Kingdom should be aware that penalties against alcohol-related and other in-flight crimes (“air rage”) are stiff and are being enforced with prison sentences.
Please also see our information on customs regulations that pertain when returning to the United States.

CHILDREN'S ISSUES:
Visit our web site for information on intercountry adoption and international parental child abduction.

REGISTRATION / EMBASSY LOCATION:
Americans living or traveling in the United Kingdom 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 the United Kingdom.
By registering, Americans make it easier for the Embassy or Consulate to contact them in case of emergency, and to relay updated information on travel and security within the United Kingdom.
The Embassy and Consulates regularly send security and other information via email to Americans who have registered.
Americans without Internet access may register directly with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate.
The Consular Section also disseminates a newsletter every month.
Those wishing to subscribe to the monthly consular newsletter in London should send a request by email to LondonACSNewsletter@state.gov.

The U.S. Embassy is located at 24 Grosvenor Square, London W1A 1AE; telephone: in country 020-7499-9000, from the United States 011-44-20-7499-9000 (24 hours). Consular Section fax: in country 020-7495-5012, from the United States 011-44-20-7495-5012, and on the web at http://london.usembassy.gov.

The U.S. Consulate General in Edinburgh, Scotland, is located at 3 Regent Terrace, Edinburgh EH7 5BW; telephone: in country 013-1556-8315, from the United States 011-44-13-1556-8315.
After hours: in country 012-2485-7097, from the United States 011-44-12-2485-7097.
Fax: in country 013-1557-6023, from the United States 011-44-13-1557-6023.
Information on the Consulate General is included on the Embassy’s web site at http://london.usembassy.gov/scotland.

The U.S. Consulate General in Belfast, Northern Ireland, is located at Danesfort House, 228 Stranmillis Road, Belfast BT9 5GR; telephone: in country 028-9038-6100, from the United States 011-44-28-9038-6100.
Fax:
in country 028-9068-1301, from the United States 011-44-28-9068-1301.
Information on the Consulate General is included on the Embassy’s web site at: http://london.usembassy.gov/nireland.

There is no U.S. consular representation in Gibraltar.
Passport questions should be directed to the U.S. Embassy in Madrid, located at Serrano 75, Madrid, Spain; telephone: 34-91-587-2200 and fax 34-91-587-2303.
The web site is http://madrid.usembassy.gov.
All other inquiries should be directed to the U.S. Embassy in London.
* * *
This replaces the Consular Information Sheet dated May 8, 2008 and updates the sections on Entry Requirements, Safety and Security, and Registration/Embassy Location.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: 23 Feb 2020
Source: UK Government Department of Health and Social Care [edited]

Four further patients in England have tested positive for COVID-19, bringing the total number of cases in the UK to 13. The virus was passed on in the Diamond Princess cruise ship, and the patients are being transferred from Arrowe Park to specialist NHS infection centres.
Date: Mon, 17 Feb 2020 21:19:05 +0100 (MET)
By Joe JACKSON

London, Feb 17, 2020 (AFP) - Britain on Monday battled the fallout from Storm Dennis after the second severe storm in seven days left one woman dead over the weekend.   Winds of more than 90 miles (140 kilometres) an hour, along with more than a month's worth of rain in 48 hours in some places, led officials to issue rare "danger to life" warnings.   A 55-year-old woman was found dead after being swept away by near the flood-prone town of Tenbury Wells in western England.   "We are all devastated," her family said in a statement after a body was discovered.

James Bevan, chief executive of the Environment Agency, which is responsible for flood protection, said more than 400 homes in England had been flooded while at least 1,000 agency staff were working "to protect and support those communities which have been hit".   "This is not yet over," he told BBC radio.   "We still have many flood warnings in force and we may still see significant flooding in the middle of this week from larger rivers."   The storm also pummelled much of France, with some 20,000 people without electricity on Monday after suffering power cuts in the northwest.

- 'More extreme' -
In Britain, more than 600 warnings and alerts -- a record number -- were issued on Sunday, extending from the River Tweed on the border of England and Scotland to Cornwall in the southwest.   After a day of torrential rain, major flooding incidents were declared in south Wales and parts of west central England.  In northern England, the defence ministry deployed troops in West Yorkshire, which had also been hit by flooding from last weekend's Storm Ciara.   There were fears that rivers there could burst their banks.

Newly appointed environment secretary George Eustice said the government had done "everything that we can do with a significant sum of money" to combat increased flooding.    "We'll never be able to protect every single household just because of the nature of climate change and the fact that these weather events are becoming more extreme," he said.   Youth climate activists gathering for a national conference in Staffordshire, west central England, were forced to cancel the event because of the storm.   "There's a bleak irony in our being beaten back by climate change," 15-year-old attendee Sophia said in a statement released by organisers.

- 'Supercomputer' announced -
Two rivers in south Wales burst their banks on Sunday, prompting rescue workers to launch operations to evacuate hundreds of people and their pets trapped in their homes.   Police said a man in his 60s died after entering the River Tawe, north of the Welsh city of Swansea, but later clarified that the death was not "linked to the adverse weather".

Meanwhile the bodies of two men were pulled from rough seas off the south coast of England on Saturday as the storm barrelled in.   Britain's Coastguard said it had sent a helicopter and rescue team to join navy and other search vessels after receiving reports of a man overboard in the sea near Margate, Kent.   "After many hours of searching, a body was sadly found in the water... and was brought to shore," it added.

Around the same time in nearby Herne Bay, emergency responders discovered another dead man following reports a person had been pulled from the sea, according to Kent police.   In a timely announcement the Met Office, Britain's national weather service, said Monday it would invest £1.2 billion ($1.6 billion) in a state-of-the-art supercomputer to improve forecasting.   The government claims it is the world's "most powerful weather and climate supercomputer".
Date: Sat 8 Feb 2020
Source: Food Safety News [edited]

Almost 200 people have fallen ill after eating oysters in the United Kingdom in recent months. Since November 2019 there have been at least 180 reported cases of gastroenteritis associated with oyster consumption linked to multiple food outlets and oyster producers. A Public Health England spokeswoman told Food Safety News that norovirus had been identified as the cause of a number of these outbreaks.

"Public Health England is working with the Food Standards Agency and Food Standards Scotland as well as affected local authorities to investigate outbreaks of gastrointestinal illness reported since November 2019 associated with consumption of oysters."

Officials say there is no connection to the norovirus outbreaks from oysters in Europe. In Sweden, 70 people fell sick after eating oysters, some of which came from domestic production and others from France. In Denmark, 180 people were ill after eating oysters from France. In France, 1033 people have been sickened and 21 needed hospital treatment. Italy and Netherlands also reported outbreaks linked to live oysters from France. Products were also recalled due to potential norovirus contamination in Belgium, Luxembourg, Switzerland, Hong Kong, and Singapore.

A spokeswoman for the Food Standards Agency told Food Safety News that it has identified that the outbreaks appear to be linked to consumption of oysters from several different harvesters. "We have identified from our investigations that there are numerous sites around the UK where oysters are produced and harvested. We have identified producers in East and South West of England and in Scotland that have supplied oysters that were eaten by a number of people reporting illness."

Two harvesters in the South and West of England voluntarily ceased production in mid-November [2019], and a harvester in the East of England decided to stop harvesting in early January 2020. When asked why there haven't been any product recalls when illnesses have been reported from November 2019, the spokeswoman said: "Oysters have a short shelf-life, and by the time cases of illness are reported, the affected oysters have normally been consumed. The official advice to consumers remains the same as usual: people should be aware of the risks of eating raw oysters. Elderly people, pregnant women, very young children, and people who have a weakened immune system should avoid eating raw or lightly cooked shellfish to reduce their risk of getting food poisoning. To prevent passing norovirus on to family and friends, it's vital to follow good personal hygiene practices."

The main symptoms of norovirus illness are diarrhea, vomiting, nausea, and stomach cramps. Symptoms can also include low-grade fever, headache, chills, muscle aches, and fatigue. People who are ill should drink plenty of liquids to replace lost body fluids and prevent dehydration.

Symptoms appear 1-2 days after being infected and typically last for 2-3 days. Norovirus is transmitted by having contaminated food or water or from person to person through contact with the skin, objects, or inhaling airborne particles.  [Byline: Joe Whitworth]
=================
[Researchers have analyzed the genetic sequences of 1077 samples of noroviruses found in oysters. Some sequences had been stockpiled in genetic databases since 1983. The scientists found that 80% of the known human noroviruses matched those found in oysters. The majority of the matches were in oysters from coastal waters, more likely to be contaminated with human sewage.

Noroviruses mutate very quickly, as do influenza viruses, and big outbreaks usually begin after a new strain emerges. There was a "convergence" between new strains circulating in oysters and those circulating in humans, the researchers also found.

Yongjie Wang, a food science specialist at Shanghai Ocean University and lead author of the study, concluded that oysters were an important reservoir for human noroviruses, a place where they can hide between outbreaks and mutate. They also can be transmitted back to humans, presumably when oysters are eaten raw.

Citation: Yongxin Yu, et al. Molecular Epidemiology of Oyster-Related Human Noroviruses and Their Global Genetic Diversity and Temporal-Geographical Distribution from 1983 to 2014. Appl Environ Microbiol. 2015; 81(21): 7615-7624. DOI: 10.1128/AEM.01729-15. - ProMED Mod.LL]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map:
Date: Wed 15 Jan 2020
Source: Lancs [abridged, edited]

Cases of suspected mumps rocketed in Lancashire last year [2019].

In 2019, 314 suspected cases were reported in the area to Public Health England (PHE). That's almost triple the 120 suspected cases in 2018.

It is also the highest number since comparable records began in 2011. The figures include 64 suspected cases in West Lancashire, 32 in Lancaster, 31 in Preston, and 30 in Blackpool.

The area also saw 30 suspected cases of measles last year [2019], the same number as in 2018. Doctors are required to report any suspected cases of certain infectious diseases to their local authority or local health protection team, although not all cases will be confirmed.  [Byline: Claire Miller Ruth Ovens]
Date: Wed 15 Jan 2020
Source: Devon Live [abridged, edited]

An outbreak of 19 new cases of mumps has been reported across Devon in the last week. The contagious viral disease particularly affects under 25s. The new mumps figures have been released in the official Government weekly Statutory Notifications of Infectious Diseases report, with the highest number in Exeter.

It follows a warning that mumps is on the rise, particularly in university towns. Traditionally known as the "kissing disease" because it spreads fast between groups of young people, mumps is a contagious viral infection recognisable by the painful swellings in the side of the face under the ears (the parotid glands), giving a person a distinctive "hamster face" appearance.

In severe cases, it can develop into viral meningitis if it moves in the outer layer of the brain. Other complications include swelling of the testicles or ovaries (if the affected person has gone through puberty), which may affect a person's fertility.  [Byline: Colleen Smith]
More ...

World Travel News Headlines

Date: Sun 23 Feb 2020
Source: Q Costa Rica News [edited]
<https://qcostarica.com/costa-rica-is-the-first-country-in-america-where-very-resistant-antibiotic-bacteria-for-meningitis-is-isolated/>

A 50-year-old man and a senior became the 1st 2 people in Costa Rica -- and in the Americas -- found to be infected with the bacteria most resistant to antibiotics used in the treatment of meningitis and meningococcal septicaemia that cause serious brain damage and even death. The Centro Nacional de Referencia en Bacteriolog­a (CNRB) -- National Center of Reference in Bacteriology, of the Instituto Costarricense de Investigacian y Enseaanza en Nutricin y Salud (Inciensa) -- Costa Rican Institute for Research and Education in Nutrition and Health (Incense), issued an alert, in early February [2020], after documenting the circulation of _Neisseria meningitidis_ (_N. meningitidis_) serogroup Y, resistant to penicillin and not sensitive to cefotaxime [and ceftriaxone?], two 3rd generation antibiotics, reports La Nation.
====================
[Invasive meningococcal disease (meningococcaemia and meningitis) is a life-threatening infection caused by _Neisseria meningitidis_ that evolves rapidly, often even when appropriate treatment has been started promptly. Because antimicrobial treatment for invasive meningococcal disease with a 3rd-generation cephalosporin (cefotaxime and ceftriaxone) is the widely accepted standard recommendation (<https://academic.oup.com/cid/article/39/9/1267/402080>), resistance of _N. meningitidis_ to cefotaxime and ceftriaxone is very worrisome.

The news report above says that 2 patients in Costa Rica were infected with _N. meningitidis_ serogroup Y resistant to penicillin and 2 3rd generation cephalosporins, one of which was cefotaxime. The other 3rd generation cephalosporin is not specified, but is perhaps ceftriaxone, the other 3rd generation cephalosporin usually used to treat this disease. We are also not told in the news report above if the 2 patients were epidemiologically linked, nor are we told the extent (that is, MICs [minimum inhibitory concentration] of penicillin or cefotaxime), the mechanisms of resistance, or resistance to any of the other antimicrobial drugs used to prevent or treat this disease.

More information would be appreciated from knowledgeable sources. Reduced susceptibility of _N. meningitidis_ to penicillin has been reported in the past in many countries, including the US (<https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1169190/>), usually due to decreased affinity of target penicillin-binding proteins for penicillin and less commonly to beta-lactamase production (<https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC89938/>, <https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/3134848-relative-penicillin-g-resistance-in-neisseria-meningitidis-and-reduced-affinity-of-penicillin-binding-protein-3/>, and <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC162989/pdf/392577.pdf>).

Meningococcal isolates with reduced susceptibility to penicillin G usually were reported susceptible to 3rd-generation cephalosporins (cefotaxime and ceftriaxone). For example, despite the decrease in susceptibility to penicillin G in 33% of 2888 isolates of _N. meningitidis_, all isolates were susceptible to ceftriaxone in Brazil from 2009 to 2016 (<https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29717974-surveillance-of-antimicrobial-resistance-in-neisseria-meningitidis-strains-isolated-from-invasive-cases-in-brazil-from-2009-to-2016/>). Similar data have been reported for the US (<https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1169190/>).

However, one previous study reported 8 clinical isolates _N. meningitidis_ in Delhi, India in 2006 that were resistant to ceftriaxone and cefotaxime, with most also resistant to penicillin, ciprofloxacin, and chloramphenicol (<https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1698303/>). All of the isolates were identified as serogroup A _N. meningitidis_, but no further details concerning these isolates were given in this report (<https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1865813/>).

Resistance to other antimicrobial agents that may be used for therapy of meningococcal infections or for prophylaxis of case contacts has been reported in several countries. This includes resistance to chloramphenicol, fluoroquinolones, and rifampin. Horizontal exchange of genes that encode resistance for penicillin, rifampin, and the fluoroquinolones from other _Neisseria_ species that share a common ecological niche with _N. meningitidis_ in the nasopharynx has been proposed as one possible mechanism of acquisition of meningococcal antibiotic resistance (<http://jac.oxfordjournals.org/cgi/content/full/49/3/545>). - ProMED Mod.ML]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map of Costa Rica: <http://healthmap.org/promed/p/17>]
Date: Tue 25 Feb 2020
From: Anne Laudisoit, PhD [edited]
<laudisoit@ecohealthalliance.org>

A suspect plague outbreak cluster has been noted in the the Godjoka health area as of 19 Feb 2020. The chief medical officer of the Rethy Health zone, the head nurse and the laboratory team from the Rethy General reference hospital investigated the outbreak site. The Godjoka village is located in the Linga health zone, Djugu territory, Ituri province, in the Congo DR (N 02.01'47.9'' and E030.44'56.6'', 1940m) in the plague endemic area.
 
There have been 6 suspected cases of plague, including 5 deaths and 1 recovering patient. The index case is a young boy who died on 19 Feb 2020. His mother, the neighbour and her child all died on 21 Feb 2020 and were buried the night of 24 Feb 2020, under pressure from the villagers. Finally the traditional healer ["tradipraticien"] who took care of the mother (who was the 2nd case) died in turn on 25 Feb 2020, and samples were taken that same day. The rapid diagnostic test was positive for plague.  Because of their rapidly fatal course, pneumonic plague is suspected for one or more of the 5 fatal cases. 

The only survivor has been under treatment at the Godjoka Health center since 22 Feb; he is the 20 year-old brother of the index case. The test on the sputum of this patient was negative.
-------------------------------------
Francoise Ngave Nyisi, Rethy General Reference Hospital, DR Congo
Mandro Michel, Provincial Division of Health, Bunia, DR Congo
Adroba Pascal, Provincial Division of Health, Bunia, DR Congo
Laudisoit Anne, Ecohealth Alliance, New York, USA
=====================
[ProMED thanks Dr Laudisoit and her hardworking Congolese colleagues for this important report.  Thus far the diagnosis of plague rests on the single positive diagnostic test obtained from the traditional healer, as it appears that the first 4 fatal cases were buried before diagnostic tests could be obtained. Following this logic, It is possible that the sole survivor thus far has the bubonic form of the disease, and thus a negative sputum result.  We seek and hope to obtain further information on all of these cases, including age, nature and duration of symptoms, presence or absence of buboes, etc.

This putative plague cluster is in a known historic plague-endemic region, where there were 31 cases and 8 deaths between Jan - Oct 2019, as previously reported by ProMED (Plague - Congo DR (02): (IT) fatal http://promedmail.org/post/20191016.6731137).  The Ituri district, of course, has also been affected by the still smouldering North Kivu-Ituri Ebola outbreak that began in July 2018.  This district has also been, and continues to be, a region of great civil unrest, with multiple armed insurgency groups operating near and across the Ugandan border.

The following background information on plague by Mod.LL is copied from our most recent ProMED post on plague [see below under See Also]:

"The bacterium that causes plague is _Yersinia pestis_. Most cases of plague are due to bubonic plague following the bite of an infected rodent flea causing a swollen and very tender lymph gland. The swollen gland is called a "bubo." Bubonic plague should be suspected when a person develops a swollen gland, fever, chills, headache, and extreme exhaustion, and has a history of possible exposure to infected rodents, rabbits, or fleas. A person usually becomes ill with bubonic plague 2-6 days after being bitten. At this point in the illness, there is no risk of person-to-person spread, so if this was indeed a case of bubonic plague, no isolation or quarantine is necessary.

When bubonic plague is left untreated, plague bacteria invade the bloodstream. As the plague bacteria multiply in the bloodstream, they spread rapidly throughout the body and cause a severe and often fatal condition. Infection of the lungs with the plague bacterium causes the pneumonic form of plague, a severe respiratory illness. The infected person may experience high fever, chills, cough, and breathing difficulty and may expel bloody sputum. If plague patients are not given specific antimicrobial therapy, the disease can progress rapidly to death. At this stage, as appears to have happened in this case, person-to-person spread can occur, causing other cases of "primary" plague pneumonia. - ProMED Mod.LL]

[A ProMED/HealthMap of DR Congo is available at: DR Congo:
Date: Thu, 27 Feb 2020 09:14:05 +0100 (MET)
By Anuj Chopra and Haitham El-Tabei

Riyadh, Feb 27, 2020 (AFP) - Saudi Arabia on Thursday suspended visas for visits to Islam's holiest sites for the "umrah" pilgrimage, an unprecedented move triggered by coronavirus fears that raises questions over the annual hajj.   The kingdom, which hosts millions of pilgrims every year in the cities of Mecca and Medina, also suspended visas for tourists from countries with reported infections as fears of a pandemic deepen.

Saudi Arabia, which so far has reported no cases of the virus but has expressed alarm over its spread in neighbouring countries, said the suspensions were temporary. It provided no timeframe for when they will be lifted.   "The kingdom's government has decided to take the following precautions: suspending entry to the kingdom for the purpose of umrah and visit to the Prophet's mosque temporarily," the foreign ministry said in a statement.   "Suspending entry into the kingdom with tourist visas for those coming from countries, in which the spread of the new coronavirus (COVID-19) is a danger."

The move comes as Gulf countries implement a raft of measures, including flight suspensions and school closures, to curb the spread of the disease from people returning from pilgrimages to Iran.  Even as the number of fresh coronavirus cases declines at the epicentre of the disease in China, there has been a sudden increase across the Middle East.

Since its outbreak, the United Arab Emirates has reported 13 coronavirus cases, Kuwait has recorded 43, Bahrain has 33 and Oman is at four cases.   Iran has emerged as a major hotspot in the region, with 19 fatalities from 139 infections -- the highest death toll outside China, where COVID-19 originated.   While no cases have been reported in Saudi Arabia, one citizen is reported to be infected in Kuwait along with four Saudi women in Bahrain -- all of whom had returned from Iran.

- 'Unprecedented' move -
The umrah, which refers to the Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca that can be undertaken at any time of year, attracts millions of devout Muslims from all over the globe each year.    There was no clarity over how the move would affect the annual hajj pilgrimage due to start in late July.   Some 2.5 million faithful travelled to Saudi Arabia from across the world to take part in last year's hajj -- one of the five pillars of Islam.

The event is a key rite of passage for Muslims and a massive logistical challenge for Saudi authorities, with colossal crowds cramming into relatively small holy sites.   "This move by Saudi Arabia is unprecedented," Ghanem Nuseibeh, founder of London-based risk consultancy Cornerstone Global Associates, told AFP.   "The concern for Saudi authorities would be Ramadan, which starts at the end of April, and hajj afterwards, should the coronavirus become a pandemic."

The holy fasting month of Ramadan is considered a favourable period by Muslim pilgrims to perform the Umrah.   Saudi Arabia's custodianship of Mecca and Medina -- Islam's two holiest sites -- is seen as the kingdom's most powerful source of political legitimacy.     But a series of deadly disasters over the years has prompted criticism of the Sunni kingdom's management of the pilgrimage.

In September 2015, a stampede killed up to 2,300 worshippers -- including hundreds of Iranians -- in the worst disaster ever to strike the pilgrimage.   The pilgrimage forms a crucial source of revenue for the government, which hopes to welcome 30 million pilgrims annually to the kingdom by 2030.   De facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's Vision 2030 reform plan seeks to shift the economy of Saudi Arabia -- the world's top crude exporter -- away from oil dependency towards other sources of revenue, including religious tourism.
Date: Thu, 27 Feb 2020 05:04:04 +0100 (MET)

Kuala Lumpur, Feb 27, 2020 (AFP) - Badminton's German Open will not go ahead next week and the Polish Open has been postponed, officials said as two more Olympic qualifying events fell victim to the coronavirus.   It hasn't yet been decided whether the German Open, originally scheduled for March 3-8, will be postponed or cancelled entirely, the Badminton World Federation said late Wednesday.   New dates are being sought for the Polish Open, which was meant to take place on March 26-29, but it will not now fall in the qualifying period for the Tokyo Olympics.

Both events were in the same month as the All England Open, one of the biggest events in the badminton calendar, although that tournament is currently still set to go ahead.   "The BWF is continuing to monitor all official updates on COVID-19 with no change to the intention to stage other HSBC BWF World Tour or BWF-sanctioned tournaments," said a statement.   This week the Vietnam International Challenge, which also carried rankings points for the Olympics, was shifted from late March to early June.

The loss of qualifying tournaments will pose a problem for many players including two-time Olympic champion Lin Dan, who needs a rapid rise up the rankings to win a place on the Chinese team.   Many of China's players are currently in Britain and have been cleared to play during what is a "critical period" of Olympic qualifying, the Chinese Badminton Association said last weekend.   China have been the dominant force in badminton at recent Olympics, sweeping all five titles at London 2012 and winning the men's singles and doubles gold medals four years ago in Rio.
Date: Thu, 27 Feb 2020 09:58:42 +0100 (MET)

Tallinn, Feb 27, 2020 (AFP) - Estonia reported its first coronavirus case on Thursday, a day after the man returned to the Baltic nation of just 1.3 million people from his homeland Iran.    "The person, a permanent resident of Estonia who is not a citizen, arrived in Estonia on Wednesday evening," Social Affairs Minister Tanel Kiik told public broadcaster ERR.   He said the Iranian citizen is currently hospitalised.

Local media said the man arrived in Tallinn by bus from the Latvian capital Riga.   "For now, there are no plans of putting cities in quarantine following this one case," Kiik said.    "The patient is isolated, there is no risk of the disease spreading, now we have to identify all the people the patient was in contact with."   Iran has announced a total of 19 deaths and more than 130 infections, including the country's deputy health minister.   Iran's coronavirus death toll is the highest after that of China, where more than 2,700 people have died from the disease.
Date: Wed, 26 Feb 2020 19:27:33 +0100 (MET)

Vynnyky, Ukraine, Feb 26, 2020 (AFP) - Ukrainian authorities began the task of destroying 37,000 bottles of illicit adulterated vodka on Wednesday, a national "record" in a country where consumption of illegal alcohol regularly poisons and even kills.    Minister of Justice Denys Malyuska launched the operation in the city of Vynnyky in the central Lviv region where the bottles, holding 14 tonnes of alcohol, have been stored since their seizure in 2014.   "It is difficult to say what is in there but consumption is strictly not recommended," said the minister.    "This adulterated alcohol poses a huge threat to people's health and their lives."    In front of the media, the contents of several bottles were poured into plastic tanks or blue dye was added, to rule out any illegal re-sale of the beverage.

The procedure should last about a week, after which the liquid will be poured into the sewers at a secret location, according to the minister.   "This is the first time this procedure has been used so that everyone can see that the alcohol that has been seized is really destroyed," said Maliouska.   The minister said that in the past there had been "complaints" from the business community that because of corruption within the police, the illicit alcohol had often turned up in shops after being seized.   Cases of poisoning from adulterated drinks are a regular occurence in Ukraine, where the consumption of alcohol, especially spirits, remains high. And they are often fatal.

In 2016, 73 people died from a total of 150 people who were poisoned by adulterated alcohol.    The following year, six poisoning cases killed three people and, according to Ukrainian media, ten poisonings recorded by the authorities in 2018 led to nine deaths.   The tax department of the Lviv region told AFP on Wednesday that the most adulterated alcohol was vodka, which is then sold in shops in small towns or cafes located along the roads.
Date: Thu, 27 Feb 2020 07:21:09 +0100 (MET)

Copenhagen, Feb 27, 2020 (AFP) - Denmark reported its first coronavirus case Thursday, a man who had returned from a skiing holiday in northern Italy which has become a hotspot for the disease.   "The man who came back from a skiing trip with his wife and son on February 24 has been suffering since then from a cough and a temperature," Denmark's public health agency said in a statement.   "The man tested positive, but the results of his wife and son are negative," it said.   The man is relatively well and has returned to his home, where he remains in isolation with his family, it added.   According to public TV station TV2, the man is one of its employees.   Italy has reported 400 coronavirus cases, mostly in the north, and 12 deaths.
Date: Wed, 26 Feb 2020 23:18:10 +0100 (MET)

Bucharest, Feb 26, 2020 (AFP) - Romania reported its first confirmed case of the novel coronavirus on Wednesday -- a man who was in contact with an Italian who visited the country last week.    "The patient, who is in good health and is showing no symptoms, will be transferred to Bucharest's hospital of infectious diseases," Health Minister Victor Costache told a press conference.

Seven other people who live at the same address as the man in the south-eastern Gorj county have all tested negative but will be quarantined for 14 days as a precaution, emergency department official Raed Arafat said.   The Italian believed to be the source of Romania's first diagnosis tested positive for the deadly virus upon returning to Italy after a four-day visit to Gorj.

New cases have been emerging across Europe, many linked to the continent's coronavirus hotspot in northern Italy.    Several governments have advised against travel to Italy, which has now recorded 400 cases and 12 deaths.   The COVID-19 outbreak has killed over 2,700 people and infected more than 80,000 in 34 countries, although the vast majority of cases remain in China, according to the World Health Organization.
Date: Wed, 26 Feb 2020 21:33:56 +0100 (MET)

Oslo, Feb 26, 2020 (AFP) - Norwegian health authorities on Wednesday announced the first case of coronavirus in the Nordic nation in someone who returned from China last week, but said the patient was not "in danger".   "The person is not ill, they are in good health and do not present any symptoms," Line Vold, an official at the Norwegian Institute of Public Health, told reporters. "We think it is very unlikely that they have infected" others.   Routine tests had given a "weekly positive result" and detected traces of the new coronavirus, the institute said.
Date: Wed, 26 Feb 2020 20:03:47 +0100 (MET)

Tbilisi, Feb 26, 2020 (AFP) - Georgia on Wednesday announced its first confirmed case of the novel coronavirus in the South Caucasus region.   "A Georgian national has tested positive for the novel coronavirus," Health Minister Ekaterine Tikaradze told a news conference, adding that the infected man has been placed in isolation in a Tbilisi hospital.   "Three different tests of the 50-year-old man's nasopharyngeal smear gave positive results, but he is doing well, he is clinically healthy," head of Georgia's national centre for disease control, Amiran Gamkrelidze told journalists.

The man had arrived in Georgia from Iran via Azerbaijan, Gamkrelidze said.   Tikaradze said Georgia would introduce a two-week ban on Iranian nationals entering Georgia, but flatly dismissed fears of a coronavirus epidemic in the ex-Soviet country "at this point".   On Sunday, Georgia's neighbour Armenia closed its border with Iran and suspended flights as fears over an outbreak of coronavirus in Iran sent neighbouring countries scrambling to contain the outbreak.