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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: Wed, 6 May 2020 19:47:21 +0200 (METDST)
By Sophie PONS

Rabat, May 6, 2020 (AFP) - Morocco has rapidly expanded its fleet of drones as it battles the coronavirus pandemic, deploying them for aerial surveillance, public service announcements and sanitisation.   "This is a real craze. In just weeks, demand has tripled in Morocco and other countries in the region," said Yassine Qamous, chief of Droneway Maroc, African distributor for leading Chinese drone company DJI.   Moroccan firms have been using drones for years and Qamous says it "is among the most advanced countries in Africa" for unmanned flight, with a dedicated industrial base, researchers and qualified pilots.

But restrictive regulations have long limited civilian drones to specific applications such as filming, agriculture, monitoring solar panels and mapping.   That changed rapidly as the novel coronavirus swept across the world.    In recent weeks, authorities have employed drones to issue warnings, identify suspicious movement in the streets and disperse illegal rooftop and balcony gatherings.   A strict lockdown imposed in March has not been uniformly respected, with local media reporting on nighttime gatherings of neighbours and collective prayers on roofs, beyond the view of street patrols.

- 'Vital technology' -
Last week local authorities in Temara, a town near the capital Rabat, launched a high-precision aerial surveillance system developed by local company Beti3D, which previously specialised in aerial mapping.   Other countries in Europe, Asia and the Middle East have also adopted technology deployed in China since the start of the pandemic, whether for tracking the movements of citizens, disinfecting public spaces or facilitating deliveries.   "Drones have quickly emerged as a vital technology for public safety agencies during this crisis as they can safely monitor public spaces," according to the website of DJI, by far the world's top drone maker.

Like most countries, Morocco primarily uses imported Chinese drones. But the emergence of new applications linked to the pandemic is also driving local production of specialised aerial vehicles.   "There is real demand," said Abderrahmane Krioual, the head of Farasha, a start-up that has raised funds to produce drones for thermal surveillance and aerial disinfectant spraying.   The aeronautics department of the International University of Rabat (UIR) offered its facilities, expertise and prototypes to authorities in March, deploying drones with loudspeakers or infrared cameras able to detect movement at night or spot individuals with high temperatures.

Several projects are underway across the country ahead of the widespread deployment of various models of drones, said Mohsine Bouya, the university's director of technology development and transfer.    Teams are also developing tracking applications, but "we'll have to wait for a change to the law" before launching them, he said.   Moroccan authorities declined to comment on the use of drones or the numbers deployed since the start of the public health emergency in mid-March.

- 'Toxic lockdown culture' -
Unlike in some countries, the use of surveillance drones has not sparked public debate in Morocco, where the kingdom's authoritarian response to the pandemic is widely supported.   Morocco closed its borders early and tasked law enforcement with imposing strict confinement measures on the population.

They include movement restrictions and the compulsory wearing of masks, with a nighttime curfew since the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan -- enforced by a heavy police presence.   Those found guilty of violating lockdown measures face one to three months in prison, a fine equivalent to $125, or both.    Officials say 59,000 people have been prosecuted for breaching lockdown measures.

Authorities say the measures have limited transmission of the virus, with 5,382 COVID-19 cases reported including 182 deaths since the state of emergency was announced.   But the kingdom's high number of arrests -- some 85,000 people by April 30 -- has drawn criticism from Georgette Gagnon, director of field operations at the United Nations' Human Rights Office.   Last week she listed Morocco among countries where repressive coronavirus measures have created a "toxic lockdown culture".    Morocco disputed this, saying its measures were "in line with legal frameworks respecting human rights".
Date: Mon, 13 Apr 2020 12:38:28 +0200 (METDST)

Rabat, April 13, 2020 (AFP) - More than 4,300 people were arrested over the weekend in Morocco for breaching emergency rules in place to combat the novel coronavirus, according to official figures.   More than half of those detained were taken into police custody.   Since mid-March, authorities have arrested 28,701 people across the North African country, 15,545 of whom have been referred to court after being held in custody, according to the country's national security force DGSN.

Penalties for violating measures in place to curb the spread of the COVID-19 disease include up to three months in jail and fines of up to 1,300 dirhams ($130), or both.   Morocco imposed a public health state of emergency on March 19, confining everyone to their homes except those with a permit to be out for work.   Last week, authorities made wearing face masks in public obligatory.   Police and security agents supported by soldiers in armoured cars have been deployed around the country, erecting road barriers and control points to enforce the measures.

Morocco has recorded 1,746 COVID-19 cases, with 120 deaths and 196 recoveries. Fewer than 7,000 tests have been carried out.   The largest number of arrests were made in the country's economic centre of Casablanca and the capital Rabat, according to the DGSN.   Isolation measures have proved most challenging in densely populated, working-class neighbourhoods, according to local media reports.

Economic paralysis brought on by the pandemic has left millions of Moroccans in a precarious existence, with the bulk of the workforce made up of informal workers dependent on odd jobs and lacking access to social safety nets.   In the absence of a social database, authorities are working to identify needy families to distribute direct financial aid and food baskets.
Date: Tue, 7 Apr 2020 00:04:15 +0200 (METDST)

Rabat, April 6, 2020 (AFP) - Wearing face masks in public will be obligatory in Morocco from Tuesday in a bid to stem the spread of coronavirus, according to an official decree.   The decision was announced late Monday after a government meeting on how to control the epidemic.   Morocco imposed a public health state of emergency on March 19, confining everyone to their homes except those with a permit to be out and about for their work.

Police, security agents and soldiers in armoured cars have been deployed around the country, erecting road barriers and control points.   The official number of COVID-19 cases in Morocco has doubled in a week to 1,120, including 80 fatalities.   The real numbers are likely to be significantly higher as there is a lack of testing gear in the country.
Date: Tue, 24 Mar 2020 18:49:02 +0100 (MET)

Rabat, March 24, 2020 (AFP) - Morocco has authorised hospitals to use antimalarial drugs in treating the new coronavirus, according to a document seen by AFP, as scientists urge caution over encouraging results from small trials.   The Moroccan health ministry on Monday gave hospitals and regional health directors the green light to start using hydroxychloroquine and related compound chloroquine "in the care of confirmed COVID-19 cases".

In a message seen by AFP, it said that "efforts have been made to ensure the availability of these medicines", urging caution in how the stocks are managed.   Rabat last week ordered the Moroccan branch of French drug maker Sanofi to hand over its entire stock of Nivaquine and Plaquenil, both of which contain chloroquine.   Studies in France and China have found that the drug helped patients suffering from the COVID-19 illness, and France on Monday ordered its use in severe cases.

US President Donald Trump on Monday said chloroquine could be a "gift from God".   He has been criticised by scientists for overhyping the drug, and on Monday the World Health Organization urged caution over its use.   NBC later reported that a woman in Arizona who heard Trump talk about chloroquine ended up in hospital and her husband died after they took a form of chloroquine she had used to treat her koi fish.   Authorities in Nigeria said hospitals had seen cases of chloroquine poisoning after Trump's comments.   Experts have urged the public to remain cautious until larger clinical trials validate the smaller studies.

In its note, Morocco's health ministry said it took its decision after consulting with a scientific committee which recommended prescribing chloroquine along with another drug called azithromycine.   Morocco's transport minister, Abdelkader Amara, who tested positive for the new coronavirus on March 14, has already said he was taking Nivaquine.   "My health is stable. I have no fever or respiratory symptoms. The headaches are almost gone. I just feel a little tired," he told private radio station Medi 1.   Morocco has recorded 143 cases of the COVID-19 illness, with four dead. The country has three screening centres and 1,642 intensive care beds for 35 million inhabitants.
Date: Sat, 14 Mar 2020 22:11:12 +0100 (MET)
By Hamza Mekouar with Sophie Pons in Rabat

Fnideq, Morocco, March 14, 2020 (AFP) - Thousands of tourists were stranded in Morocco on Saturday after the kingdom suddenly announced strict border restrictions in response to the coronavirus, leaving travellers stuck at borders, ports and airports.   "We are lost!" said David, an Italian tourist waiting at the closed border with the Spanish enclave of Ceuta in northern Morocco.

Late on Saturday, Rabat announced a suspension of air links with 21 countries including Austria, Denmark, Greece, Norway, Sweden and Switzerland in Europe, as well Turkey and Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Oman, Tunisia, and the United Arab Emirates.   Africa's Chad, Mali, Mauritania, Niger and Senegal, and Canada and Brazil were also in the list.   Morocco had already suspended air, sea and land links with European countries and Algeria on Friday, as well as taking measures to confine citizens to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

Flights to and from Algeria, Spain, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, Portugal and Italy were suspended "until further notice", while sea links for passengers and Morocco's land borders with Ceuta and a second Spanish enclave, Melilla, were closed.   But France announced that Rabat had agreed to allow repatriation flights for French nationals.   "New flights are being organised to enable (stranded French tourists) to return to France," President Emmanuel Macron tweeted Saturday.   The first flights back to France had already taken off that day, Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said earlier.

The closure of the only land border between Africa and the European Union at Cueta and Melilla saw Spaniards rushing to leave on Thursday evening, as Moroccan day workers hastily returned in the opposite direction.   The land borders are busiest in summer and the border sees regular traffic throughout the year. Now though a Moroccan police roadblock bars the road towards the border with Cueta.

- 'Who will pay?' -
David said he tried to go to Spain because links with Italy, a hotspot of the disease, are suspended.   After arriving in Morocco for a motorcycle tour with his partner earlier this month, the 33-year-old Italian was stuck at a service station outside Cueta.

The border at Cueta, like that at Melilla, was reopened Friday only for Spaniards.    The Spanish embassy in Morocco tweeted Saturday that ferries were still operating between the enclaves and mainland Spain.   Its French counterpart also tweeted that "passage (into Ceuta and Melilla) is open to French ferry ticket holders with vehicles."

But except for a few travellers, the normally busy border post near the Moroccan town of Fnideq was deserted.   At the service station, camper vans bearing various European license plates were parked waiting.   "We don't know how long this will last, no one has told us anything," said Rene, a 71-year-old French man, speaking before Le Drian and Macrons' announcements.   "The weather is good here, there's surely fewer cases of coronavirus in Morocco than in France," he said.

Moroccan authorities have reported 17 cases of COVID-19, including one death. France and Spain have together announced more than 210 COVID-19 deaths.   Morocco's Transport Minister Abdelkader Amara has tested positive for the disease after an official visit to Europe, his ministry announced Saturday.   On the Spanish side at Cueta, stuck Moroccans were wondering why their country would not let them back in.   "If I need to get a hotel, who will pay?" asked a man hoping to return home.

At Tangiers port some 30 kilometres to the west, containers and trucks were unloaded as usual but the passenger terminal was closed.   The busiest port in North Africa, the facility welcomed 568,000 foreign tourists in 2019, while some 473,000 entered from Cueta and Melilla, according to official figures.   The travel restrictions are causing panic in the kingdom's tourism sector, which accounts for 10 percent of GDP and is a key source of foreign revenues.
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Mexico

General Information
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Mexico is becoming a very popular destination for Irish travellers. The country has many well known tourist destinations including the idyllic resort of Acapulco on the Pacific Ocean and t
e Yucatan Peninsula stretching out between the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico. There is a rapidly developing economy and luxury hotels are widely available throughout the country. Tourist facilities in the more remote regions (seldom visited by tourists) may be very limited.
Climate
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The country experiences a wide temperature profile with cool to cold temperatures on the mountainous ranges to a hot sub-tropical climate on the sea coasts. There is a rainy season from June to October and a dry season from November to May each year. Temperatures in April May and June tend to be in the mid 20’s centigrade. The southern and eastern regions tend to experience the heaviest rainfall.
Food & Water
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Some tourists visiting Mexico will undertake a trekking holiday for part of their time in the country. This will bring them out from the major cities into many of the poorer regions of the country. In these areas the level of food and water hygiene may be poor and travellers need to exercise continuous caution in this regard. Typically great care should be taken with the consumption of any cold foods. Lettuce would be a common cause of illness and should be avoided. Undercooked shellfish (prawns, oysters, mussels etc.) should be avoided at any time. The risk of contamination with a variety of diseases is just too high.
Street Vendors
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Many of the larger towns have a number of street vendors selling their produce on the side of the road. In general purchases of food from these vendors should be avoided. This is especially true with regard to buying ‘freshly squeezed’ fruit juice drinks. In some cases potentially contaminated tap water may have been used to supplement the supply. Another particular risk in Mexico involves the purchase of water melons from the market place. These are usually sold by their weight and it is reported that certain vendors may inject them with tap water to increase their value. Be sensible and take care.
Rabies
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This is another viral disease that occurs throughout Mexico. 69 cases of human Rabies were reported in 1990 but this figure has dropped to 24 in 1995. The disease is transmitted through the bite of any infected warm blooded animal (dog, cats, monkey etc.). Animals should be avoided at all costs and any bite (lick or scratch) should be immediately washed out with water and then have a strong antiseptic applied. The individual should then always seek urgent competent medical attention. Cycling in the early morning is a high risk time. Dogs may become agitated and run out at the bicycle.
Protection against Mosquitoes & Sandflys
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Travellers will need to exercise care against mosquito bites throughout the year and this has become particularly important due to regular outbreaks of Dengue Fever. This viral disease has swept through the Caribbean region over the past decade and Mexico has also been involved. There were approx. 4,500 cases during 1995 with about 16 deaths. More recently (Oct ‘99) the disease has been reported close to the US border with over 5000 patients affected. The disease seldom kills travellers but causes a severe flu like illness and pronounced skin rash in many of those infected. It is an unpleasant disease and can leave an individual ill for many weeks after infection. The mosquitoes can bite during the day or night. Most tourists should take care against mosquitoes by;
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Using adequate Insect Repellent
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Covering up well with pale coloured clothing
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Refraining from using Perfumes or Aftershaves at the risk times for bites.
Malaria
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For many tourists to Mexico the chance of contracting malaria is negligible. The disease does occur in some of the country and those planning to trek through the rural areas may be advised to consider prophylaxis. The states most affected are Oaxaca, Hiapas, Sinaloa, Campeche, Quintana Roo, Nayarit, Tabasco, Michoacán, Chihuahua and Hidalgo. The risk extends throughout the year and visitors to these regions always should consider adequate malaria prophylaxis.

Larva Migrans
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Walking on the beach above the high tide mark in many of the hotter countries without shoe covering may expose the traveller to infection with the Larva Migrans parasite. Mexico is no exception. This minute worm penetrates through the skin and causes a significant irritation just under the skin in those infected. The rash moves and becomes very itchy. Treatment is straightforward once a diagnosis is reached. Travellers walking along the beaches (above the high tide mark) should always wear shoe covering and avoid sitting straight on the sand.
Vaccinations
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No vaccines are essential for entry to Mexico however, in most cases, short term travellers will be advised to consider vaccination cover for;
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Tetanus (childhood booster)
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Typhoid (food & water borne)
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Hepatitis A (food & water borne)
For those undertaking a trekking holiday (or those who will live in the region for some months) vaccination cover against Rabies (animal bites), Meningococcal Meningitis (air borne) and Hepatitis B (accidents) may need to be considered.
General Health
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Further information on staying healthy while abroad may be obtained from the Tropical Medical Bureau.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Sun, 17 May 2020 22:46:20 +0200 (METDST)
By Román ORTEGA, Iván DUARTE y Germán CAMPOS

Puebla, Mexico, May 17, 2020 (AFP) - Scores of Mexicans are dying from drinking adulterated liquor, a consequence of the shortage of mainstream alcoholic beverages during the coronavirus pandemic, authorities say.   The first of at least 121 deaths in recent weeks occurred at the end of April in the western state of Jalisco, almost exactly a month after the government declared a health emergency over the spread of COVID-19.   Much of Mexico has run out of beer after factories producing liquor and beer were shut down, along with other non-essential firms.

Beer stocks were practically depleted within a month, and in some areas the prices of what was left doubled, according to industry sources.    Many of the 53 deaths in central Puebla province have been linked to a wake where people drank moonshine containing methanol -- a wood alcohol that in non-lethal doses can cause blindness and liver damage.    Twenty-three people died in the hours following the gathering in the town of Chiconcuautla, according to authorities.   The town's mayor said the popular "refino" drink, made from sugarcane, had been adulterated.

German Hernandez said his father died after being poisoned by drink known locally as "tejon" -- a blend of brandy with tejocote fruit (a type of hawthorn), in the Puebla town of Cacaloxuchitl.   "They sell it in the stores, and you can buy it and take it out. My father began trembling and feeling weak. He told us he felt bad, and we took him to the hospital," Hernandez told AFP.   "This has never happened before."    Deaths have also been recorded in the central state of Morelos and Yucatan and Veracruz in the east.

- Mafia trade -
Gangs specializing in bootleg booze are trying to take advantage of the lack of alternative alcohol sources during the shutdown.    "They usually have very well-structured mafias, and some escape the surveillance of the authorities," Ricardo Cardenas of the Federal Commission for Protection against Sanitary Risks told AFP.   "We presume that, as a result of this shortage and demand being very high, some people are offering or trying to sell methanol instead of ethyl alcohol," said Denis de Santiago, head of Sanitary Risks in Jalisco.

Methanol is used in fuel, solvents and antifreeze.   The country's largest beer producers, Grupo Modelo -- which makes the popular Corona beer -- and Heineken, which makes Sol, halted production in early April.   Alcohol sales have been banned in some states, including Yucatan. In others, alcoholic beverages can only be purchased at certain times.   Some drinks companies have switched production to antibacterial gel that they are donating to the federal government and health workers.

- 'Who would have thought?' -
In Yucatan, where 38 people have died so far, victims unknowingly drank methanol in their usual "pajaretes" -- a common cocktail that includes milk, coffee, vanilla and brand-name sugarcane alcohol.   Humberto Macias, 36, said he saw three of his relatives die within days of each other after drinking a pajarete cocktail, made using a trusted brand of alcohol.   "We had always drunk it, including myself, many people. Who would have thought it was like this?" Macias said.

In the Yucatan peninsula town of Acanceh, seven people have died from alcohol poisoning.   "It's the first time I've heard of a case like this. I don't remember anything similar," the town's mayor Felipe Medina told AFP.   In Veracruz, Morelos and Yucatan, investigators are still trying to determine what drinks the victims consumed.
Date: Thu, 14 May 2020 07:52:29 +0200 (METDST)

Puebla, Mexico, May 14, 2020 (AFP) - At least 42 people are now dead after drinking adulterated alcohol at a funeral in Mexico's central Puebla state, officials said.    Eleven others are fighting for their lives after attending the service in Chinconcuatla, around 200 kilometres (125 miles) northeast of Mexico City, according to a Wednesday statement from the local government.

Dozens of people were rushed to hospitals on Tuesday, vomiting and suffering headaches after drinking the tainted beverages.   Authorities said the coronavirus epidemic had led to shortages of beer and other alcoholic drinks, leading to the consumption of dangerous adulterated liquor.   Last month, 21 people died in the western state of Jalisco after drinking tainted alcohol.
Date: Thu, 30 Apr 2020 04:31:04 +0200 (METDST)

Guadalajara, Mexico, April 30, 2020 (AFP) - Some 21 people have died and 13 others have been seriously injured in the Mexican state of Jalisco after ingesting contaminated liquor, regional authorities said Wednesday.     In total, 56 people have been affected in two municipalities in the western state since Saturday, state health official Huge Esparza said during a press conference, including the 21 who have died and 29 who have become ill.    The 13 who became seriously ill were transported via helicopter to hospitals in Guadalajara, the capital of Jalisco, while the rest were discharged, Esparza said.

On Saturday, patients began presenting with "symptoms of blurred vision and/or vision loss, intense abdominal pain, difficulty breathing and convulsions," he said.    They had ingested a form of cane alcohol purer than that made for drinking that was manufactured in neighbouring Michoacan state.    Some 700 litres of the liquor were seized over the following days.    Laboratory tests showed the liquor contained a "high concentration" of methanol used "as an additive to liquid fuels," according to another Jalisco health official, Denis Santiago   "This chemical agent is for industrial use," he said.    One other person was affected in Michoacan, though Jalisco authorities did not provide details on their condition.
Date: Sat 4 Apr 2020
Source: Outbreak News Today [abridged, edited]

Health officials in Mexico are reporting a measles outbreak that has affected 101, including 87 cases in Mexico City, according to a La Silla Rota report.

The outbreak began in North Reclusorio in Mexico City on 23 Feb 2020, and state health officials reported on 21 Mar 2020 that the number of cases had grown to 49. In the 10 days since, that number has more than doubled to 101.

The cases are reported in Mexico City (87), the State of Mexico (13) and the state of Campeche (1).
=======================
[Also see: Measles (03) - Mexico: (Mexico City) increase in cases, spread to other areas: Wed 1 Apr 2020; Mexico News Daily:
This is an increase of 20 cases in relation to the last cut. Of the 101 cases, 96 were detected in CDMX (Ciudad de Mexico)

While the global COVID-19 pandemic is the priority for health officials the world over, a smaller outbreak of a similar kind is also worrying those in Mexico state, Mexico City, and now Campeche.

According to the Health Ministry's epidemiology department, the number of measles cases in the country doubled in just 10 days.

The outbreak began in a prison in the north of Mexico City on 23 Feb 2020, and state health officials reported on 21 Mar 2020 that the number of cases had grown to 49. In the 10 days since, that number has more than doubled to 101.

A Health Ministry epidemiology report issued at 10:00 p.m. on Tue [31 Mar 2020] said that 87 of the cases are located in Mexico City, 13 are in Mexico state, and one has been identified in the state of Campeche, the 1st of this outbreak confirmed outside of the Valley of Mexico.

Smaller concentrations of imported measles cases sprouted up in several states last year [2019], including Quintana Roo, Chihuahua, Nuevo Leon, San Luis Potosi and Mexico state, but none of them grew to such numbers as the current outbreak.

The borough of Gustavo A. Madero, where the outbreak's epicentre -- the Reclusorio Norte prison -- is located, has most of the city's measles patients with 47. Cases have also been confirmed in 11 other boroughs in the city.

Five of the 13 infected people in Mexico state are in Ecatepec, and there are also measles cases in Tecamac, Tlalnepantla, Naucalpan, Atizapan de Zaragoza, Nezahualcoyotl and Chimalhuacan.

The case reported in Campeche is in the municipality of Champoton, where a 5-year-old girl contracted the disease despite having received the measles vaccine.

Of the 101 confirmed cases, 57 are adults aged 17-68, while 44 are children ranging from 4 months to 13 years old, and 19 had been vaccinated against the disease before contracting it. - ProMed Mod.LK]
Date: Tue 24 Mar 2020
Source: Explica [abridged, edited]

The Valley of Mexico currently faces 2 diseases that day by day infect a greater number of citizens. Not only has the so-called coronavirus pandemic caused the authorities to take preventive measures, measles became a latent risk.

Shortly after the health authorities began to implement preventive measures for Covid-19 throughout Mexico, it was revealed that 16 people were infected with measles, but, from 5-23 Mar 2020, cases have reached 67 infected.

It was the General Directorate of Epidemiology of the Ministry of Health that released the report of confirmed measles cases in the Valley of Mexico. Although 62 cases were located in Mexico City, the rest occurred in people who live in the State of Mexico.

In 24 hours, a total of 20 cases were confirmed, most of which are found in the Gustavo A. Madero, Alvaro Obregon, Miguel Hidalgo and Cuajimalpa mayoralties.

The cases in the State of Mexico were located in the municipalities of Ecatepec, Naucalpan, Tecamac, Nezahualcoyotl and Tlalnepantla, which have infected cases in each one.

Of the 67 cases, only 10 of them had a history of vaccination for the disease.

It all started when last 5 Mar 2020, the health authorities of the capital announced the existence of an outbreak of measles in 16 people.

The information caused a stir, because all the cases were related to the North Male Preventive Prison, located at Jaime Nuno 155, Cuautepec Barrio Bajo, Guadalupe Chalma neighbourhood, city hall Gustavo A. Madero.

According to the newspaper El Universal, among the confirmed infections was a minor of 8 years who was linked to one of the inmates.

Before more than 10 cases, the authorities decided to carry out a sweep inside the prison, that is, a vaccination campaign for the more than 3000 inmates incarcerated, but also for the personnel who work in the facilities, the custodians and the relatives who commonly visit the prisoners.

For the 8-year-old girl who was infected, El Heraldo de Mexico reported that a perimeter of 25 blocks around the house in which the minor lives, located in the Alvaro Obregon city hall, was swept. However, the general director of Epidemiology, Jose Luis Alomia Zegarra, clarified that the 1st measles patient registered was an imported case.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), measles is caused by a virus in the paramyxovirus family and is one of the leading causes of death in children. During 2017, measles took the lives of 110,000 children under the age of 5 around the world.

The disease begins to appear between 10 and 12 days after the 1st contact with the virus, as a runny nose, cough, red eyes, tears, and white spots appear on the inside of the cheeks.  The best known feature of the disease are red welts, known as anaxems, that appear between day 7 and 18 after contact.
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Azerbaijan

Azerbaijan US Consular Information Sheet
January 27, 2009
COUNTRY DESCRIPTION:
Azerbaijan is a constitutional republic with a developing economy.
Western-style amenities are found in the capital, Baku, but they are generally not avail
ble outside that city.
Read the Department of State Background Notes on Azerbaijan for additional information.

ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS:
A passport and visa are required.
Travelers may obtain single-entry visas for USD 131 by mail or in person from either the Azerbaijani Embassy in Washington, DC or any other Azerbaijani embassy offering consular services.
Travelers may also obtain single-entry, 30-day visas at the airport upon arrival for USD 131.
Visas are not available at the land borders with Georgia or Russia.
Double-entry, 90-day visas (cost: USD 131) and one-year multiple-entry visas (cost: USD 250) are only available through an Azerbaijani embassy or through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
A letter of invitation from a contact in Azerbaijan is required, and travelers who expect to travel in the region should request a one-year, multiple-entry visa.
According to Azerbaijani law, foreign nationals intending to remain in Azerbaijan for more than 30 days must register with local police within three days of their arrival. Foreign citizens should approach the passport section of the local district police office and fill out an application form. The registration fee is AZN 9.90 (approximately USD 12).

American citizens of Armenian ancestry should be aware their visa applications may be denied by the Government of Azerbaijan on the grounds that their safety cannot be guaranteed.
U.S. citizens who obtain a single-entry visa at the port of entry are permitted to remain in Azerbaijan for up to one month, after which an extension of stay must be requested (cost: USD 131).
For persons already in Azerbaijan, visa applications, extensions or renewals are made at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Shikhali Gurbanov St., 4, Baku; tel. (9-9412) 492 34 01, or the State Migration Service, Ataturk Avenue 53, Baku; tel (9-9412) 498-9464.
For additional information, please contact the Embassy of Azerbaijan, 2741 34th Street NW, Washington, DC
20008 (tel. 202-337-3500); e-mail: azerbaijan@azembassy.com.
American citizens should ensure their visas and/or local identification cards, for stays of longer than 30 days, are current and valid, and they carry local identification cards, if applicable, at all times. It is advisable to carry a photocopy of your current passport and valid visa if you do not normally carry your passport as well.
Visit the Embassy of Azerbaijan web site at http://www.azembassy.us/ for the most current visa information.
.
Information about dual nationality or the prevention of international child abduction can be found on our web site.
For further information about customs regulations, please read our Customs Information sheet.

SAFETY AND SECURITY:
As a result of continuing conflict, travelers are cautioned to avoid travel to the region of Nagorno-Karabakh and the surrounding occupied areas.
Because of the existing state of hostilities, consular services are not available to Americans in Nagorno-Karabakh.
American citizens of Armenian ancestry considering travel to Azerbaijan should remain particularly vigilant when visiting the country, as the Government of Azerbaijan has claimed that it is unable to guarantee their safety.
For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department of State‘s Bureau of Consular Affairs web site, where the current Travel Warnings and Travel Alerts, as well as the Worldwide Caution, can be found.

Up-to-date information on safety and security can also be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll free in the U.S. and Canada, or for callers outside the U.S. and Canada, a regular toll-line at 1-202-501-4444.

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 A Safe Trip Abroad.

CRIME:
Baku has experienced a trend away from casual stealth street crime, such as pick-pocketing, towards more targeted and aggressive attacks.
These attacks tend to be against males, usually involve alcohol, and usually occur late at night.
The attacks typically involve multiple attackers on a lone victim using overwhelming numbers and a quick, violent attack to end resistance or flight.
Violent crimes tend to be more frequent in the winter, despite the presence of fewer tourists and foreigners in general at this time of year.
Many recent attacks have resulted in injuries.
There are also reports of foreigners being held up at knife- or gunpoint at or near ATMs during hours of darkness. Visitors should not walk alone at night.

All incidents of crime should be reported to the local police and U.S. Embassy.
The Police Office of Crimes By and Against Foreigners has an English-speaking officer available at all times who may be reached at (994 12) 490-95-32 or, after hours, at 490-94-52.
INFORMATION FOR VICTIMS OF CRIME:
The loss or theft abroad of a U.S. passport should be reported immediately to the local police and the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate.
If you are the victim of a crime while overseas, in addition to reporting to local police, please contact the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate for assistance.
The embassy/consulate staff can, for example, assist you to find appropriate medical care, contact family members or friends and explain how funds could be transferred.
Although the investigation and prosecution of the crime is solely the responsibility of local authorities, consular officers can help you to understand the local criminal justice process and to find an attorney if needed.

The local equivalents of the “911” emergency lines in Azerbaijan are: 101-Fire Brigade; 102-Police; 103-Ambulance; 104-Gas services; and 112-Ministry of Emergency Situations.

Please see our information on Victims of Crime, including possible victim compensation programs in the United States.

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 Azerbaijan’s laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned.
Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Azerbaijan 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.

SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES:
The Republic of Azerbaijan's economy is mostly cash-only.
Traveler’s checks and credit cards are accepted only in some hotels and a few restaurants and supermarkets.

Azerbaijani customs authorities may enforce strict regulations concerning temporary importation into or export from Azerbaijan of items such as firearms, religious materials, antiquities including carpets, medications, and caviar, and any amount of currency over USD 1000.
It is advisable to contact the Embassy of Azerbaijan in Washington for specific information regarding customs requirements.
Please see our Customs Information.

MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION:
A few Western-type medical clinics, the quality of which is comparable to those in Western countries, are operating in Baku.
However, medical facilities outside the capital remain inadequate, unsanitary, and unsafe.
There is often a shortage of basic medical supplies, including disposable needles and vaccines. Bring adequate amounts of prescription medicines for the duration of your visit, as pharmacies often do not carry all brands or doses.

Tuberculosis (TB) is an increasingly serious health concern in Azerbaijan.
For further information, please consult the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Travel Notice on TB http://wwwn.cdc.gov/travel/yellowBookCh4-TB.aspx.

Avian Influenza:
In 2006, the World Health Organization (WHO) and Azerbaijani authorities confirmed several human cases of the H5N1 strain of avian influenza, commonly known as "bird flu."
Travelers to Azerbaijan and other countries affected by the virus are cautioned to avoid poultry farms, contact with animals in live food markets, and any surfaces that appear to be contaminated with feces from poultry or other animals.
In addition, the CDC and WHO recommend eating only fully cooked poultry and eggs.
For the most current information and links on avian influenza in Azerbaijan, see the State Department’s Avian Influenza Fact Sheet or visit the web site of the U.S. Embassy in Baku at http://azerbaijan.usembassy.gov/.

Information on vaccinations and other health precautions, such as safe food and water precautions and insect bite protection, may be obtained from the CDC’s hotline for international travelers at 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747) or via the CDC’s web site at http://wwwn.cdc.gov/travel/default.aspx.
For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad consult the WHO web site at http://www.who.int/en.
Further health information for travelers is available at http://www.who.int/ith/en.

The U.S. Department of State is unaware of any HIV/AIDS entry restrictions for visitors to or foreign residents of Azerbaijan.

MEDICAL INSURANCE:
The U.S. Department of State strongly urges Americans to consult with their medical insurance company prior to traveling abroad to confirm whether their policy applies overseas and whether it will cover emergency expenses such as a medical evacuation.
Please see our information on medical insurance overseas.

TRAFFIC SAFETY AND ROAD CONDITIONS:
While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States.
The information below concerning Azerbaijan is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.
Driving hazards such as open manholes, debris, sinkholes, and potholes are common in Baku.
Most drivers do not pay attention to traffic regulations, signals, lane markings, pedestrians, or other drivers.
Drivers often travel at extremely high speeds, and accidents are frequent and often serious.
Driving in Baku should be considered extremely hazardous.
Outside the city, even where roads are present, conditions are similar.
Roads are often in poor repair and unlighted, and lack lane markings, traffic signs, and warnings.
Many rural roads are largely unpaved.
Public transportation throughout the country is overcrowded and poorly maintained.
The U.S. Embassy strongly discourages use of the Baku Metro.
Train travel in the Caucasus region is not secure.

Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information.
Visit the web site of the Azerbaijan’s national tourist office and national authority responsible for road safety at http://azerbaijan.tourism.az/
AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT:
As there is no direct commercial air service to the United States by carriers registered in Azerbaijan, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not assessed Azerbaijan’s Civil Aviation Authority for compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards.
For more information, travelers may visit the FAA’s web site at http://www.faa.gov/safety/programs_initiatives/oversight/iasa.

Travelers on regional airlines among the countries of the Caucasus may experience prolonged delays and sudden cancellations of flights.
In addition to frequent delays, flights are often overcrowded, with passengers without seats standing in the aisle along with excess unsecured cabin luggage.
Even basic safety features such as seat belts are sometimes missing.
Air travel to Azerbaijan on international carriers via Europe is typically more reliable.

CHILDREN'S ISSUES:
For information see our Office of Children’s Issues web pages on intercountry adoption and international parental child abduction.

REGISTRATION / EMBASSY LOCATION:
Americans living or traveling in Azerbaijan are encouraged to register with the U.S. embassy through the State Department’s travel registration web site so that they can obtain updated information on travel and security within Azerbaijan.
Americans without Internet access may register directly with the U.S. embassy.
By registering, American citizens make it easier for the embassy or consulate to contact them in case of emergency.
The U.S. Embassy is located at Azadlig Prospekt 83; tel. (9-9412) 498-03-35, 36, or 37; (9-9412) 490-66-71; email: ConsularBaku@state.gov; web site at http://azerbaijan.usembassy.gov.
Travelers are encouraged to notify the Embassy before their permanent departure from the country.
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This replaces the Country Specific Information for Azerbaijan dated June 19, 2008 to update sections on Entry and Exit Requirements; Safety and Security; and Special Circumstances.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Fri, 19 Apr 2019 03:13:16 +0200
By Andrea PALASCIANO

Naftalan, Azerbaijan, April 19, 2019 (AFP) - Immersed up to her neck in a dark viscous liquid, Sulfiya smiles in delight, confident that the fetid substance will cure her painful condition.   Sulfiya, a Russian woman in her 60s, has travelled to Azerbaijan's north-western city of Naftalan in the hope that crude oil baths at a local sanatorium will end her years of suffering from polyarthritis, a disease affecting the joints.   "This is so pleasant," she enthuses, despite the reek of engine oil.

Her naked dip in oil heated to just above body temperature lasts 10 minutes, after which an attendant scrapes the brown oil off her skin and sends her into a shower.   The native of Russia's Tatarstan region said she and her friends "have long dreamed of coming" for treatment in Naftalan.   The petroleum spa resort in the oil-rich Caucasus country is a draw for visitors despite its proximity to Nagorny Karabakh, a region disputed between Azerbaijan and Armenia in a long-running armed conflict.

After 10 days of bathing in crude oil Sulfiya says she now feels "much better" and has even reduced her medication for the polyarthritis that she has had for 12 years.   "It is a gift from God," agrees 48-year-old Rufat, an Azerbaijani journalist and opposition party member who is undergoing treatment in the sanatorium called Sehirli, or "magic" in Azerbaijani.   Azerbaijan's vast oil deposits were discovered in the mid-19th century, making what was at the time part of the Russian Empire one of the first places in the world to start commercial oil production.

Oil exports to markets all over the world are the largest sector of Azerbaijan's economy, but the crude that comes from subsoil reservoirs in Naftalan is not suitable for commercial use.   Instead the local oil is used to treat muscular, skin and bone conditions as well as gynaecological and neurological problems.   According to a legend, which spa staff readily tell clients, the healing properties of Naftalan's "miraculous oil" were discovered by accident when a camel left to die near a pool of oil was cured.

The small town of Naftalan some 300 kilometres (185 miles) from the capital Baku became a popular health resort for Soviet citizens in the 1920s.   "In the past, when there weren't any hotels or sanatoriums, people would come to Naftalan and stay with locals," said one of the doctors at the Sehirli sanatorium, Fabil Azizov, sitting in her office under a portrait of strongman President Ilham Aliyev.   "But as time passed, sanatoriums were built and treatment methods developed."

- Controversial benefits -
Some specialists warn the method has dangerous side effects.   "Despite the stories of past cures, the use of crude oil for medicinal purposes has been condemned by Western doctors as potentially carcinogenic," former journalist Maryam Omidi wrote in a 2017 book published in Britain about Soviet-era sanatoriums.

In fact, the oil at Naftalan is almost 50 percent naphthalene, a carcinogenic substance found in cigarette smoke and mothballs that in large amounts can damage or destroy red blood cells.   But doctors and patients at Naftalan brush aside any misgivings and the sanatorium even has a small museum displaying crutches that once belonged to patients who have recovered from their illnesses.

- 'We heard gunshots' -
During its heyday in the 1980s, Naftalan would host more than 70,000 visitors a year.    But in 1988, a bloody war began with neighbouring Armenia for the control of Azerbaijan's separatist Nagorny Karabakh region, which unilaterally proclaimed independence from Baku in 1991.

The conflict claimed the lives of some 30,000 people from both sides and forced hundreds of thousands to flee their homes.   A 1994 ceasefire agreement ended hostilities, but the arch foes have yet to reach a definitive peace deal and there are frequent skirmishes along the volatile frontline.   During the war, the sanatoriums in Naftalan -- a few kilometres from the frontline -- were converted into hospitals for wounded soldiers and temporary accommodation for refugees.

Over the last two decades, the Azerbaijani authorities have worked hard to re-establish Naftalan's reputation as a health resort.    They resettled refugees in other regions, demolished decrepit Soviet-era sanatoriums and built brand-new tourist facilities.   Modern Naftalan is a blend of kitsch-looking high-end spas where a week's treatment costs some 1,000 euros, and modest sanatoriums where a week's treatment costs around 100 euros.   The simmering Karabakh conflict may be out of sight, but guests can still feel uncomfortably close to the military action.   During one of the deadliest recent bouts of fighting in April 2016, "we heard gunshots," said a member of staff at Naftalan's luxurious Garabag spa, adding quickly that "everyone stayed on."
Date: Fri, 12 Apr 2019 05:49:56 +0200
By Andrea PALASCIANO

Naftalan, Azerbaijan, April 12, 2019 (AFP) - Immersed up to her neck in a dark viscous liquid, Sulfiya smiles in delight, confident that the fetid substance will cure her painful condition.   Sulfiya, a Russian woman in her 60s, has travelled to Azerbaijan's north-western city of Naftalan in the hope that crude oil baths at a local sanatorium will end her years of suffering from polyarthritis, a disease affecting the joints.   "This is so pleasant," she enthuses, despite the reek of engine oil.

Her naked dip in oil heated to just above body temperature lasts 10 minutes, after which an attendant scrapes the brown oil off her skin and sends her into a shower.   The native of Russia's Tatarstan region said she and her friends "have long dreamed of coming" for treatment in Naftalan.   The petroleum spa resort in the oil-rich Caucasus country is a draw for visitors despite its proximity to Nagorny Karabakh, a region disputed between Azerbaijan and Armenia in a long-running armed conflict.

After 10 days of bathing in crude oil Sulfiya says she now feels "much better" and has even reduced her medication for the polyarthritis that she has had for 12 years.   "It is a gift from God," agrees 48-year-old Rufat, an Azerbaijani journalist and opposition party member who is undergoing treatment in the sanatorium called Sehirli, or "magic" in Azerbaijani.   Azerbaijan's vast oil deposits were discovered in the mid-19th century, making what was at the time part of the Russian Empire one of the first places in the world to start commercial oil production.

Oil exports to markets all over the world are the largest sector of Azerbaijan's economy, but the crude that comes from subsoil reservoirs in Naftalan is not suitable for commercial use.   Instead the local oil is used to treat to cure muscular, skin and bone conditions as well as gynaecological and neurological problems.   According to a legend, which spa staff readily tell clients, the healing properties of Naftalan's "miraculous oil" were discovered by accident when a camel left to die near a pool of oil was cured.

The small town of Naftalan some 300 kilometres (185 miles) from the capital Baku became a popular health resort for Soviet citizens in the 1920s.   "In the past, when there weren't any hotels or sanatoriums, people would come to Naftalan and stay with locals," said one of the doctors at the Sehirli sanatorium, Fabil Azizov, sitting in her office under a portrait of strongman President Ilham Aliyev.   "But as time passed, sanatoriums were built and treatment methods developed."

- Controversial benefits -
Some specialists warn the method has dangerous side effects.   "Despite the stories of past cures, the use of crude oil for medicinal purposes has been condemned by Western doctors as potentially carcinogenic," former journalist Maryam Omidi wrote in a 2017 book published in Britain about Soviet-era sanatoriums.

In fact, the oil at Naftalan is almost 50 percent naphthalene, a carcinogenic substance found in cigarette smoke and mothballs that in large amounts can damage or destroy red blood cells.   But doctors and patients at Naftalan brush aside any misgivings and the sanatorium even has a small museum displaying crutches that once belonged to patients who have recovered from their illnesses.

- 'We heard gunshots' -
During its heyday in the 1980s, Naftalan would host more than 70,000 visitors a year.    But in 1988, a bloody war began with neighbouring Armenia for the control of Azerbaijan's separatist Nagorny Karabakh region, which unilaterally proclaimed independence from Baku in 1991.  The conflict claimed the lives of some 30,000 people from both sides and forced hundreds of thousands to flee their homes.   A 1994 ceasefire agreement ended hostilities, but the arch foes have yet to reach a definitive peace deal and there are frequent skirmishes along the volatile frontline.

During the war, the sanatoriums in Naftalan -- a few kilometres from the frontline -- were converted into hospitals for wounded soldiers and temporary accommodation for refugees.   Over the last two decades, the Azerbaijani authorities have worked hard to re-establish Naftalan's reputation as a health resort.    They resettled refugees in other regions, demolished decrepit Soviet-era sanatoriums and built brand-new tourist facilities.

Modern Naftalan is a blend of kitsch-looking high-end spas where a week's treatment costs some 1,000 euros, and modest sanatoriums where a week's treatment costs around 100 euros.   The simmering Karabakh conflict may be out of sight, but guests can still feel uncomfortably close to the military action.   During one of the deadliest recent bouts of fighting in April 2016, "we heard gunshots," said a member of staff at Naftalan's luxurious Garabag spa, adding quickly that "everyone stayed on."
Date: Sun, 27 Aug 2017 12:33:14 +0200

Baku, Aug 27, 2017 (AFP) - Six people were injured Sunday when a fire at a military base in Azerbaijan set off explosions of weapons at a storage depot, officials in the Caucasus nation said.   Residents were evacuated from two villages Gilezi and Shitalchai nearest to the base, about 70 kilometres north of capital Baku, the defence ministry said in a statement.

The ministry said there was a fire at the base "which caused the explosions," without giving details of damages or cause of the fire.   A spokeswoman of the health ministry, Liya Bairamova, told AFP that six people were injured in the fire and blasts, though without clarifying if they were soldiers or civilians.   Earlier emergencies authorities said that first response vehicles could not get close to the base because of ongoing explosions.   A major road from Baku north to the city of Guba and the Russian border was closed due to the incident.
Date: Fri 8 Jul 2016, 14:46
Source: Azeri Press Agency (APA) [edited]

A 10-year-old boy has died of rabies after being bitten by a dog in his head, face, and mouth 20 days ago in the Dayikend village of Azerbaijan's Salyan. Rita Ismayilova, head of the department of epidemiology of especially dangerous infectious diseases of the Republican Anti Plague Station under the Health Ministry, told APA that the boy was admitted to the Salyan district central hospital the same day he was attacked by the dog. However, the child's body failed to create immunity as the incubation period of the disease was short, so it developed into rabies. The child was transferred to Baku and received symptomatic treatment in the children infectious diseases hospital No.1.

Nevertheless, the child could not be saved and he died on 7 Jul 2016. It's well known that there's no treatment for a person who is infected with rabies; it results in death", she said. She added that about 17 000 people bitten by animals every year are healed [see comment]. On rare occasions, the incubation period is very short. "This child's incubation period was 14 days and symptoms had already manifested. The treatment didn't help because the child's body failed to create immunity. Moreover, he had been bitten in dangerous parts -- his face, head, fingers, upper body. These areas are close to the brain and therefore death occurs earlier", she said. Note that this is the 2nd such [event] recorded in 2016. The 1st incident took place in Zagatala in May; P.T. (b. 1969) did not go to hospital after being bitten and died of rabies in Zagatala [See item 2].  [Byline: Konul Kamilqizi]
=====================
[The term "healed" may mislead, suggestive of remedying established rabies disease. The 17 000 people bitten by animals in Azerbaijan have, rather likely, undergone a "post exposure prophylaxis" treatment, preventing the development of disease (which, unfortunately, cannot be healed...). - ProMED Mod.AS]
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Azerbaijan, fatal human case
Date: Tue 24 May 2016, 12:31 GMT
Source: News.AZ [edited]

Azerbaijan's Health Ministry on Tue [24 May 2016] confirmed its 1st recorded human rabies case in the country in 2016. Liya Bayramova, spokesperson for the Health Ministry, told APA that P.T., 47, a resident of the Faldar village of the country's Zagatala district, was hospitalized with symptoms of rabies on 22 May 2016. "The woman was bitten by a dog on 1 Apr 2016, but she didn't admit to hospital immediately," Bayramova said.

She noted that in fact, in animal bite cases, people must be vaccinated against rabies within 14 days. "Turajova went to the hospital after 52 days when signs of rabies appeared. Her treatment continued in a hospital in Zagatala, and doctors from Minghachevir and Baku were sent for consultation," she added.

Rita Ismayilova, head of the department of epidemiology of especially dangerous infectious diseases of the Republican Anti Plague Station under the Health Ministry, told APA that a dog bit the index finger of that woman's right hand 2 months ago. "As she was slightly injured, she didn't seek medical aid. The wound healed, but 2 months later she began to exhibit signs of rabies. Symptoms begin with fear of light, water and air. Though the woman was hospitalized, human rabies case often results in death," Ismayilova noted.

She added that it is the 1st case of human rabies recorded in Azerbaijan in 2016. The last case of human rabies was recorded 3-4 years ago.
====================
[The statement of the spokesperson that "in fact, in animal bite cases, people must be vaccinated against rabies within 14 days" does not comply with WHO guidelines for the "post exposure prophylaxis (PEP)" procedures. Such cases require "immediate" post-exposure-prophylaxis treatment. Subscribers are referred to the following WHO's "Top 10 General Considerations in Rabies PEP", updated 2014:

1. Wounds must be immediately washed/flushed for 15 minutes and disinfected.
2. Rabies PEP should be instituted immediately. PEP consists of a course of potent, effective rabies vaccine that meets WHO recommendations and administration of rabies immunoglobulin.
3. PEP must be applied using vaccine regimens and administration routes that have been proven to be safe and effective.
4. PEP does not have contraindications if purified rabies immunoglobulin and vaccine are used. Pregnancy and infancy are not contraindications to PEP.
5. If rabies immunoglobulin is not available on 1st visit, use can be delayed by up to 7 days from the date of the 1st vaccine dose.
6. Initiation of PEP should not await the results of laboratory diagnosis or be delayed by dog observation when rabies is suspected.
7. When suspect rabid animal contacts (excluding bats) occur in areas free of carnivore-mediated rabies and where there is adequate surveillance in place, PEP may not be required. The decision must be based on expert risk assessment.
8. Patients presenting for rabies PEP even months after having been bitten should be treated as if the contact had recently occurred.
9. PEP should be administered even if the suspect animal is not available for testing or observation. However, vaccine and immunoglobulin administration may be discontinued if the animal involved: is a vaccinated dog (cat or ferret) that following observation for 10 days, remains healthy or is humanely killed and declared negative for rabies by a WHO prescribed laboratory test. 10. In areas enzootic for (canine and wildlife) rabies, PEP should be instituted immediately unless adequate laboratory surveillance and data indicates that the species involved is not a vector of rabies.

For the above and further information, see WHO "Guide for Rabies Pre and Post Exposure Prophylaxis in Humans at

The recent case, in a child (item 1), was a "Category III" case ("Bites to the head, neck, face hand and genitals") requiring special treatment.

Subscribers are referred to the excellent paper
"Things-you-may-not-know-about-rabies-but-should", available at
Date: Wed 18 Feb 2015
Source: Azer News [edited]

We are accustomed to hear about food poisoning in summertime and may neglect winter's main danger -- botulism -- which may strike us down. In January 2015, 64 cases of food poisoning were registered in Azerbaijan. The total number of victims of these poisoning cases reached 92 people, said Imran Abdullayev, Head of Hygiene and Epidemiology Center Department of the Health Ministry. Moreover, cases of botulism were registered in January 2015, which harmed 9 people, leaving 1 dead. The poisoning was due to homemade pickled tomatoes.

The Centre of Hygiene and Epidemiology urges people to follow hygiene rules at home and buy food from reliable catering outlets and grocery stores to avoid food poisoning. Special attention should be paid to children's nutrition.

To avoid food poisoning, one must simply follow hygiene rules at home and buy food in reliable catering outlets and grocery stores.

Prevention of botulism is simple: combining a refrigeration temperature with salt content and acidic conditions. This combination stops the growth of the bacterium and production of toxin.  [Byline: Nigar Orujova]
====================
[Pickling food in an acidic medium such as vinegar is one way of preserving the food and minimizing the risk of botulism, since the spores do not germinate below pH 4.6. Inadequate acidification, therefore, may be the issue here, and this has occurred before related to human botulism, as an example, from homemade pickled eggs (CDC: Foodborne botulism from eating home-pickled eggs -- Illinois, 1997. MMWR 2000;49:778-780). - ProMED Mod.LL]

[A HealthMap/ProMED-mail map can be accessed at:
More ...

Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone - US Consular Information Sheet
June 11, 2007
COUNTRY DESCRIPTION: Sierra Leone is a developing country in western Africa still recovering from a ten-year civil war that ended in 2002.
English is the official language, but Kri
, an English-based language, is widely used.
Tourist facilities in the capital, Freetown, are limited; elsewhere, they are rudimentary or nonexistent.
Read the Department of State Background Notes on Sierra Leone for additional information.

ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS:
A passport and visa are required.
Visitors are strongly encouraged to obtain visas in advance of travel to Sierra Leone.
Visitors to Sierra Leone are required to show International Certificates of Vaccination (yellow card) upon arrival at the airport with a record of vaccination against yellow fever. See our Foreign Entry Requirements brochure for more information on Sierra Leone and other countries.
The Embassy of Sierra Leone is located at 1701 19th Street NW, Washington, DC 20009; telephone (202) 939-9261.
The Embassy also maintains a website at www.embassyofsierraleone.org.
Information may also be obtained from the Sierra Leonean Mission to the United Nations, 245 East 49th St., New York, NY 10017; telephone (212) 688-1656 and from the website of the Sierra Leonean High Commission in London at http://www.slhc-uk.org.uk/.
Overseas, inquiries should be made at the nearest Sierra Leonean embassy or consulate.

See Entry and Exit Requirements for more information pertaining to dual nationality and the prevention of international child abduction.
Please refer to our Customs Information to learn more about customs regulations.

SAFETY AND SECURITY:
Security in Sierra Leone has improved significantly since the end of the civil war in 2002.
The United Nations Peacekeeping Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL) withdrew in December 2005 and Sierra Leone resumed responsibilities for its own security. The Sierra Leonean police are working to improve their professionalism and capabilities, but fall short of American standards in response time, communications, and specialty skills.

Areas outside Freetown lack most basic services. Embassy employees are free to travel throughout Sierra Leone.
Travelers are urged to exercise caution, however, especially when traveling beyond the capital.
Road conditions are hazardous and serious vehicle accidents are common.
Emergency response to vehicular and other accidents ranges from slow to nonexistent.

There are occasional unauthorized, possibly armed, roadblocks outside Freetown, where travelers might be asked to pay a small amount of money to the personnel manning the roadblock.
Because many Sierra Leoneans do not speak English, especially outside of Freetown, it can be difficult for foreigners to communicate their identity.
Public demonstrations are rare but can turn violent.
U.S. citizens should are advised to avoid large crowds, political rallies, and street demonstrations, and maintain security awareness at all times.

For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department's Internet web site where the current Worldwide Caution Public Announcement, Travel Warnings and Public Announcements can be found.

Up-to-date information on safety and security can also be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll free in the U.S., or for callers outside the U.S. and Canada, a regular toll-line at 1-202-501-4444.
These numbers are available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays).

The Department of State urges American citizens to take responsibility for their own personal security while traveling overseas.
For general information about appropriate measures travelers can take to protect themselves in an overseas environment, see the Department of State’s pamphlet A Safe Trip Abroad.
CRIME:
Entrenched poverty in Sierra Leone has led to criminality.
There has been an increase in homicide, armed robbery, and residential burglary.
Petty crime and pick pocketing of wallets, cell phones, and passports are very common.
Law enforcement authorities usually respond to crimes slowly, if at all.
Police investigative response are often incomplete and don’t provide support to victims.
Inefficiency is a serious problem at all levels within the government of Sierra Leone.
Americans traveling to or residing in Sierra Leone should maintain a heightened sense of awareness of their surroundings to help avoid becoming the victims of crime.

Business fraud is rampant and the perpetrators often target foreigners, including Americans.
Schemes previously associated with Nigeria are now prevalent throughout West Africa, including Sierra Leone, and pose a danger of grave financial loss.
Typically these scams begin with unsolicited communication (usually e-mails) from strangers who promise quick financial gain, often by transferring large sums of money or valuables out of the country, but then require a series of "advance fees" to be paid, such as fees for legal documents or taxes.
Of course, the final payoff does not exist; the purpose of the scam is simply to collect the advance fees.
A common variation is the scammer’s claim to be a refugee or émigré of a prominent West African family, or a relative of a present or former political leader who needs assistance in transferring large sums of cash.
Still other variations appear to be legitimate business deals that require advance payments on contracts.
Sometimes victims are convinced to provide bank account and credit card information and financial authorization that drains their accounts, incurs large debts against their credit, and takes their life savings.

The best way to avoid becoming a victim of advance-fee fraud is common sense – if a proposition looks too good to be true, it probably is.
You should carefully check and research any unsolicited business proposal before committing any funds, providing any goods or services, or undertaking any travel.
It is virtually impossible to recover money lost through these scams. Please see the Department of State’s brochures on Advance Fee Business Scams and on International Financial Scams for more information.

INFORMATION FOR VICTIMS OF CRIME:
The loss or theft abroad of a U.S. passport should be reported immediately to the local police and the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate.
If you are the victim of a crime while overseas, in addition to reporting to local police, please contact the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate for assistance.
The Embassy/Consulate staff can, for example, assist you to find appropriate medical care, contact family members or friends and explain how funds could be transferred.
Although the investigation and prosecution of the crime is solely the responsibility of local authorities, consular officers can help you to understand the local criminal justice process and to find an attorney if needed.

See our information on Victims of Crime.

MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION:
Quality and comprehensive medical services are very limited in Freetown, and are almost nonexistent for all but most minor treatment outside of the capital.
Persons with unstable chronic medical conditions that require on-going medical treatment or medications are discouraged from traveling to Sierra Leone.
Medicines are in short supply and due to inadequate diagnostic equipment, lack of medical resources and limited medical specialty personnel, complex diagnosis and treatment are unavailable.
The quality of medications in Sierra Leone is inconsistent and counterfeit drugs remain a problem.
Local pharmacies are generally unreliable. In the event medications are needed, such as over-the-counter medication, antibiotics, allergy remedies, or malaria prophylaxis, travelers may contact U.S. Embassy Health Unit personnel to receive general information about reliable pharmacies.

Medical facilities in Sierra Leone are scarce and for the most part sub-standard; outside the capital, standards are even lower.
There is no ambulance service in Sierra Leone, trauma care is extremely limited, and local hospitals should only be used in the event of an extreme medical emergency.
Many primary health care workers, especially in rural areas, lack adequate professional training.
Instances of misdiagnosis, improper treatment, and the administration of improper drugs have been reported.
Life-threatening emergencies often require evacuation by air ambulance at the patient's expense.
For a list of hospitals, visit our website at http://freetown.usembassy.gov/ .

Gastrointestinal diseases and malaria pose serious risk to travelers in Sierra Leone.
For additional information on malaria, including protective measures, see the CDC Travelers’ Health web site at http://www.cdc.gov/malaria/.

Information on vaccinations and other health precautions, such as safe food and water precautions and insect bite protection, may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s hotline for international travelers at 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747) or via the CDC’s internet site at http://www.cdc.gov/travel.
For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad consult the World Health Organization’s (WHO) website at http://www.who.int/en.
Further health information for travelers is available at http://www.who.int/ith.

MEDICAL INSURANCE:
The Department of State strongly urges Americans to consult with their medical insurance company prior to traveling abroad to confirm whether their policy applies overseas and whether it will cover emergency expenses such as a medical evacuation.
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 Sierra Leone is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.

Most main roads in Freetown are narrow and paved but have potholes; extremely narrow unpaved side streets are generally navigable.
Most roads outside Freetown are unpaved and are generally passable with a 4-wheel drive vehicle.
However, certain stretches of mapped road are often impassable during the rainy season, which usually lasts from May to September.
During the rainy season, add several hours to travel time between Freetown and outlying areas.
There is a major road repair and resurfacing program going on throughout the country that is slowly improving the quality of roads.
Public transport (bus or group taxi) is erratic, unsafe, and not recommended.
U.S. government employees are prohibited from using public transportation except for taxis that operate in conjunction with an approved hotel and that are rented on a daily basis.

Many vehicles on the road in Sierra Leone are unsafe and accidents resulting from the poor condition of these vehicles, including multi-vehicle accidents, are common.
Many drivers on the road in Sierra Leone are inexperienced and often drive without proper license or training.
Serious accidents are common, especially outside of Freetown, where the relative lack of traffic allows for greater speeds.
The chance of being involved in an accident increases greatly when traveling at night, and Embassy officials are not authorized to travel outside of major cities after dark.

Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information.

AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT: As there is no direct commercial air service between the United States and Sierra Leone, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not assessed Sierra Leone’s Civil Aviation Authority for compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards.
For more information, travelers may visit the FAA’s Internet website at http://www.faa.gov/safety/programs_initiatives/oversight/iasa.

Passengers departing Freetown on certain airlines should expect to pay an airport tax of $40.00 (payable in U.S. Dollars).
Several regional airlines service Freetown’s Lungi International Airport; however, it is not uncommon for them to alter scheduled stops, cancel or postpone flights on short notice, and overbook flights.
Travelers may experience unexpected delays even after checking in and must be prepared to handle alternate ticketing and/or increased food and lodging expenses.
European carriers are typically more reliable.
American citizens departing Lungi Airport have reported incidents of attempted extortion by officials claiming that travel documents were not in order.
Luggage can often be lost or pilfered.

Lungi Airport is located across a large body of water from Freetown.
There are helicopter and ferry services in connection with most major flights to transport passengers to the capital; however, the ferry service has frequent delays.
It should be noted that the ferry terminal is located in East Freetown, which has a higher crime rate than other parts of the capital.
Embassy personnel use available helicopter services, which usually cost $50 each way, to transit from Freetown to the airport.


SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES:
Sierra Leone is a cash economy; however, an anti-money laundering law passed in July 2005 prohibits importing more than $10,000 in cash except through a financial institution.
Travelers are advised not to use credit cards in Sierra Leone because very few facilities accept them and there is a serious risk that using a card will lead to the number being stolen for use in fraudulent transactions.
There are no ATMs connected to international networks.
Travelers' checks are not usually accepted as payment; however, travelers’ checks can be cashed at some banks including Sierra Leone Commercial Bank, Standard Chartered Bank and Rokel Commercial Bank.
The traveler must, however, have proof of identification and a signed receipt by the institution where the travelers’ checks were purchased.
Currency exchanges should be handled through a bank or established foreign exchange bureau.
Exchanging money with street vendors is dangerous because criminals may "mark" such people for future attack and there is the risk of receiving counterfeit currency.

Sierra Leone's customs authorities enforce strict regulations concerning the export of gems and precious minerals, such as diamonds and gold.
All mineral resources, including gold and diamonds, belong to the State and only the government of Sierra Leone can issue mining and export licenses.
The legal authority for the issuance of licenses is vested in the Ministry of Mines and Mineral Resources.
Failure to comply with relevant legislation can lead to serious criminal penalties.
For further information on mining activities in Sierra Leone, contact the Ministry of Mines and Mineral Resources:
The Director of Mines, Ministry of Mines and Mineral Resources, Fifth Floor, Youyi Building, Brookfields, Freetown, Sierra Leone; tel. (232-22) 240-420 or 240-176; fax (232-22) 240-574.

Corruption is a problem in Sierra Leone.
Travelers requesting service from government officials at any level may be asked for bribes.
You should report corrupt government officials to the Anti-Corruption Commission at one of the following locations:
The Sierra Leone Anti-Corruption Commission, 3 Gloucester Street, Freetown; 14a Lightfoot Boston Street, Freetown; 37 Kissy Town Road, Bo, Southern Province; Independence Square, Rogbaneh Road, Makeni; tel. (232- 22) 229-984 or 227-100 or 221-701; fax (232-22) 221-900; email: acc@sierratel.sl or info@anticorruption.sl;
and websites www.anticorruptionsl.org/anonymous.html and www.anticorruptionsl.org.

You must obtain official permission to photograph government buildings, airports, bridges, or official facilities including the Special Court for Sierra Leone and the American Embassy.
Areas where photography is prohibited may not be clearly marked or defined.
People sometimes do not want to be photographed for religious reasons or may want to be paid for posing.
Photographers should ask permission before taking someone’s picture.

U.S. citizens who are also Sierra Leonean nationals must provide proof of payment of taxes on revenues earned in Sierra Leone before being granted clearance to depart the country.
The Government of Sierra Leone now recognizes dual U.S.-Sierra Leonean citizenship; however; the U.S. Embassy may have difficulty assisting American citizens involved in legal or criminal proceedings if they entered the country on a Sierra Leonean passport.


Please see our Customs Information.

CRIMINAL PENALTIES:
While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country's laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law.
Sierra Leone’s judiciary is under-funded and overburdened, and offenders often must endure lengthy pre-trial or pre-hearing delays and detention.
Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses.
Persons violating Sierra Leone laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned.
Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Sierra Leone 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.

Travelers should carefully check their passport to see the length of time they are permitted to remain in the country and the validity of their visa.
Travelers leaving the country with an expired visa may incur additional charges.
Any Sierra Leonean visa issues can be regulated at the immigration office at Rawdon Street in Freetown.

CHILDREN'S ISSUES:
For information on international adoption of children and international parental child abduction, see the Office of Children’s Issues website.

A significant number of American prospective adoptive parents have found that Sierra Leonean children offered for adoption are not orphans under U.S. immigration law, which has ultimately resulted in denials of U.S. immigrant visas for children they adopt in Sierra Leonean courts.
Please refer to the Sierra Leone adoption flyer for more information.

REGISTRATION / EMBASSY LOCATION:
Americans living or traveling in Sierra Leone are encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate through the State Department’s travel registration website and to obtain updated information on travel and security within Sierra Leone.
Americans without Internet access may register directly with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate.
By registering, American citizens make it easier for the Embassy or Consulate to contact them in case of emergency.
The U.S. Embassy is located at Leicester Square, Regent; tel. (232) (22) 515 000 or (232) (76) 515 000; fax (232) (22) 515 355.
The Embassy maintains a home page on the Internet at http://freetown.usembassy.gov/.
*

*

*
This replaces the consular information sheet dated October 31, 2006, to update sections on Entry/Exit Requirement; Crime; Medical Facilities and Health Information; Aviation Safety Oversight; Special Circumstances; Criminal Penalties; and Registration/Embassy Location.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Fri, 1 May 2020 13:50:24 +0200 (METDST)

Freetown, May 1, 2020 (AFP) - Sierra Leone's President Julius Maada Bio has extended a coronavirus lockdown for three days from Sunday due to the spread of the virus in the poor West African nation.   There are fears that the nation of 7.5 million people is particularly exposed to an outbreak due to poverty and a fragile health care system. There have been 124 recorded cases and seven deaths so far.

The former British colony was badly hit by the 2014-2016 West African Ebola crisis, which killed almost 4,000 people in the country.    "Epidemiological data and other evidence indicate that there is community transmission of #COVID-19 in #SierraLeone," Bio said in a tweet posted late Thursday.    "I therefore declare a three-day nationwide lockdown covering the period Sunday, 3rd May to Tuesday, 5th of May, 2020."   Sierra Leone has banned travel between regions, imposed a night curfew, closed its borders and schools and banned international flights.   The first COVID-19 case in the country was declared on March 30, long after many African nations.
Date: Tue, 31 Mar 2020 14:14:37 +0200 (METDST)

Freetown, March 31, 2020 (AFP) - Sierra Leone has recorded its first case of the new coronavirus, the government said on Tuesday, making it the latest African country to register an infection.   In a televised press conference, President Julius Maada Bio said that a 37-year-old man who arrived in the country from France on March 16 had tested positive.     The man had been quarantined on arrival in the West African state, Bio said.     "It was not a matter of whether, but when. Ladies and gentlemen, the when is here," the president said.

Sierra Leone had been one of the few countries in Africa to have reported zero cases, despite neighbouring Guinea and Liberia having detected infections.   There are fears that, like its neighbours, the poor nation of 7.5 million people is particularly exposed to an outbreak.     The former British colony was badly hit by the 2014-2016 West African Ebola crisis, which killed almost 4,000 people in Sierra Leone.    On Tuesday, Bio said authorities were aggressively tracing people who may have come into contact with the infected patient, and urged people to report anyone with coronavirus symptoms to the authorities.

The government had already announcement anti-virus measures. Land borders are closed, international flights banned, and schools were shut from Tuesday until further notice, among other measures.    "The government will respond rapidly to changes in the situation by announcing additional enhanced measures," Bio said.    Six of Africa's 54 nations have been spared the coronavirus to date: South Sudan, Burundi, Sao Tome and Principe, Malawi, Lesotho and Comoros.
Date: Thu, 19 Mar 2020 15:40:00 +0100 (MET)

Freetown, March 19, 2020 (AFP) - Sierra Leone on Thursday said it would suspend all international flights in and out of the impoverished West African state in a bid to prevent the spread of coronavirus.   The transport ministry said in a statement that the measure will take effect on Saturday and remain in place until further notice.    Emergency flights will be the "only exception," it said.    Sierra Leone has yet to record a coronavirus case, however, its neighbouring countries Guinea and Liberia have both done so.    The former British colony was badly hit by the 2014-2016 West Africa Ebola outbreak, which killed almost 4,000 people in the country.  
Date: Fri 24 Jan 2020
Source: SciTechDaily [abridged, edited]

Citation: Amman BR, Bird BH, Bakarr IA, et al. Isolation of Angola-like Marburg virus from Egyptian rousette bats from West Africa. Nat Commun. 2020; 11:510.  <https://doi.org/10.1038/s41467-020-14327-8>

Scientists have detected Marburg virus in fruit bats in Sierra Leone, marking the 1st time the deadly virus has been found in West Africa. A total of 11 Egyptian rousette fruit bats tested positive for active Marburg virus infection. Research teams caught the bats separately in 3 health districts.

The presence of Marburg virus, a close relative to Ebola virus that also causes hemorrhagic disease in people, was detected in advance of any reported cases of human illness in Sierra Leone. However, the virus's presence in bats means people who live nearby could be at risk for becoming infected. No outbreaks have been reported to date.

The findings, based on PCR, antibody, and virus isolation data, were officially published today [24 Jan 2020] in the journal Nature Communications. Preliminary findings were announced earlier in December 2018 to ensure rapid notification to the citizens of Sierra Leone and the international health community.

The paper highlights the value of collaborating with government and key stakeholders across human, animal, and environmental sectors to engage at-risk communities about the discovery, address health concerns, and communicate risk-reduction strategies before recognized spillovers occur.

Marburg virus was detected by projects led by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the USAID-funded PREDICT project led by the One Health Institute at the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine; Njala University, Sierra Leone; and the University of Makeni, Sierra Leone.

"Finding Marburg virus in bats in Sierra Leone before any known cases in people is a huge success, as public health officials and doctors can now include Marburg virus among the possible causes when diagnosing hemorrhagic fever cases in the region," said Tracey Goldstein, co-principal investigator and pathogen detection lead for the PREDICT project from the UC Davis One Health Institute.

To date, there have been 12 known outbreaks of Marburg virus, with the most recent in Uganda in 2017. The largest and deadliest outbreak occurred in Angola in 2005 when 227 people died. Five of the new strains identified among the Marburg-positive bats in Sierra Leone were genetically similar to the strain that caused the outbreak in Angola. This is the 1st time scientists have detected these Angolan-like strains in bats.

The virus-positive bats were all Egyptian rousette bats, the known reservoir for Marburg virus, which primarily feed on fruit. Infected bats shed the virus in their saliva, urine, and feces. Egyptian rousette bats are known to test-bite fruits, urinate, and defecate where they eat, potentially contaminating fruit or other food sources consumed by other animals or people, particularly children. These bats sometimes serve as a food source for local populations as well. People may be exposed to Marburg virus through bat bites as they catch the bats.

Following the announcement of the preliminary findings by the government of Sierra Leone, the PREDICT team worked with government partners, universities, and other key stakeholders to develop and implement evidence-based public health messaging across national, district, and local community levels in Sierra Leone.  "Over a year ago, we worked with our Sierra Leone government colleagues to inform people across the country as fast as possible of this new health risk and remind people not to harm or come in contact with bats," said Brian Bird from the UC Davis One Health Institute and global lead for Sierra Leone and Multi-Country Ebola operations for PREDICT-USAID. "I'm very proud of that work and our teams now that this full report is available."
----------------------------------------------
Communicated by:
ProMED-mail from HealthMap Alerts
<promed@promedmail.org>
and
Mary Marshall
===========================
[The initial report of this finding, prior to this publication, was posted by ProMED-mail (Marburg virus disease - Sierra Leone (02): bats, additional information http://promedmail.org/post/20181223.6221436) when the virus was detected for the 1st time in fruit bats in Sierra Leone.

According to the CDC (<https://www.cdc.gov/vhf/marburg/index.html>), Marburg virus was 1st recognized in 1967, when outbreaks of hemorrhagic fever occurred simultaneously in laboratories in Marburg and Frankfurt, Germany, and in Belgrade, Yugoslavia (now Serbia). A total of 31 people became ill, initially laboratory workers followed by several medical personnel and family members who had cared for them; 7 deaths were reported. The 1st people infected had been exposed to imported African green monkeys or their tissues while conducting research. One additional case was diagnosed retrospectively.

The reservoir host of Marburg virus is the African fruit bat, _Rousettus aegyptiacus_. Fruit bats infected with Marburg virus do not show obvious signs of illness. Primates (including humans) can become infected with Marburg virus, and may develop serious disease with high mortality.

Ebola virus is closely related to Marburg virus. "Ebola viral RNA fragments were found in an oral swab from a greater long-fingered bat (_Miniopterus inflatus_), captured in 2016 in Liberia's Sanniquellie-Mahn district, which borders Guinea. The bat, which lives in many parts of Africa, roosts in caves and feeds on insects. Scientists had previously found 2 other Ebola species in a related insect-eating bat, _M. schreibersii_. However, most other evidence has pointed to fruit bats as the carriers of Ebola Zaire, Epstein says [J Epstein, veterinary epidemiologist at EcoHealth Alliance in New York City and a member of the PREDICT consortium]. "What it really says to me is that this is a virus that has multiple hosts, and it might be regionally dependent as to which species carries it."

Supporting the variety of bat hosts for Ebola, the bat implicated in the initiation of the West African Ebola virus outbreak in December 2013 was _Mops condylurus_, long-tailed insect-eating bats, that were previously suspected in an outbreak of the Sudan strain of Ebola virus, which is related to the Zaire strain. - ProMED Mod.LK]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map:
Date: Thu 28 Nov 2019
Source: World Health Organization Disease Outbreak News [edited]

Sierra Leone health officials, supported by WHO, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and other partners, are responding to an outbreak of Lassa fever. On 20 Nov 2019, WHO was informed by the Netherlands' International Health Regulations (IHR) National Focal Point of one imported case of Lassa fever from Sierra Leone. The patient was a male doctor, a Dutch national who worked in a rural Masanga hospital in Tonkolili district, Northern province in Sierra Leone.

The probable route of transmission is believed to be through exposures during a surgical procedure he performed on 2 patients in Masanga hospital on 4 Nov 2019. Both patients died following surgical interventions; one died on 4 Nov [2019] and the 2nd on 19 Nov 2019. Both surgical patients are considered probable cases, and the patient who died on 4 Nov [2019] is believed to be the index case for this outbreak, likely the source of infection of the Dutch doctor.

The doctor's symptoms started on 11 Nov [2019], a week after performing the surgery, and included malaise and headache, followed by fever, diarrhoea, vomiting, and cough. While symptomatic, he attended a surgical training event in Freetown, Sierra Leone, on 11-12 Nov [2019]. This event was also attended by several international participants from the Netherlands and United Kingdom in addition to 35 local participants. On 19 Nov [2019], the symptomatic doctor was medically evacuated to the Netherlands after he did not respond to treatment with antimalarials and antibiotics. The evacuation was managed by a dedicated ambulance plane with 4 staff from a German organization. During the journey, the plane stopped in Morocco (Agadir Airport). As the illness was initially thought to be malaria or typhoid fever, personal protective equipment, other than gloves, were not used, and no specific containment procedures were used during the medical evacuation.

Laboratory specimens from the patient tested positive for Lassa fever by polymerase chain reaction (PCR) and sequencing at Erasmus University Medical Centre in Rotterdam on 20 Nov 2019.

The patient died on the night of 23 Nov 2019.

On 22 Nov 2019, WHO was informed of a 2nd laboratory-confirmed case of Lassa fever in another Dutch healthcare worker, who also worked in the Masanga hospital. Samples from this 2nd case were sent to the Erasmus University Medical Centre in Rotterdam and tested positive for Lassa fever by PCR. The 2nd case also participated in one of the surgical procedures performed by the medically evacuated Dutch doctor. The date of onset of symptoms of the 2nd case was 11 Nov [2019]. This case was subsequently medically evacuated in high containment isolation to the Netherlands and is currently under treatment. Isolation precautions have been implemented.

The Masanga hospital in Sierra Leone where the Dutch doctor worked is supported by several non-governmental organizations with international healthcare workers including staff from countries including Denmark, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom, alongside national healthcare workers.

Contact tracing and monitoring activities have been initiated in these countries as required.

Sierra Leone
An outbreak investigation and response is ongoing under leadership of the Ministry of Health (MoH), supported by CDC and WHO. As of 24 Nov 2019, in addition to the 2 Dutch cases, 2 further cases among national healthcare workers, one confirmed and another suspected, have been reported from Masanga hospital. Both healthcare workers were involved in the management of the 2 surgical patients operated by the Dutch doctor on 4 Nov [2019]. All high-risk contacts in Masanga hospital are being monitored.

The Netherlands
Several high- and low-risk contacts have been identified among personal contacts and healthcare workers. According to Dutch protocols, they will be monitored until 21 days after the last potential exposure. Five high-risk Dutch contacts who were in Sierra Leone have been repatriated through a dedicated flight and are now under monitoring. Dutch low-risk contacts in Sierra Leone have been advised to perform self-monitoring in situ.

Germany
The 4 medical evacuation flight staff (2 pilots and 2 healthcare workers) spent 8 flight hours in a confined space in the ambulance plane without any barrier between the cockpit and cabin. They have been assessed as moderate-risk contacts. According to German recommendations, they are being monitored for 21 days following the last potential exposure on 19 Nov (until 10 Dec 2019).

United Kingdom (UK)
UK authorities have identified 18 UK nationals as contacts of the 1st Dutch case. Of these 18, 8 are high-risk contacts and were exposed in Masanga hospital while working alongside the doctor or may have been exposed to the 2 patients he operated on 4 Nov [2019]. Of these 8 high-risk contacts, 7 returned to the UK and one went to Uganda. In addition, 13 UK nationals attended a surgical training event in Freetown, Sierra Leone, on 11-12 Nov [2019], which was also attended by the 1st Dutch case while already symptomatic. Of these 13 participants, 3 came from Masanga hospital and belong to the above group of 8 high-risk contacts. The remaining 10 participants were possibly exposed during the training and are considered low-risk contacts. Of these 18 contacts identified (8 high-risk and 10 low-risk contacts), 17 have returned to the UK and are under public health follow-up for 21 days; one high-risk contact went to Uganda. There were also several Dutch and 35 local participants who attended this event. UK authorities are in contact with the organizers, and the names of participants from Sierra Leone and the Netherlands have been shared with respective National IHR Focal Points.

Uganda
One contact, a UK national, who may have been exposed in Masanga hospital on 15 Nov [2019] and subsequently travelled to Uganda on 16 Nov [2019], is now being followed up by the Uganda authorities, and the UK authorities are providing support remotely though public health and consular channels.

The National IHR Focal Point of the Netherlands has also informed their counterpart in Morocco about the potential risk of exposure at the Agadir Airport. Morocco National IHR Focal Point confirmed that the investigation is conducted, and control measures have been implemented to ensure there was no transmission in Agadir.

Sierra Leone is endemic for Lassa fever. Previously, sporadic cases have been exported to Europe from endemic countries in Africa, such as Togo, Liberia and Nigeria. In 2018, a total of 23 confirmed Lassa fever cases with 14 deaths (case fatality rate 61%) were reported from 2 districts of Sierra Leone: Bo district (2 cases; 2 deaths) and Kenema district (21 cases; 12 deaths).

From 1 Jan-17 Nov 2019, of the 182 suspected cases, 10 cases with 6 deaths (case fatality ratio 60%) have been confirmed for Lassa virus infection. All confirmed cases during this period were reported from Kenema district, which has been reporting cases of Lassa fever every year.

Public health response
The International Health Regulations Focal Points and Health Authorities in Denmark, Germany, Morocco, the Netherlands, Sierra Leone, Uganda, and the UK have been collaborating to share information about this event, together with the WHO and US CDC. Contact tracing and monitoring activities for 21 days following the last potential exposure have been initiated in Sierra Leone, Germany, the Netherlands, Uganda, and the UK. Investigations are ongoing in Sierra Leone in Masanga hospital and surrounding areas in Tonkolili district with a deployment of a national rapid-response team, supported by US CDC and WHO.

WHO risk assessment
Lassa fever is an acute viral haemorrhagic fever illness that is transmitted to humans via contact with food or household items contaminated with rodent urine or faeces. Human-to-human infections and laboratory transmission can also occur through direct contact with the blood, urine, faeces, or other bodily secretions of a person with Lassa fever. The overall case fatality rate is 1%; it is 15% among patients hospitalized with severe illness.

Sierra Leone is endemic for Lassa fever, and sporadic cases have been exported to Europe from endemic countries in Africa, such as Togo, Liberia and Nigeria in recent years. However, in general, the secondary transmission of Lassa fever through human contacts is rare.

Data from recent imported cases show that secondary transmission of Lassa fever is rare when standard infection-control precautions are observed. Further, epidemiological investigations are ongoing: human-to-human transmission occurs in both community and healthcare settings, where the virus may spread by contaminated medical equipment. Healthcare workers are at risk if caring for Lassa fever patients in the absence of appropriate infection prevention and control measures. Considering the seasonal flare-ups of cases in humid zones between December and March, countries in West Africa that are endemic for Lassa fever are encouraged to strengthen their related surveillance systems.

WHO advice
Prevention of Lassa fever relies on community engagement and promoting hygienic conditions to discourage rodents from entering homes.  There is currently no approved vaccine. Early supportive care with rehydration and symptomatic treatment improves survival. Family members and healthcare workers should always be careful to avoid contact with blood and body fluids while caring for sick persons.

According to WHO guidance for viral haemorrhagic fever, healthcare staff should consistently implement standard precautions when caring for all patients to prevent infections acquired in a healthcare setting and strictly apply contact precautions, including isolation, when caring for suspected or confirmed Lassa fever patients or handling their clinical specimens or body fluids. Standard precautions are meant to reduce the risk of transmission of bloodborne and other pathogens from both recognized and unrecognized sources. Standard precautions are recommended in the care and treatment of all patients regardless of their perceived or confirmed infectious status. They represent the basic fundamental level of infection prevention and control and include hand hygiene, use of personal protective equipment to avoid direct contact with blood and body fluids, prevention of needle stick and injuries from other sharp instruments, and a set of environmental controls. Sterilization and environmental cleaning should also be particularly strengthened and undergo quality control assessments.

In order to avoid any direct contact with blood and body fluids and/or splashes onto facial mucosa (eyes, nose, mouth) when providing direct care for a patient with suspected or confirmed Lassa virus, personal protective equipment should include
1) clean non-sterile gloves,
2) a clean, non-sterile fluid-resistant gown, and
3) protection of facial mucosa against splashes (mask and eye protection, or a face shield).

Given the nonspecific presentation of viral haemorrhagic fevers, isolation of ill travellers and consistent implementation of standard precautions are key to preventing secondary transmission. When consistently applied, these measures can prevent secondary transmission even if travel history information is not obtained, not immediately available, or the diagnosis of a viral haemorrhagic fever is delayed.

WHO continues to advise all countries in the Lassa fever belt due to the need to enhance early detection and treatment of cases to reduce the case fatality rate as well as strengthen cross-border collaboration. WHO advises against any restrictions on travel or trade to or from Sierra Leone based on the current available information.
======================
[The above report provides the details and timelines related to the 2 confirmed cases of the Dutch physicians and the many suspected contacts. The 2 confirmed cases illustrate the difficulty in identifying Lassa fever cases when the infected individuals are early in the course of the disease so that barriers to transmission of the virus can be implemented. The 1st Dutch physician initially was thought to have malaria or typhoid fever, diseases more common in the area than Lassa fever. It will be interesting to learn if any of the contact individuals in the UK, Germany, or Uganda become infected. - ProMED Mod.TY]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map of Sierra Leone:
More ...

World Travel News Headlines

Date: Tue, 26 May 2020 09:15:57 +0200 (METDST)

Riyadh, May 26, 2020 (AFP) - Saudi Arabia will end its nationwide coronavirus curfew from June 21, except in the holy city of Mecca, the interior ministry said Tuesday, after more than two months of stringent curbs.   Prayers will also be allowed to resume in all mosques outside Mecca from May 31, the ministry said in a series of measures announced on the official Saudi Press Agency.   The kingdom, which has reported the highest number of virus cases in the Gulf, imposed a full nationwide curfew during Eid al-Fitr, the Muslim holiday that marks the end of the fasting month of Ramadan.

The ministry said it will begin easing restrictions in a phased manner this week, with the curfew relaxed between 6 am and 3 pm between Thursday and Saturday.   From Sunday until June 20, the curfew will be further eased until 8 pm, the ministry added.   The kingdom will lift the lockdown entirely from June 21.   "Starting from Thursday, the kingdom will enter a new phase (in dealing with the pandemic) and will gradually return to normal based on the rules of social distancing," Health Minister Tawfiq Al-Rabiah said on Monday.   Saudi Arabia has reported around 75,000 coronavirus infections and some 400 deaths from COVID-19.

In March, Saudi Arabia suspended the year-round "umrah" pilgrimage over fears of the disease spreading in Islam's holiest cities.   That suspension will remain in place, the interior ministry said.   Authorities are yet to announce whether they will proceed with this year's hajj -- scheduled for late July -- but they have urged Muslims to temporarily defer preparations for the annual pilgrimage.   Last year, some 2.5 million faithful travelled to Saudi Arabia from around the world to participate in the hajj, which Muslims are obliged to perform at least once during their lifetime.
Date: Tue, 26 May 2020 05:52:24 +0200 (METDST)

Santiago, May 26, 2020 (AFP) - Chile registered a new high for coronavirus cases on Monday, with nearly 5,000 infections in 24 hours, including two ministers in President Sebastian Pinera's government.   Health authorities announced 4,895 new infections in the South American country and 43 deaths.

Public Works Minister Alfredo Moreno and Energy Minister Juan Carlos Jobet said they were among those with the disease.   "I have been informed that the COVID-19 test I had a few days ago was positive," Moreno said on Twitter, adding that he had no symptoms so far.   The 63-year-old minister had placed himself in quarantine after one of his staff tested positive.  Jobet also tested positive after starting to quarantine preventatively on Saturday, "when he experienced mild symptoms, which could be associated with the disease," a statement from the Energy Ministry said.

The 44-year-old minister "has had no direct contact with President Sebastian Pinera or other cabinet members in recent days," the statement said, without specifying how he became infected.   Three other ministers, who had self-quarantined after being in contact with infected people, all tested negative and resumed work.

Chile suffered a surge in infections last week, prompting the government to order the lockdown of Santiago.   The capital is the main focus of the pandemic in Chile, with 90 percent of the country's 74,000 cases.   Last week, the Senate was closed after three senators tested positive for the coronavirus. Sessions were held by video conference.
Date: Tue, 26 May 2020 01:15:01 +0200 (METDST)

Quito, May 25, 2020 (AFP) - Demonstrators defied coronavirus restrictions to march in cities across Ecuador on Monday in protest against President Lenin Moreno's drastic economic measures to tackle the crisis.   Moreno last week announced public spending cuts including the closure of state companies and embassies around the world, but trade unions Monday said workers were paying a disproportionate price compared to Ecuador's elite.   "This protest is because the government is firing workers to avoid making the rich pay," Mecias Tatamuez, head of the county's largest union, the Unitary Front of Workers (FUT), told reporters at a march in Quito.

Around 2,000 people marched in the capital, waving flags and banners and shouting anti-government slogans.   The protesters wore masks and respected distancing measures recommended against the spread of the coronavirus that has caused at least 3,200 deaths in the country, making it South America's worst hit nation per capita. Authorities say more than 2,000 further deaths are likely linked to the virus.

Demonstrations took place in several other cities, including Guayaquil, the epicentre of Ecuador's health crisis, where union leaders said hundreds marched through the city.   Moreno ordered the closure of Ecuadoran embassies, a reduction in diplomatic staff and scrapped seven state companies as part of measures designed to save some $4 billion.    He also announced the liquidation of the TAME airline, which has lost more than $400 million over the last five years.

The government says the pandemic has so far cost the economy at least $8 billion.   Public sector working hours have been cut by 25 percent, with an accompanying 16 percent pay cut.   Moreno said on Sunday that 150,000 people had lost their jobs because of the coronavirus.   Ecuador was struggling economically before the pandemic hit, due to high debt and its dependence on oil.   The IMF predicts that the economy will shrink by 6.3 percent this year, the sharpest drop of any country in South America.
Date: Mon, 25 May 2020 22:20:46 +0200 (METDST)

Dublin, May 25, 2020 (AFP) - Ireland recorded no new deaths from the coronavirus on Monday for the first time since March 21.   Prime Minister Leo Varadkar called it a "significant milestone", adding on Twitter: "This is a day of hope. We will prevail."

The announcement came one week after Ireland, which has suffered 1,606 deaths from 24,698 infections, began to ease lockdown measures that had been in place for nearly two months.   Ireland entered lockdown in late March, recording a peak of 77 deaths on a single day on April 20.   "In the last 24 hours we didn't have any deaths notified to us," chief medical officer Tony Holohan said at a daily press briefing.   He warned that the zero figure could be a result of a lag in reporting of deaths over the weekend, but he added: "It's part of the continued trend that we've seen in (the) reduction in the total number of deaths."

Ireland has announced a five-step plan to reopen the nation by August and took the first steps last Monday -- allowing outdoor employees to return to work, some shops to reopen and the resumption of  activities such as golf and tennis.   While the news of no fresh deaths was greeted as progress, officials remain concerned there will be a "second wave" as the lockdown is loosened.   "The number of new cases and reported deaths over the past week indicates that we have suppressed COVID-19 as a country," Holohan added in a statement.   "It will take another week to see any effect on disease incidence that might arise from the easing of measures."
Date: Mon, 25 May 2020 21:59:40 +0200 (METDST)

Luxembourg, May 25, 2020 (AFP) - Luxembourg will ease its coronavirus restrictions on Wednesday, reopening cafes and restaurants and allowing civil and religious ceremonies under strict conditions, the government announced.   The tiny country has so far registered only 3,993 COVID-19 cases, of which 110 have been fatal. Four people are in intensive care and shops were closed on March 18 to slow the spread of the new coronavirus.

Prime Minister Xavier Bettel told a news conference on Monday that eateries could reopen terraces with a maximum of four people at a single table.   Indoor dining in cafes and restaurants will resume on Friday, he said, with social distancing of 1.5 metres (five feet) between groups.   Marriages and funerals will also be allowed if the attendees wore face masks and kept two metres distance from each other.   Bettel however said cafes and restaurants would have to close at midnight.

Francois Koepp, the general secretary of the Horeca federation grouping hotels, restaurants and cafes, welcomed the announcement, saying the sector had "greatly suffered from the confinement".   He said it provided employment to some 21,000 people in this nation of 620,000 inhabitants.   Cinema theatres and gyms will open at the end of the week but children's parks will remain closed.   The government has pledged to give every citizen over 16 a voucher worth 50 euros ( $54) to spend in hotels to provide a boost to the sector.   The vouchers will also be given to some 200,000 cross border workers from Belgium, France and Germany.
Date: Mon, 25 May 2020 20:36:16 +0200 (METDST)

Prague, May 25, 2020 (AFP) - The Czech Republic and Slovakia will reopen their border this week for those travelling to the other country for up to 48 hours, Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis said Monday.   "This will be possible without tests or quarantine" starting Wednesday, he added in a message posted on Twitter.   The Czech Republic and Slovakia formed a single country until 1993. Babis himself was born in the Slovak capital of Bratislava.

Both countries have fared well in the current pandemic, with Slovakia posting the lowest death toll per capita in the EU and the Czech Republic keeping its COVID-19 figures down as well.   The Czech government will also open border crossings with Austria and Germany on Tuesday but will still require negative COVID-19 tests from those entering the country.   "We have negotiated similar conditions on the other side of the border with our German and Austrian colleagues," Interior Minister Jan Hamacek said.   The interior ministry said blanket border checks would be replaced by random ones and added it would still not allow tourists into the country.

Czech Health Minister Adam Vojtech said the government was working on other measures to ease the travel restrictions adopted in mid-March.   "We would like to introduce them next week," he added.   Vojtech said EU citizens could now come to the Czech Republic "on business or to visit their family for a maximum of 72 hours if they submit a negative coronavirus test."

The country is also accessible to non-EU citizens who do seasonal jobs there, on condition they have tested negative.   Czech restaurants, bars, hotels, castles, zoos and swimming pools have been open since Monday, when the government lifted many anti-virus measures.   Czechs also no longer have to wear face masks outside their homes, except in shops and on public transport.
Date: Mon, 25 May 2020 17:45:38 +0200 (METDST)
By Shafiqul ALAM

Dhaka, May 25, 2020 (AFP) - Some 15,000 Rohingya refugees are now under coronavirus quarantine in Bangladesh's vast camps, officials said Monday, as the number of confirmed infections rose to 29.   Health experts have long warned that the virus could race through the cramped settlements, housing almost a million Muslims who fled violence in Myanmar, and officials had restricted movement to the area in April.

Despite this, the first cases in the camps were detected in mid-May.   "None of the infections are critical. Most hardly show any symptoms. Still we have brought them in isolation centres and quarantined their families," Toha Bhuiyan, a senior health official in the surrounding Cox's Bazar area told AFP.   He said narrow roads to three districts of the camps -- where the majority of the infections were detected -- have been blocked off by authorities.

The 15,000 Rohingya inside these so-called blocks faced further restrictions on their movement, he said.   It comes as charity workers expressed fears over being infected in the camps as they worked without adequate protection.   Two of the areas under isolation are in Kutupalong camp, home to roughly 600,000 Rohingya.   "We are trying to scale up testing as fast as possible to make sure that we can trace out all the infected people and their contacts," Bhuiyan said.

Seven isolation centres with the capacity to treat more than 700 COVID-19 patients have been prepared, he said.   Officials hope to have just under 2,000 ready by the end of May, he added.   Mahbubur Rahman, the chief health official of Cox's Bazar, said authorities hoped this week they would double the number of tests being performed daily from 188.   He said further entry restrictions have been imposed on the camp, with a 14 day quarantine in place for anyone visiting from Dhaka.   "We are very worried because the Rohingya camps are very densely populated. We suspect community transmission (of the virus) has already begun," Rahman told AFP.

- 'Very little awareness' -
Bangladesh on Monday notched up a record single-day spike in coronavirus cases, with 1,975 new infections, taking the toll to 35,585 cases and 501 deaths.   In early April authorities imposed a complete lockdown on Cox's Bazar district -- home to 3.4 million people including the refugees -- after a number of infections.

But a charity worker with one of the many aid organisations active in the camps said Monday he and many others were "very worried".   "Fear and panic has gripped aid workers because many of us were forced to work without much protection," he told AFP without wishing to be named.   "Social distancing is almost impossible in the camps. There is very little awareness about COVID-19 disease among the refugees, despite efforts by aid agencies."

The lack of information is exacerbated by local authorities having cut off access to the internet in September to combat, they said, drug traffickers and other criminals.   More than 740,000 Rohingya fled a brutal 2017 military crackdown in Myanmar to Cox's Bazar, where around 200,000 refugees were already living.
Date: Mon, 25 May 2020 15:25:38 +0200 (METDST)

Antananarivo, May 25, 2020 (AFP) - Madagascar's government has announced it will dispatch troops and doctors to an eastern town after several bodies were found in the streets and where two people died from the novel coronavirus.   Madagascar's cabinet held a special meeting on Sunday to discuss the situation in Toamasina, the country's second largest city.   The Indian Ocean island nation has registered 527 infections and two deaths, both in Toamasina.

Since Thursday, more than 120 new cases were confirmed, and several bodies were found in the city's streets though the cause of death was not clear.   "Doctors must carry out thorough examinations to see if these deaths are caused by another illness (...) or if they are really due to severe acute respiratory problems which is the critical form of COVID-19," Professor Hanta Marie Danielle Vololontiana, spokesperson for the government's virus taskforce, said in a national broadcast on Sunday.   The government will send 150 soldiers to reinforce Toamasina, maintain order and enforce measures against the coronavirus such as mask wearing and social distancing.

The cabinet also fired Toamasina's prefect without providing any explanation.    A team was also ordered to distribute a drink based on artemisia, a plant recognised as a treatment against malaria, which the Malagasy authorities claim cures COVID-19.    The potential benefits of this herbal tea, called Covid-Organics, have not been validated by any scientific study.    The cabinet has also announced an investigation into the death of a doctor in Toamasina. According to local press, the victim was hospitalised after contracting COVID-19 and was found dead hanged in his room on Sunday morning.
Date: Mon, 25 May 2020 09:20:17 +0200 (METDST)
By Bhuvan Bagga with Indranil Mukherjee in Mumbai

New Delhi, May 25, 2020 (AFP) - Domestic flights resumed in India on Monday even as coronavirus cases surge, while confusion about quarantine rules prompted jitters among passengers and the cancellation of dozens of planes.   India had halted all flights within the country, and departing and leaving for abroad, in late March as it sought to stop the spread of coronavirus with the world's largest lockdown.   But desperate to get Asia's third-largest economy moving again, the government announced last week that around 1,050 daily flights -- a third of the usual capacity -- would resume on Monday.

Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri said strict rules would include mandatory mask-wearing and thermal screenings, although middle seats on the aircraft would not be kept empty.   The announcement reportedly caught airlines and state authorities off-guard, with several local governments announcing that passengers would have to go into quarantine for two weeks on arrival.   Maharashtra, the Indian state with the highest number of coronavirus cases, capped at 50 the number of departures and arrivals in and out of its capital Mumbai.

Airlines scrapped dozens of flights on Monday while hundreds of passengers cancelled their bookings, reports said.   The NDTV news channel said 82 flights to and from New Delhi had been cancelled and nine at Bangalore airport.   Other flights from cities including infection hotspots Mumbai and Chennai were struck off, many at short notice, reports said.   At Mumbai airport social distancing was forgotten as irate passengers harangued staff after their flights were cancelled at the last minute.

- 'Really scary' -
At New Delhi airport, hundreds of people anxious to get home but apprehensive about the risks queued from before dawn -- all wearing masks and standing at least one metre (three feet) apart.   Security personnel behind plastic screens verified check-in documents and that passengers had the government contact tracing app, Aarogya Setu, on their phones.

"While I'm looking forward (to flying home), the idea of flying is really scary," student Gladia Laipubam told AFP as she stood in line.   "Anything can happen. It's very risky. I don't really know when I'll be able to come back to Delhi now. There is no clarity from the university too at this time."   One female airline employee wearing gloves, a mask and a protective face shield said she and many other colleagues felt "very nervous" about starting work again.   "Dealing with so many people at this time is so risky. I must have interacted with at least 200 people since this morning," she told AFP, not wishing to be named.

Cabin crew on the planes had to wear full protective suits with masks, plastic visors and blue rubber gloves, and many were also confused about the rules, the Press Trust of India reported.   "There is no clarity on whether I need to go into home quarantine for 14 days after returning to my base or show up for duty on Monday," one pilot told PTI.   New coronavirus cases in India crossed 6,000 for the third consecutive day on Sunday, surging to a record single-day spike of 6,767 infections.   The country has recorded almost 140,000 cases and over 4,000 deaths.   Singh has said that international flights could resume in June, although dozens of special flights have in recent weeks brought back some of the hundreds of thousands of Indians stuck abroad.
Date: Fri, 22 May 2020 11:02:28 +0200 (METDST)

Suva, Fiji, May 22, 2020 (AFP) - A huge fire at one of Suva's largest markets blanketed the Fijian capital in thick smoke before it was brought under control Friday, firefighters said.   The blaze engulfed the Suva Flea Market, a major tourist attraction near the waterfront, sending plumes of acrid black smoke into the air.   The National Fire Authority said an adjoining shop was also badly damaged but there were no reports of injuries.   "It's been stopped now and no one was injured but that's all we can say at the moment," a spokesman told AFP.   The said the cause of the fire was being investigated.