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Morocco

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

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The North African country has benefited from increased air links, with low-cost carriers launching new routes to Europe.   The former imperial city of Marrakesh, with its UNESCO-listed Old Town, and Agadir on the coast together accounted for 57 percent of the 25.2 million hotel stays last year, the Observatory said.   Tourism accounts for about 10 percent of GDP and is one of the country's main sources of foreign currency, alongside exports and remittances from Moroccans working abroad.
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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: 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.
Date: Thu, 9 Jan 2020 17:49:58 +0100 (MET)

Mexico City, Jan 9, 2020 (AFP) - Mexico's Popocatepetl volcano dramatically spewed a fiery cloud of ash and rock into the sky Thursday, though it did not prompt authorities to raise their eruption alert level.   "Popo," as the volcano is known, exploded early in the morning, belching "a moderate amount of ash and incandescent material" from its crater, the National Disaster Prevention Center wrote on Twitter.   The explosion created a cloud of ash that reached 3,000 meters (1.9 miles) into the air.

The authorities, however, left the volcano's alert level at "Yellow Phase Two," which instructs people to remain at least 12 kilometres (7.5 miles) from the crater and be prepared for a possible evacuation.   Popocatepetl, which means "smoking mountain" in the indigenous Nahuatl language, has not had a massive eruption in more than a millennium, but has shown increased activity in the past 26 years.   It is considered one of the world's most dangerous volcanoes, because some 25 million people live within a 100-kilometer (60-mile) radius.
Date: Mon, 30 Dec 2019 02:39:19 +0100 (MET)

San Cristóbal de las Casas, Mexico, Dec 30, 2019 (AFP) - At least 11 people died and seven were injured on Sunday when a car and a van carrying tourists crashed on a highway in Mexico's southern Chiapas state, local prosecutors said.   "Eleven people were killed and seven more were injured," the prosecutor's office said in a statement, adding an investigation had been opened into the accident's cause.

According to reports from local authorities, the victims included tourists traveling in the van to San Cristobal de las Casas, one of the most visited cities in Chiapas state.   During the Christmas and New Year's holiday season, traffic is heavier on Mexico's roads and accidents occur more frequently.
Date: Sat, 21 Dec 2019 00:03:55 +0100 (MET)

Mexico City, Dec 20, 2019 (AFP) - Six people were injured Friday when two enormous cruise ships operated by US-based Carnival collided off Mexico's Caribbean coast, the company said.   "Oh my God!" a man can be heard saying in a dramatic video of the Carnival Glory crashing into the Carnival Legend as it docked at the popular island resort of Cozumel.   "Someone could have died!" he said.

Videos posted online show the 290-meter (952-foot) Glory slowly arcing through the azure water off Cozumel toward the 294-meter (963-foot) Legend, then making impact with a loud boom.   The Legend's massive bow then scraped along the back of the Glory, leaving the tip of the other ship's stern a mangled jumble of wreckage.   "Carnival Glory was in the process of docking when it made contact with Carnival Legend which was already docked," the company said in a statement.   "Six guests with minor injuries have presented themselves to the Carnival Glory medical centre for evaluation."

Carnival said it was still assessing the damage, but insisted there was no impact on the seaworthiness of either ship or their itineraries.   "We have advised guests from both ships to enjoy their day ashore in Cozumel," it said.   According to Carnival, the Glory weighs 110,000 tons and has capacity for 2,980 guests and 1,150 crew. The Legend weighs 88,500 tons and has capacity for 2,124 guests and 930 crew.
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Georgia

Georgia US Consular Information Sheet
COUNTRY DESCRIPTION:
Georgia is a constitutional republic with a developing economy.
Tourist facilities outside of Tbilisi are not highly developed, and many of the goods and services taken for granted
in other countries are not yet available.
Read the Department of State Background Notes on Georgia for additional information.
ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS:
A passport is required.
U.S. citizens visiting for 90 days or less do not need a visa to enter Georgia.
For further information, please contact the Embassy of Georgia at 2209 Massachusetts Avenue NW, Washington DC, 20008 tel. (202) 387-2390, fax: (202) 393-4537.
Visit the Embassy of Georgia web site at http://embassy.mfa.gov.ge/index.php?lang_id=GEO&sec_id=2&lang_id=ENG for the most current visa information.

Information on 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 civil wars in the 1980s and early 1990s, there are two separatist regions in Georgia that are not under the control of the Government of Georgia:
South Ossetia, in north-central Georgia; and Abkhazia, in northwest Georgia.
Although armed conflict between the separatist regions and the central government has ceased, episodes of violence continue and political relations are tense. Political developments have the potential to result in open hostilities.
Due to the volatility of the political situation, high levels of crime, and inability of Embassy personnel to travel to Abkhazia or South Ossetia, the U.S. Embassy advises American citizens not to travel to these separatist-controlled areas.
Because of the restricted access of U.S. officials to Abkhazia and South Ossetia, the ability of the U.S. Government to assist American citizens in these regions is extremely limited, even in emergencies.
All travelers to these regions, regardless of purpose, should register with the U.S. Embassy. The U.S. Embassy recommends that Americans regularly monitor warden messages on the Embassy web site for the latest information on the security situation throughout Georgia.

Political tensions remain high between the Georgian Government and the South Ossetia separatist regime, based in Tskhinvali.
This situation culminated in sniper and mortar exchanges between South Ossetian and Georgian troops in 2004.
Although the fighting did not escalate into an all-out war, low-level violence continues between the two sides, periodically resulting in deaths, and underscoring the potential for instability in the region.
A tense truce also exists between the Georgian Government and the separatist de facto government of Abkhazia; since April 2008, several incidents have increased the tension to a point where cross-border military actions are a possibility.
Over the past several years, a number of attacks, criminal incidents, and kidnappings have occurred in Abkhazia.
While Abkhaz "border officials" may demand that travelers entering the region purchase "visas" from the so-called "Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Abkhazia," the U.S. Government recognizes the territorial integrity of Georgia.
American citizens in areas of western Georgia, near Abkhazia, are advised to be aware of their surroundings at all times and to avoid straying off main roads or traveling after dark.

American citizens should be aware that they cannot legally cross by land, air, rail, or sea between Russia and Georgia, even if in possession of valid Russian or Georgian visas.
In July 2006, the Russian Government closed the only border crossing between Georgia and Russia under the control of both governments (the only other crossings are through Georgia’s separatist regions).
Russian authorities said the closure, at Verkhny Lars, would be temporary, pending necessary repairs at the crossing, although it remains closed as of June 2008.
On August 6, 2007, a missile was fired from an aircraft near a village between the city of Gori and the separatist region of South Ossetia.
Although this was an isolated incident, it serves as a reminder that the situation near the separatist areas remains unpredictable.

Georgia's armed forces have periodically conducted operations against suspected international terrorists, Chechen fighters, and criminals who have taken refuge in the Pankisi Gorge.
American citizens should avoid all travel to the Pankisi Gorge, north of the city of Akhmeta.
American citizens are also advised to exercise caution when traveling in the northern mountainous areas of Georgia bordering the Russian Federation, especially the Chechnya and Dagestan sectors.

Political demonstrations take place from time to time in the capital city, Tbilisi, and normally take place in front of the Parliament building on Rustaveli Avenue.
While these demonstrations are normally peaceful, confrontational demonstrations have occurred, and we wish to remind all Americans that even demonstrations intended to be peaceful can turn confrontational and possibly escalate into violence.

Regardless of the region in Georgia one is planning to visit, American citizens are urged to review their personal security precautions, increase their levels of awareness, register with the consular section and as appropriate, take increased security measures.

In the past, religious minorities in Georgia have been targets of violent attacks.
The victims were primarily Jehovah's Witnesses, but also include Pentecostals, Baptists, and members of the Assembly of God.
Incidents included the burning of literature, the destruction of private property and the beating (sometimes severe) of believers, including American citizens.
Although Georgian authorities arrested, convicted and imprisoned the ringleader of the group responsible for these attacks in 2005, American citizens should remain cautious when engaging in missionary activity in Georgia.

For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affair’s web site at http://travel.state.gov, where the current Travel Warnings and Travel Alerts, including the Worldwide Caution, can be found.

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

The Department of State urges American citizens to take responsibility for their own personal security while traveling overseas.
For general information about appropriate measures travelers can take to protect themselves in an overseas environment, see the Department of State’s pamphlet A Safe Trip Abroad.
CRIME:
Crime is a very serious problem in Georgia.
There is a great disparity in affluence between foreigners and most Georgians.
Americans in particular are perceived as being wealthy, and are therefore specifically targeted for economic- and property-based crimes.
Incidents such as residential break-in, carjacking, car theft, petty theft, and armed robbery account for most of the crimes involving Americans that are reported to the Embassy.
Petty street crime, such as pick pocketing, purse snatching, and cell phone theft, is also common throughout the country. Furthermore, violent attacks have become more commonplace.
Because illegal firearms are readily available in Georgia, assailants are likely to be armed with firearms and other weapons.

Crime remains a particularly serious issue in Tbilisi, where criminal activity against foreigners remains at levels disproportionate to other metropolitan areas in Europe and the United States.
Many robberies and assaults have occurred in areas frequented by American citizens and foreigners, such as on side streets near Tbilisi’s city center; trouble spots include areas off the main avenues in the Vake and Vera districts, and Chavchavadze and Rustaveli avenues, as well as the Saburtalo region of Tbilisi.
These crimes often occurred when the victim was alone, after dark, and in unfamiliar surroundings.

Petty theft is also a problem on the Tbilisi metro system and in minivans, or “marshrutkas” used for public transport.
American citizens are advised to use personal vehicles or use taxis from established companies that carry passengers door-to-door.
While the security of overland travel in Georgia has improved, vehicular and rail traffic remains vulnerable to robbery.

The threat of kidnapping exists both within and outside of Tbilisi.
In the past, foreign businessmen have been abducted for ransom, and Americans in the Tbilisi area have received kidnapping threats.
The possibility of similar risk to Americans elsewhere in the country cannot be discounted.

Outside of Tbilisi, criminal activity is also a problem, especially in the separatist regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, due to the reduced capacity of law enforcement in those areas.
Other regions of concern include:
upper Svanetia, Samtskhe-Javakheti, the administrative border with Abkhazia (including Zugdidi city), and areas along the border with Russia.
When visiting or traveling through these regions, American citizens are urged to increase their vigilance, review their personal security precautions, and take appropriate security measures, e.g. traveling with a native Georgian escort familiar with the local area.

Despite much progress in the Georgian Government’s efforts to reform police and fight internal corruption, serious concerns remain as to the police’s ability to deter criminal activity or conduct effective post-incident investigations.
Although police emergency response is good (see below for contact information), criminals continue to have freedom of movement throughout Tbilisi day or night.

In light of the serious crime situation, all American citizens visiting Georgia are again strongly advised to exercise basic security precautions. American travelers should vary times and routes, especially from places of residence to work locations. Americans should maintain a low profile by not carrying large amounts of cash, not wearing excessive amounts of jewelry, and not behaving in a manner that would draw unnecessary attention.
Additionally, Americans should be aware of their surroundings, travel in pairs or groups, and stay on main streets and routes.
The Embassy recommends that those traveling throughout the country do so during daylight hours only and provide a travel itinerary and contact telephone numbers to a friend or business colleague.
Also, Americans should not hesitate to report any unusual incidents or suspicious vehicles or individuals to the Georgian authorities as soon as possible.
Finally, those that do become a victim of crime should not resist their assailant and should cooperate with the assailant as best they can.
Assailants are most interested in money and/or property; cooperation reduces the chance of being assaulted and/or injured.

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, to 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 Georgian Ministry of Internal Affairs (MOIA) has established a police emergency hotline.
This service is currently limited to larger cities, but the MOIA is planning to expand this service countrywide.

The local “911” equivalent to contact police in an emergency is: “022”.
Please note that the police dispatcher speaks only Georgian or Russian.

See our information on Victims of Crime.

MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION:
Medical care in Georgia is limited.
There is a severe shortage of basic medical supplies, including disposable needles, anesthetics, and antibiotics.
Elderly travelers and those with pre-existing health problems may be at risk due to inadequate medical facilities.
It is recommended that travelers who intend to visit Georgia for at least two weeks get the hepatitis A vaccine and a pre-exposure rabies vaccine.
Travelers are also encouraged to bring medicine to treat diarrhea, which regularly afflicts newcomers.
Georgian doctors and hospitals often expect immediate cash payment before rendering medical services.

Medical Information: Tuberculosis (TB) is an increasingly serious health concern in Georgia.
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
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 (CDC) hotline for international travelers at 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747) or via the CDC web site at http://wwwn.cdc.gov/travel/default.aspx.
For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad consult the World Health Organization’s (WHO) web site at http://www.who.int/en.
Further health information for travelers is available at http://www.who.int/ith/en.

MEDICAL INSURANCE:
The Department of State strongly urges Americans to consult with their medical insurance company before traveling abroad to confirm whether their policy applies overseas and if 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 Georgia is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.

As in the United States, vehicular traffic in Georgia moves along the right side of roadways.
Speed limits range from 80 to 100 km/hr on highways, and from 30 to 60 km/hr on urban thoroughfares.
Motorists are not permitted to make right turns on red traffic lights.
While legislation mandating seat belt use has yet to be enacted, drivers and passengers are nevertheless strongly advised to buckle up on Georgian roads.
Georgian law requires that children under seven (7) years of age be restrained in child-safety seats.
A driver with any blood alcohol concentration exceeding 0.00% is considered to be driving under the influence of alcohol.

Motorists should exercise extreme caution when driving in Georgia, as many local drivers do not operate their vehicles in accordance with established traffic laws.
Traffic signals and rules of the road are often completely ignored.
Motorists drive erratically, often recklessly, and at excessive speeds.
Motorists may frequently encounter oncoming high-speed traffic attempting to pass other vehicles at blind turns or over hilltops.
Pedestrians enjoy no right-of-way and need to be extremely careful when crossing streets.
The Georgian Patrol Police, who come under the authority of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, are responsible for maintaining traffic safety in Georgia, but enforcement of traffic regulations is haphazard.

Undivided two-lane roads connect most major cities in Georgia.
Roads are generally in poor condition and often lack shoulder markings and centerlines.
In addition, traffic signals may not work because of power outages or poor maintenance.
Driving at night can be especially dangerous.
Travel on mountain roads is treacherous in both rain and snow, and during winter, heavy snowfalls may make some roads impassable.

Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information.
Visit the web site of the country’s national tourist office and national authority responsible for road safety at http://tourism.gov.ge/start.php
AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT: As there is no direct commercial air service to the United States by carriers registered in Georgia, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not assessed Georgia’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 South Caucasus may experience prolonged delays and sudden cancellations of flights.
In addition to frequent delays, flights are often overcrowded or overbooked.
Basic safety features such as seat belts are sometimes missing.
Air travel to Georgia on international carriers via Europe is typically more reliable.
Ticketed passengers on flights departing from Georgia should reconfirm reservations with the airline 24 hours prior to departure.

SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES:
Georgia has been subject to energy crises in the last few years.
During the winter months, frequent and prolonged power outages are common, especially outside of Tbilisi.
The lack of lighting in public places, even when electricity is available, heightens vulnerability to crime (please see the Crime section above for details).

Georgia’s customs authorities may enforce strict regulations concerning the temporary import into or export from Georgia of items such as alcohol, tobacco, jewelry, religious materials, art or artifacts, antiquities, and business equipment.
Only personal medicines with a doctor’s statement can be imported without the permission of the Georgian Drug Agency section of the Ministry of Health.

American citizens may not import firearms into Georgia; however, hunting weapons may be brought into the country for a two-week period, based on valid Georgian hunting licenses.
While there is no limit to the amount of currency that can be imported, if more money is exported than was declared at the time of entry, the traveler is obligated to prove it was legally obtained.
There are limits on the amount of Georgian currency that may be exported.

American citizens should exercise extreme caution in purchasing property in Abkhazia.
Land for sale in that region rightfully may belong to internally displaced persons forced to leave Abkhazia in the early 1990s and may have improperly been placed on the market by the de facto authorities in Abkhazia.
In such cases, the government of Georgia considers the sale of property in Abkhazia illegal under Georgian law and the property could be reclaimed by original owners at a future date.

The Ministry of Culture, Department of Expertise and Evaluation must license any valuables such as artwork, antiques, jewelry, paintings, etc.
This license describes the object, assesses its value, and provides permission to export it from Georgia.
The U.S. Embassy in Tbilisi can provide more specific information on quantities of items that can be imported duty-free, as well as duties excised for specific items.
It is also advisable to contact the Embassy of Georgia in Washington, DC for specific information regarding customs requirements.
Please see our information on Customs Regulations.

While the Georgian lari is the only legal tender, dollars can be freely exchanged for laris at market rates.
ATMs are also becoming more widespread, but only within the city of Tbilisi.
Credit cards are rarely accepted outside of upscale hotels and restaurants, and travelers’ checks are difficult to cash.
American citizens in Georgia have reported incidents of credit card fraud and identity theft.

CRIMINAL PENALTIES:
While in a foreign country, an American 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 offences.
Persons violating Georgian laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned.
Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Georgia 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.

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 Georgia are strongly encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate through the State Department's travel registration web site, https://travelregistration.state.gov, and to obtain updated information on travel and security within Georgia.
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 in Tbilisi is located at 11 George Balanchine Street.
Office hours from American Citizens Services are from 2 to 5 pm on weekdays; no appointment is necessary.
The telephone number is (995) (32) 27-70-00, which can also be reached after hours, and the fax number is: (995) (32) 53-23-10.
The U.S. Embassy in Tbilisi’s web site is http://georgia.usembassy.gov/.
*
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This replaces the Country Specific Information dated October 3, 2007 to update the section on Entry and Exit Requirements, Safety and Security, Crime, Information of Victims of Crime, ion, Traffic Safety and Road Condition, Special Circumstances, and Aviation Safety Oversight.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Wed, 4 Mar 2020 15:45:48 +0100 (MET)

Tbilisi, March 4, 2020 (AFP) - Three Italian skiers died in an avalanche in north-western Georgia on Wednesday, officials said.    They were among six people who were skiing in a closed zone near Mount Tetnuldi when the avalanche hit, the Caucasus nation's tourism agency said in a statement.   "Rescuers have found the bodies of three Italians," the agency said, adding it had rescued three more, including one with multiple fractures.   Upper Svaneti, where the incident occurred, is one of the highest and most remote skiing destinations in Europe. Its medieval villages dotted with stone watchtowers are on UNESCO's World Heritage list.
Date: Wed, 26 Feb 2020 20:03:47 +0100 (MET)

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

The man had arrived in Georgia from Iran via Azerbaijan, Gamkrelidze said.   Tikaradze said Georgia would introduce a two-week ban on Iranian nationals entering Georgia, but flatly dismissed fears of a coronavirus epidemic in the ex-Soviet country "at this point".   On Sunday, Georgia's neighbour Armenia closed its border with Iran and suspended flights as fears over an outbreak of coronavirus in Iran sent neighbouring countries scrambling to contain the outbreak.
Date: Sat, 22 Jun 2019 21:45:46 +0200
By Anna SMOLCHENKO with Irakli METREVELI in Tbilisi

Moscow, June 22, 2019 (AFP) - Russia's government on Saturday banned Georgian airlines from flying into its territory, extending restrictions imposed by President Vladimir Putin as part of growing tensions between Moscow and its ex-Soviet neighbour.   Putin had signed a decree late Friday banning Russian airlines from flying to pro-Western Georgia from July 8 in response to anti-Moscow rallies in the Georgian capital Tbilisi.

The protests broke out after a Russian lawmaker addressed parliament from the speaker's seat earlier this week, a hugely sensitive move for two countries whose relations remain tense after a brief war in 2008.   The rallies have morphed into a broader movement against the Georgian authorities while the Kremlin has branded them a "Russophobic provocation".   On Saturday, protesters took to the streets of the Georgian capital for a third day of rallies, with some 3,000 demanding snap elections and electoral reform.   The crowd sang a profanity-laced, anti-Putin chant and some of the demonstrators held up placards insulting the Russian president.   Demonstrators also shot paper airplanes into the sky in response to the Russian bans.

Russia's transportation ministry said that from July 8 two Georgian airlines would be banned from flying to Russia, citing the need to ensure "aviation safety" and debt owned by the Georgian companies.   The Kremlin has said the ban against travel to Georgia was to "ensure Russia's national security and protect Russian nationals from criminal and other unlawful activities."

Authorities recommended travel companies stop selling holiday packages to Georgia and advised Russian tourists to return home.   Russia's travel industry and ordinary Russians hit out at the decision by the Kremlin, saying it was a politically motivated move that has little to do with safety concerns.   "Tourism in Georgia is on the rise, and the decision has shocked the whole industry," Aleksan Mkrtchyan, head of Pink Elephant, a chain of travel agencies, said in a statement.

- 'This is politics' -
The ban during high season is expected to hit the travel industry in both countries hard and become a major nuisance for Russian holidaymakers.   Russia and Georgia fought a brief but bloody war in 2008 and tensions between the two governments remain high.   But Georgia -- known for its picturesque Black Sea resorts, rich national cuisine and generous hospitality -- has emerged as one of the most popular destinations for Russian tourists over the past few years, with more than 1.3 million visiting last year.

Irina Tyurina, a spokeswoman for the Russian Tourism Union, said that most in the industry believed that Georgia was not a dangerous destination.   "Georgians have traditionally treated Russians well," Tyurina told AFP.    It was too early to estimate potential industry losses from the ban, she said.   More than 7,000 people have signed a petition calling on Moscow to resume flights.

Russian tourists in Tbilisi expressed regret at the restrictions.   "We are against the ban," Nina Guseva told AFP in the Georgian capital. "We are not guilty and we do not have to suffer."   Fellow traveller Mikhail Strelkov added: "This is politics and has nothing to do with people on holidays."   In Russia, many struck a similar note.   Elena Chekalova, a prominent chef and culinary blogger, said the latest Kremlin move "shocked" her.   "Why are they deciding for us what we cannot eat, where we cannot fly, who we cannot be friends with?" she wrote on Facebook.

- Simmering discontent -
Moscow has suspended flights to Georgia before -- during a spike in tensions in October 2006 and in August 2008 following the outbreak of the five-day war over the breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.   "Putin decided to punish Georgia because there are street protests there," opposition leader Alexei Navalny said on Twitter.   A senior government official in Tbilisi said the Kremlin ban was politically motivated.   "Putin's decision is of course political and has nothing to do with safety concerns," the official told AFP on condition of anonymity.

Analysts say the latest restrictions may further fuel simmering discontent with Kremlin policies.   Since 2014, Russians have been chafing under numerous rounds of Western sanctions over Moscow's role in Ukraine and other crises, with real incomes falling for the fifth year in a row.    During an annual phone-in with Russians this week, Putin dismissed calls to "reconcile" with the West to alleviate economic hardship, saying Moscow needed to protect its interests and "nothing" would change anyway.
Date: Thu, 6 Jun 2019 11:24:00 +0200

Tbilisi, June 6, 2019 (AFP) - Three people died on Thursday when a helicopter owned by one of Georgia's top luxury hotels crashed in a northern mountainous region of the country, emergency services said.   A chopper belonging to the Rooms luxury hotel "crashed in an unpopulated area near the Qulo mountain in the Kazbegi municipality," the spokesman of Georgia's emergency situations department, Rati Mujiri, told AFP.   "All three people onboard have died," he said.  "The helicopter pilot and two staff members of the Adjara Group (which owns Kazbegi Rooms hotel) have been killed in the accident," the company said in a statement.

The Rooms hotel operates Bell 505 Jet Ranger helicopters, according to the hotel's website.   Famed for its spectacular landscapes with snow-capped peaks of the Greater Caucasus mountain range, dramatic rocky gorges, and medieval churches, Kazbegi is a popular tourist destination.
Date: Thu 2 May 2019
Source: PLoS One [edited]

Citation
--------
Rao S, Traxler R, Napetavaridze T, et al. Risk factors associated with the occurrence of anthrax outbreaks in livestock in the country of Georgia: A case-control investigation 2013-2015. PLoS One. 2019;14(5):e0215228. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0215228

Abstract
--------
Introduction
Anthrax is considered endemic in livestock in Georgia. In 2007, the annual vaccination became the responsibility of livestock owners, while contracting of private veterinarians was not officially required. Six years later, due to increase in human outbreaks associated with livestock handling there is a need to find out the risk factors of livestock anthrax in Georgia.

Objective
To identify exposures and risk factors associated with livestock anthrax.

Methods
A matched case-control study design was used to recruit the owners of individual livestock anthrax cases that occurred between June 2013 and May 2015, and owners of unaffected livestock from within ("village control") and outside the village ("area control"). We collected data about the case and control livestock animals' exposure and risk factors within the one-month prior to the disease onset of the case livestock (or matched case for the controls). We used logistic regression analysis (univariate and multivariable) to calculate the odds ratios of exposures and risk factors.

Results
During the study period, 36 anthrax cases met the case definition and were enrolled in the study; 67 matched village control livestock and 71 matched area control livestock were also enrolled. The findings from multivariable logistic regression analysis demonstrate that vaccination within the last 2 years significantly reduced the odds of anthrax in cattle (OR = 0.014; 95% Confidence interval = or less 0.001, 0.99). The other factors that were significantly protective against anthrax were 'animals being in covered fence area/barn' (OR = 0.065; p-value = 0.036), and 'female animal being pregnant or milking compared to heifer' (OR = 0.006; p-value = 0.037).

Conclusions
The information obtained from this study has involved and been presented to decision makers, used to build technical capacity of veterinary staff, and to foster a One Health approach to the control of zoonotic diseases which will optimize prevention and control strategies. Georgia has embedded the knowledge and specific evidence that vaccination is a highly protective measure to prevent anthrax deaths among livestock, to which primary emphasis of the anthrax control program will be given. Education of livestock keepers in Georgia is an overriding priority.
------------------------------------------------------
Communicated by
Debby Reynolds
===============================
[The major benefits of this research project were not scientific but instructional in bringing home to all concerned at all levels that livestock anthrax is not inevitable but extremely preventable with many benefits in both animal health and public health. The article conclusions needed to be emphasised: "The control strategies that were recommended for anthrax included a combination of vaccination, quarantine, and proper carcass handling and disposal. Overall, the information obtained from this study has involved and been presented to decision makers, used to build technical capacity of regional and national veterinary staff, and fostered a One Health approach to the control of zoonotic diseases like anthrax, which will optimize prevention and control strategies. For example, a multi-agency anthrax One Health team was established to investigate cases and co-develop educational materials for farmers.

"The investigation process involved a series of trainings and workshops for participants and stakeholders to promote an understanding of epidemiological investigations and the economics of disease control with anthrax as a model. Georgia now has embedded the knowledge and specific evidence that vaccination is a highly protective measure to prevent anthrax deaths among livestock. Hence, primary emphasis for disease prevention will be given to vaccination, with a specific mark/tag for vaccination being desirable. Alternatively, a formal vaccination record given to the owner, or livestock registration is recommended. Education of livestock keepers in Georgia on the importance of vaccination is an overriding priority. Vaccination teams can play an increased role with more attention paid to delivery of standard memorable messages at the time of vaccination and to disseminating public announcements. It is overwhelmingly the case that vaccination of livestock against anthrax is protective and is an effective risk mitigation for anthrax in Georgia."

And if the Georgians can do it, anybody anywhere can do it. And you will note that their last outbreak was in 2017. Our thanks to Debby for forwarding this article. - ProMED Mod.MHJ]

[Maps of Georgia can be seen at
More ...

World Travel News Headlines

Date: Tue, 7 Apr 2020 13:16:35 +0200 (METDST)

Madrid, Spain, April 7, 2020 (AFP) - Spain's daily coronavirus death toll shot up to 743 on Tuesday after falling for four straight days, lifting the total to 13,798, the health ministry said.   However, it emphasised that the rise was due to weekend deaths being tallied and that the overall "downward trend" is continuing.   The new figure represents a 5.7 percent increase over the 637 deaths recorded on Monday, the lowest number of fatalities since March 24 in the world's second hardest-hit country after Italy in terms of deaths.

The number of new infections also grew at a faster pace, rising 4.1 percent to 140,510, the health ministry said. The number of new cases had risen by 3.3 percent on Monday.   The "slight" rise was due largely to the fact that many deaths and new infections which occur over the weekend are only now being tallied, said Maria Jose Sierra of the health ministry's emergencies coordination unit.   "In reality the downward trend is what we continue to observe in the reports we have received in recent days," she told a daily news conference to discuss the figures.   The number of people in hospital intensive care units continues to fall, she added.   Spain had seen the number of new infections and death drop each day since it recorded a record 950 fatalities on Thursday.   But the percentage increase in the number of new deaths is far lower than the 32.63 percent leap recorded as recently as March 21.

Mari Angels Rodriguez, a nurse at the Hospital Josep Trueta hospital in Girona in northeastern Spain, said the volume of work in the intensive care unit had fallen "a lot".   "The collapse in the first few days was brutal, everyone was coming to emergency services, all the usual causes as well as all the possible cases of COVID-19," she told AFP.   "What wears me out the most is seeing young and middle aged people, without chronic conditions, who arrive in moderate shape and quickly end up in the intensive care unit (ICU)."   "The other day a 17-year-old girl was admitted to hospital and the next day she was in the ICU. It is full of young people. Psychologically you are not ready for this," she added.   "It hits you the speed with which a patient gets seriously ill. When they start to get bad, it is like they are drowning, in half an hour they are intubated or are dead."
Date: Tue, 7 Apr 2020 12:57:35 +0200 (METDST)

Seoul, April 7, 2020 (AFP) - Two elderly South Korean coronavirus patients recovered from severe pneumonia after being treated with plasma from survivors, researchers said Tuesday, offering hope in the face of the global pandemic.   Scientists have pointed to the potential benefits of plasma -- a blood fluid -- from recovered individuals who have developed antibodies to the virus enabling the body's defences to attack it.   Since emerging in China in December, the coronavirus has killed almost 75,000 people as drugmakers worldwide race to develop a vaccine and treatments for the disease.

Plasma therapy could become "an alternative treatment for patients in critical condition who do not respond to antiviral drugs," said Choi Jun-yong, a doctor and researcher at Severance Hospital in Seoul, where both patients were treated.   But large-scale clinical trials were needed to prove its effectiveness, he added.   One of the two patients was a 71-year-old man with no underlying conditions who only improved when treated with plasma from a recovered patient in his 20s, along with steroids.   He was initially given malaria drugs and a respirator for severe pneumonia.   The other patient, a 67-year-old female, also did not respond to initial treatments including malaria, HIV drugs, and oxygen therapy. She began to recover after receiving plasma therapy and steroids at the same time, researchers said.

Their findings were published in the peer-reviewed Journal of Korean Medicine.   Kwon Jun-wook, an official at Seoul's Central Disease Control Headquarters, said plasma therapy was "important" when there was "currently no vaccine or treatment available" for the virus.    He called on experts to examine the two cases urgently.   Research on plasma and other therapies "will proceed quickly", Kwon added.   Small studies on plasma have demonstrated its effectiveness in treating infectious diseases, including Ebola and SARS.

Trials started in France on Tuesday involving 60 patients in Paris hospitals, half of whom will receive plasma from recovered patients.   The US Food and Drug Administration authorised physicians to experiment with the strategy to fight the coronavirus, and tests are also being carried out in China.   South Korea endured one of the worst early outbreaks of the virus, but appears to have brought it under control thanks to its extensive "trace, test and treat" programme.
Date: Tue, 7 Apr 2020 12:55:32 +0200 (METDST)

Athens, April 7, 2020 (AFP) - Hundreds of Greek healthcare workers demonstrated on Tuesday to protest at working conditions and lack of manpower and equipment in public hospitals during the coronavirus pandemic.   The demonstrations were staged to coincide with World Health Day, according to the federation of hospital personnel.   "You only saw us when we covered our faces," proclaimed a poster printed by hospital trade unions, bearing a picture of doctors wearing anti-coronavirus masks.    Demonstrators at the large Evangelismos hospital in central Athens held up signs demanding job hiring, virus testing and hospital equipment.

Police tried to enter the hospital courtyard where the rally was taking place before being forced back by demonstrators, an AFP photographer said.   A similar protest was held at the main hospital in Larissa in central Greece, according to images from public television ERT.    Despina Tossonidou, president of the doctors' union at Voula hospital in southern Athens, said that in addition to the hiring of medical staff, intensive care units in private clinics should be requisitioned "to overcome the shortcomings of the public sector" during the virus crisis.   Health care in Greece was drastically affected by the country's 2010-2018 financial crisis and tough austerity required by creditors in exchange for bailouts.

As part of its measures to deal with the pandemic, the government has offered clinics 30 million euros ($32.6 million) and announced the hiring on short-term contracts of 2,000 doctors and 2,000 nursing staff.    "These measures are just a drop in the ocean," said Tossonidou, a radiologist.    "The hospital system needs 30,000 additional permanent doctors," she said, also citing the lack of protective equipment and COVID-19 testing in hospitals.    "The majority of tests are currently carried out in private hospitals at costs ranging from 150 to 300 euros ($163-326)," said Tossonidou.    Greece, a country of around 10.7 million people, has suffered relatively less than other European nations in the pandemic, recording 81 deaths out of 1,755 cases.
Date: Tue, 7 Apr 2020 11:28:32 +0200 (METDST)

Tokyo, April 7, 2020 (AFP) - Japan on Tuesday declared a state of emergency over a spike in coronavirus cases, ramping up efforts to contain infections but stopping short of the strict lockdowns seen in other parts of the world.  The government has come under mounting pressure to tackle an outbreak that remains small by global standards but has raised concerns among Japanese medical experts, with warnings that local healthcare systems are already overstretched.   "As I decided that a situation feared to gravely affect people's lives and the economy has occurred... I am declaring a state of emergency," Abe said.   The move allows governors in seven affected regions including Tokyo to ask people to stay indoors and request businesses close.

But many supermarkets and other shops will stay open, transport will continue to run and there are neither enforcement mechanisms nor penalties laid out for those who fail to comply with government requests.   "Although a state of emergency is declared, it won't mean a city lockdown as seen overseas," Abe said.   "We will prevent the spread of infection while maintaining economic and social services such as public transport as much as possible."   Pressure to declare an emergency had increased after Tokyo reported several days of record infections, with 143 new cases logged on Sunday.

Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike has already asked residents of the capital to avoid unnecessary outings and work from home, but had pushed for an emergency declaration to give her requests legal strength.   Seven regions are covered by the month-long declaration: Tokyo, neighbouring Chiba, Kanagawa and Saitama, the western hub of Osaka and neighbouring Hyogo, and the southwestern region of Fukuoka.   The measure will last through to the end of the Golden Week holiday period, when much of the country travels in a rare break.

- 'Lives at stake' -
"It may cause inconvenience in daily life, but I call for everyone's cooperation because lives are at stake," Koike told reporters earlier.   The measure also allows governors to commandeer property for medical purposes and close public facilities like schools, many of which have already shut down.   The economic impacts of the measure and the broader global pandemic have raised concern of a recession in Japan, and Abe on Monday unveiled plans for a stimulus package worth around $1 trillion, or 20 percent of gross domestic product.

Japan has so far been spared the sort of virus outbreak seen in parts of Europe and the United States, with close to 4,000 confirmed infections and 80 deaths.   But medical experts have repeatedly sounded the alarm in recent weeks, citing the rapid increase of infections in parts of the country.    And on Monday, doctors in Tokyo said the situation in the capital was already in "critical condition".

- Public backing -
In a bid to ease the pressure, rules requiring people infected with the virus to stay in hospital even if their symptoms are mild have been relaxed, with Koike saying hotels would be designated as quarantine facilities for those in non-serious condition.   The government has also pledged to step up testing capacity and the number of beds and ventilators available to treat those in serious condition.

The state of emergency is a relatively relaxed approach to lockdown compared to other parts of the world, a function of Japan's legal system, which restricts the government's ability to limit the movement of citizens.   "Japan is still haunted by the negative legacy of the war and the oppression of its citizens," said Yoshinobu Yamamoto, an emeritus professor of international politics at the University of Tokyo.   But he warned that there could be calls for stronger measures if the outbreak continues to spread.

Japan saw its first case of the virus in mid-January, and came under heavy criticism for its handling of the coronavirus-wracked Diamond Princess, where an on-board quarantine ended with over 700 people contracting the virus and 11 deaths.   In the capital, people expressed support for the state of emergency, with some saying they felt it should have been declared sooner.   "When you see on TV what's going on in New York with the cases doubling within three, four days, it really sends chills down my spine," 76-year-old Mitsuo Oshiyama told AFP.   "I don't understand why the government waited so long."
Date: Tue, 7 Apr 2020 10:17:01 +0200 (METDST)

Helsinki, April 7, 2020 (AFP) - Finland announced tougher controls on Tuesday to further reduce arrivals from its neighbours including Sweden, where measures to tackle the coronavirus have been less severe and infection rates  higher.   The two countries' land border in Lapland is usually crossed by thousands of workers and families every day, although traffic across the Swedish and Norwegian borders has fallen by 95 percent since the government banned all but essential traffic on March 14, Finland's Interior Minister Maria Ohisalo told a press conference.   "In addition to extending the measures (for a month until May 13), quarantine requirements for arrivals will be tightened," Ohisalo said.

Under the new measures, workers must now carry a permission slip from their employer stating that the border crossing is essential and must remain under quarantine for 14 days on arrival in Finland.    The measures come after a senior Finnish infection specialist called for an end to work-related travel over the Lapland border, where 2,000 border crossings a day were still being made.    "It is a significant risk when so many people are coming through the border every day," Dr Markku Broas of Lapland Central Hospital told Finnish public broadcaster Yle on 29 March.

As of Monday, Sweden had recorded 477 deaths from coronavirus, compared with just 27 in Finland.   But while Finland has imposed emergency laws closing schools, blockading its capital region and forcing restaurants to close, Sweden has taken a notably softer approach with far fewer restrictions than elsewhere in Europe.

On Tuesday, Finland also announced that passenger ferries linking Finland with Germany, Estonia and Sweden would also stop selling tickets from Friday, as all existing restrictions on movement were extended for a further month until May 13.   Ohisalo told the press conference that the measures so far had succeeded in slowing the spread of the virus in Finland and that the government would begin "an exit conversation" in the coming days about when to roll back the restrictions.
Date: Tue, 7 Apr 2020 07:07:55 +0200 (METDST)
By Philippe Carillo

Port Vila, Vanuatu, April 7, 2020 (AFP) - A deadly cyclone destroyed much of Vanuatu's second-largest town but early warnings appeared to have prevented mass casualties in the Pacific nation, with some residents sheltered in caves to stay safe, aid workers said Tuesday.   Tropical Cyclone Harold, which claimed 27 lives when it swept through the Solomon Islands last week, lashed Vanuatu's northern provinces overnight as a scale-topping category five superstorm.   The town of Luganville, population 16,500, took a direct hit as winds of 235 kilometres per hour (145 miles per hour) brought down buildings and caused flash flooding.

World Vision's Vanuatu director Kendra Gates Derousseau said the charity's local manager told her the damage was comparable to the last category five monster to hit the country, Cyclone Pam in 2015.   "I managed to speak to her on a satellite phone and she estimated about 50 percent of dwellings have been significantly damaged, the World Vision office has lost its roof," she told AFP.   "She mentioned that she has heard no reports of casualties or any significant injuries at this time," the Port Vila-based aid worker added.

Communications remain down across much of the country and Gates Derousseau said the scale of the disaster would remain unclear until remote island communities, such as southern Pentecost, had been contacted.   "They were directly in the eye (of the cyclone) and they have very few concrete buildings, they shelter in traditional thatch dwellings or caves," she said.   Red Cross Vanuatu secretary general Jacqueline de Gaillande said the communications issues meant that the most recent updates she received were social media posts from the charity's local staffers on Monday evening.   "They showed a lot of damage but we have no numbers of casualties yet," she told AFP.

- COVID-19 complications -
A massive international aid effort was launched after Cyclone Pam in 2015 flattened Port Vila, killed 11 people and wiped out almost two-thirds of the country's economic capacity.   Gates Derousseau said a similar operation was unlikely in Harold's wake because Vanuatu was determined to remain one of the world's few places with no confirmed COVID-19 cases.   She said allowing an influx of international aid workers risked inadvertently importing the virus, so Vanuatu's international borders would remain closed to new arrivals.

"It (the aid effort) has to be locally led, locally driven, working with humanitarian partners who are currently in-country.   "There are already large stockpiles of supplies in place, which is a lesson we learned from Pam, so we can get to work fairly quickly."   She said replacement supplies could be brought in from overseas once the stockpiles ran out, but they would be disinfected to ensure they were virus-free.   Vanuatu lacks the health infrastructure to deal with even a mild coronavirus outbreak, with local media reporting last month that the nation of 300,000 has only two respiratory ventilators.

Cyclone Harold has already caused widespread damage in the Solomon Islands, where an inter-island ferry ignored weather warnings and 27 people died after being washed off its decks.   Modelling early Tuesday showed it continuing to track southeast, passing south of Fiji as a category four Wednesday and weakening to category two as it brushes Tonga a day later.   However, the storm system has already proved unpredictable, with forecasters initially expecting it to only reach category three before petering out.   Fiji on Tuesday pre-emptively issued cyclone alerts for its southern islands, warning of high seas and damaging gale-force winds.
Date: Tue, 7 Apr 2020 04:07:12 +0200 (METDST)

Copenhagen, April 7, 2020 (AFP) - Denmark is to gradually lift restrictions put in place to fight the new coronavirus, starting with the reopening of day-care nurseries, kindergartens and primary schools from April 15.   Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen said that according to health authorities "it is appropriate and justified to start a slow opening. But on condition that everyone keeps their distance and washes their hands."

The reopening of schools will take place gradually, with kindergartens and primary schools opening from April 15 and middle and high schools waiting until May 10, she told a press conference on Monday.   Bars, restaurants, nightclubs, shopping centres, hairdressers and massage parlours will remain closed, and gatherings of more than 10 people are still prohibited.   "Daily life is not going to return as before for the moment. We will live with many restrictions for many more months," the prime minister warned.   Border closures remain in place and travel abroad is not recommended.

Large gatherings are prohibited until August.   Frederiksen called on Danes to keep observing health rules and social distancing.   "A little slip in our individual behaviour can have a big impact on our well-being as a society," she said.    Denmark closed its borders to foreigners on March 14, the same day it recorded its first coronavirus fatality, and days later closed bars and restaurants and most shops.

The Nordic nation has recorded 4,875 infections and 187 deaths related to COVID-19.    It is the second European country after Austria to unveil its plans for a gradual easing of restrictions.
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: Mon, 6 Apr 2020 22:58:13 +0200 (METDST)

Sao Paulo, April 6, 2020 (AFP) - The epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak in Latin America, Brazil's Sao Paulo state, said Monday it expects 111,000 deaths in the next six months, and extended its stay-at-home measures another two weeks.   The forecast -- an official projection, the state government said -- would appear to put Brazil on track to become one of the worst-hit countries in the world.   The global death toll from the virus currently stands at 70,000, according to a tally compiled by AFP.

Sao Paulo, the teeming industrial hub where the new coronavirus first appeared in Latin America, has confirmed 4,620 cases and 275 deaths so far.   Governor Joao Doria, who closed non-essential businesses on March 24 and advised people to stay home, said containment measures would be needed for at least two more weeks or the situation would get far worse.   "If we continue seeing people in the streets and gathering unnecessarily, we will go to more restrictive measures," he told a news conference.   Police are already authorized to break up crowds by force if necessary, he said.

Without containment measures, Sao Paulo -- whose capital is the mega-city of the same name -- would register 270,000 deaths in the next six months, said the head of the state's public health research institute, Dimas Covas.   Brazil has been the Latin American country hit hardest by the new coronavirus, with 553 deaths and more than 12,000 confirmed cases so far.   Health experts warn under-testing means the real number is likely much higher.

Sao Paulo, a state whose population of 46 million makes it about the size as Spain, has seen more infections and deaths than any other.   The state is probably facing another 1,300 deaths this week, Covas said.   The governor has openly clashed over containment measures with far-right President Jair Bolsonaro, who claims they are needlessly wrecking the economy over a disease he has compared to a "little flu."
Date: Mon, 6 Apr 2020 22:54:10 +0200 (METDST)

Jerusalem, April 6, 2020 (AFP) - Israel will ban inter-city travel from Tuesday to Friday this week in order to forestall the spread of coronavirus during the Passover holidays, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said.    "There will be a lockdown between Tuesday from 4:00 pm (1300 GMT) until Friday at 7:00 am -- you must stay in your cities and villages," he said late Monday on television.

He also said that on Wednesday evening, when the traditional Seder meal for Passover is to be held, only people living under the same roof will be permitted to interact.     "Every family must stay at home and nobody can leave their homes between 6:00 pm on Wednesday and 7:00 am on Thursday," the prime minister added.     "The coming days will be decisive for the state of Israel," he said.    Coronavirus has so far killed 57 people in the Jewish state and infected more than 8,900, according to official figures.    Cases in Israel are concentrated heavily in the ultra-Orthodox community where health restrictions have been slow to take root, with some refusing to accept the limitations.

Netanyahu on Friday gave the green light for soldiers to be deployed in the mostly ultra-Orthodox city of Bnei Brak, which is considered the centre of Israel's novel coronavirus outbreak.   In his address on Monday, the premier pointed to "positive signs of progress" in the fight against coronavirus.   "We can envisage starting to come out of quarantine progressively after Passover, but it will depend on you," he told citizens.   Israelis are currently restricted from venturing out more than 100 metres (330 feet) from their homes, except to go to the supermarket, pharmacy or hospital.