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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, 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.
Date: Fri, 15 Nov 2019 01:13:41 +0100 (MET)
By Sophie PONS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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: 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.
Date: Mon 11 Nov 2019
Source: Pan American Health Organization (PAHO)

Mexico has become the 1st country in the world to receive validation from the World Health Organization (WHO) for eliminating dog-transmitted rabies as a public health problem. "Eliminating [dog-transmitted] rabies doesn't happen by accident," said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General. "It takes political resolve, careful planning, and meticulous execution. I congratulate the Government of Mexico on this wonderful achievement and hope many other countries will follow its example."

Rabies causes 60,000 deaths each year, mainly in Asia and Africa. In Latin America and the Caribbean, new cases of rabies were reduced by more than 95 percent in humans and 98 percent in dogs since 1983.

"By eliminating human rabies transmitted by dogs, Mexico is showing the world that ending infectious diseases for the next generation is possible and is the right way forward," said PAHO Director, Carissa F Etienne.

Mexico's achievement
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In order to achieve elimination, the country has implemented a national strategy for the control and elimination of rabies. This includes free, mass vaccination campaigns for dogs, that have taken place since the 1990's with more than 80 percent coverage; continuous and effective surveillance; public awareness-raising campaigns; timely diagnosis; and the availability of post-exposure prophylaxis in the country's public health services.

As a result, the country went from registering 60 cases of human rabies transmitted by dogs in 1990, to 3 cases in 1999, and zero cases in 2006. The last 2 cases occurred in 2 people from the State of Mexico, who were attacked in 2005 and presented symptoms in 2006.

The validation process
----------------------
WHO considers a country to be free of rabies after registering 2 years of zero transmission of rabies to humans. However, there was previously no process to verify the achievement of this goal, until this was developed by PAHO/WHO. Mexico became the 1st country in the world to begin this in December 2016.

The validation process was extensive and included the creation of a group of independent international experts established by PAHO/WHO. It also included the preparation, by Mexico, of an almost 300-page file containing all historical information about the situation of rabies in the country. PAHO and its specialized center in veterinary public health, PANAFTOSA, accompanied and supervised the implementation of the validation process throughout.

The group of experts carried out a mission to Mexico in September 2018 to review the file and verify the country complied with all WHO requirements. In September 2019, the group recommended the Director General of WHO and PAHO validate the elimination.

Moving forward
--------------
In order to sustain elimination, PAHO/WHO recommends continuing all rabies prevention, surveillance and control actions, particularly as rabies virus continues to circulate among wild animals such as bats.

PAHO collaborated with the countries of the Americas to eliminate rabies through technical cooperation, staff training, periodic meetings between those responsible for the issue in-country, and through the provision of recommendations on international standards. As of September 2019, there have been zero cases of rabies transmitted by dogs in humans in the Americas.

In addition to rabies, Mexico eliminated onchocerciasis in 2015 and trachoma in 2017, 3 of the more than 30 infectious diseases and related conditions that PAHO's new Communicable Disease Elimination Initiative in the Region of the Americas has set as a goal for elimination from the continent by 2030.
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[This is certainly an outstanding achievement and should be celebrated by all. It is also an example to other countries.  Of course, someone acquiring rabies from a bat would be outside of this situation. This WHO/PAHO validation specifically refers to rabies acquired from dog bites. This is a great milestone. Congratulations Mexico! - ProMED Mod.TG]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map of Mexico:
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Montserrat

Montserrat US Consular Information Sheet
June 04, 2007
COUNTRY DESCRIPTION: Montserrat is a British overseas territory and part of the British West Indies.
The island rises in a series of mountain slopes to a high point of over 3,000 feet
t the Soufriere Volcano in the exclusion zone.
Montserrat is a highly active volcanic island.
The Government of Montserrat has issued several recent proclamations and warnings urging residents and visitors to be vigilant and to be prepared to move at short notice.
For further information, see "Special Circumstances" in this Information Sheet.

ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS: Proof of citizenship and identity, in addition to an onward/return ticket and sufficient funds to cover the expected stay, are required for entry into Montserrat.
However, U.S. citizens are now required to present a valid passport to travel by air between the United States and the Caribbean.
As early as January 1, 2008, a valid passport will also be required for travelers by sea.There is a departure tax payable upon leaving Montserrat.

See our Foreign Entry Requirements brochure for more information on Montserrat and other countries.
For further information, travelers may contact the British Embassy, 19 Observatory Circle N.W., Washington, D.C. 20008; telephone (202) 588-7800; or the nearest consulate of the United Kingdom in Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles, New York, Denver, Houston, Miami, Orlando, Seattle, or San Francisco.
Visit the British Embassy's web site at http://www.britainusa.com/ for the most current visa information.

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

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

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

The Department of State urges American citizens to take responsibility for their own personal security while traveling overseas.
For general information about appropriate measures travelers can take to protect themselves in an overseas environment, see the Department of State’s pamphlet A Safe Trip Abroad.

CRIME: The crime rate in Montserrat is low.
However, travelers should take normal, common sense precautions.
Travelers should avoid carrying large amounts of cash and displaying expensive jewelry.
Travelers should also use hotel safety deposit facilities to safeguard valuables and travel documents.

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

See our information on Victims of Crime.

MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION: St. John’s Hospital, Montserrat’s main hospital, can handle most routine and surgical emergencies.
However, there is no hyperbaric chamber in Montserrat.
Doctors in private practice are also available.
Arrangements can be made quickly to transfer more serious problems off island by helicopter to Antigua or Guadeloupe.

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

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

TRAFFIC SAFETY AND ROAD CONDITIONS: While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States.
The information below concerning Montserrat is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.

In Montserrat, vehicles are operated on the left-hand side of the road.
There is no organized government roadside assistance, but local residents are often willing to aid those with car trouble.
Roads are narrow, winding and steep.
For specific information concerning Montserrat driving permits, vehicle inspection, road tax and mandatory insurance, please contact the Montserrat Tourist Board in Montserrat at tel. 1 (664) 491-2230 or 491-8730.
You may also email them at info@montserrattourism.ms.
The web address for the Tourist Board is http://www.visitmontserrat.com/.

Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information.

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

SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES:
Ongoing volcanic activity from the Soufriere Hills Volcano has led to the evacuation and relocation of residents from the southern half of the island’s so called ‘exclusion zone' since 1995.
Additional evacuations occurred as recently as early 2007, when volcanic activity increased.
Because the volcano is still active and dangerous, access to the southern part of the island and a surrounding maritime exclusion zone is restricted.
Persons entering restricted areas without authorization are subject to fine and/or imprisonment.

In early 2007, Montserrat government authorities warned residents and visitors of volcanic activity and an increase of pyroclastic flows in Tyres Ghaut, Gages Valley and behind Gages Mountain.
Authorities also evacuated people living in the potential impact areas in and near the Belham Valley - Isles Bay Hill, Old Towne (south of Loblolly Lane), Isles Bay Plantation, lower Happy Hill, Water Works junction and Water Works Estate - due to the volcano’s activity.

When in Montserrat, citizens are advised to monitor Radio Montserrat (Radio ZJB) for the latest official guidance.
In addition to the hazards posed by the Soufriere Hills Volcano as outlined above, Montserrat can be affected by hurricanes.
The hurricane season normally runs from June to the end of November, but there have been hurricanes in December in recent years.
General information about natural disaster preparedness is available via the Internet from the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) at http://www.fema.gov.

The official Montserrat Volcano Observatory website, http://mvo.ms/, is helpful for updates on volcanic activity.
Updates on volcano activity can also be found on the website of the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Response Agency at http://www.cdera.org/.
Please see our Customs Information.

CRIMINAL PENALTIES: While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country's laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law.
Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offences.
Persons violating Montserrat's laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned.
Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Montserrat 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 on international adoption of children and international parental child abduction, see the Office of Children’s Issues website.

REGISTRATION / EMBASSY LOCATION: Americans living or traveling in Montserrat are encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate through the State Department's travel registration website, and to obtain updated information on travel and security within Montserrat.
Americans without Internet access may register directly with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate.
By registering, American citizens make it easier for the Embassy or Consulate to contact them in case of emergency.

The U.S. Embassy is located in the Wildey Business Park, Wildey, St. Michael, telephone 1-246-436-4950, web site http://bridgetown.usembassy.gov.

Hours of operation are 8:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Monday through Friday, except Barbados and U.S. holidays.
Assistance may also be provided by the U.S. Consular Agency in Antigua, located at Suite #2, Jasmine Court, Friars Hill Rd, St. John’s, Antigua.
Contact information is as follows: telephone 1-268-463-6531, cellular 1-268-726-6531, or e-mail ANUWndrGyal@aol.com.
The mailing address is P.O. Box W-1562, St. John’s, Antigua.
The Consular Agent is available by appointment only.
The office is closed for local and U.S. Holidays.
* * *
This replaces the Consular Information Sheet dated January 9, 2007, to update the Entry/Exit Requirements, Aviation Safety Oversight and Embassy Location sections.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Sat, 13 Feb 2010 21:42:24 +0100 (MET)
by Colin James

ST JOHN'S, Feb 13, 2010 (AFP) - Resilient residents of the tiny Caribbean island of Montserrat Saturday shrugged off clouds of ash spewing out of a volcano, and donned masks to go about their daily business.   "It is makes you sneeze a lot," Gregory Willock, the president of the Montserrat Cricket Association, told AFP in the nearby island of Antigua by telephone.

Life has continued as normal since the Soufriere Hills volcano erupted Thursday, throwing up a plume of smoke and volcanic ash 10 kilometers (six miles) into the air, he said.   "All I know is it can create problems for people who have sinus" problems, Willock added, saying many residents had taken to wearing masks while schools and government offices have been operating as normal.   Thursday's eruption came almost 15 years after the volcano, which had lain dormant throughout recorded history, first rumbled into life in July 1995.

The 1995 eruption threw up a huge plume of ash and molten lava into the sky, which in coming weeks rained down on the British overseas territory.   The island's capital city Plymouth was buried in ash and volcanic debris in a further massive eruption a month later and destroyed. Two-thirds of the island's population were forced to flee abroad.   This time islanders are praying for rain to clear away the blanket of dust, which has even stopped the cricket team practicing.   "We cannot practice because Salem Park is not accessible. We need rain to get rid of ash on the ground," Willcock said Saturday.

Another resident, who asked not to be named, said his only complaint so far had to do with his medical condition. He's asthmatic.   "It has not worried me but because of my complaint I'm being ultra-careful. I'm talking to you with a mask over my mouth," he told AFP.   "However, life goes on beautifully. It is just like normal life. We are a resilient people," he said.   Many flights around the Caribbean remained cancelled Saturday due to clouds of ash spewed up into the skies.   "The continued ash hanging in the atmosphere presents a risk to planes and to the security of passengers," the police in the nearby island of Guadeloupe said in a statement.

The airport in Guadeloupe, which lies just 80 kilometers (50 miles) south of Montserrat, would remain closed until Sunday, it said.   "The dispersion of these ashes will depend on today's weather conditions," it added in a statement, after fire engines were deployed late Friday to try clear the airport's runways of a thick layer of ash.   Some 300 people were stranded on Guadeloupe waiting to leave, the director of the islands' tourism office Thierry Gargar told AFP. He added they were all being accommodated in hotels on the islands.

Flights to other Caribbean tourist hotspots including Anguilla, St. Kitts and Nevis and St. Maarten also remained disrupted.   The ash has also forced LIAT, the region's biggest airline, to temporarily suspend flights in and out of the V.C. Bird International airport in nearby Antigua, although flights resumed Saturday to Dominica.

Montserrat, settled by English and Irish colonizers in 1632, has been dubbed "The Emerald Isle of the Caribbean" for its lush vegetation. It has been trying to rebuild its tourism industry since the 1995 eruption.   The buried capital Plymouth, which has been compared to a modern-day Pompeii, now lies in an exclusion zone, but can be visited with organized tours.
Date: Sat, 13 Feb 2010 03:16:13 +0100 (MET)

ST. JOHN'S, Feb 12, 2010 (AFP) - Ash from a volcanic eruption on the Caribbean island of Montserrat hung in the air around Antigua and Barbuda Friday, causing difficult driving conditions and forcing flight suspensions.   Montserrat's Soufriere Hills volcano erupted Thursday, sending a plume of ash 10 kilometers (six miles) high into the sky, the Montserrat Volcano Observatory said.

The ash forced LIAT, the region's biggest airline, to temporarily suspend flights in and out of Antigua's V.C. Bird International airport.   The airline said in a statement late Friday it had resumed flights to and from Antigua, but added that the "continued presence of airborne ash clouds over Dominica and Guadeloupe has forced LIAT to suspend all remaining flights to both destinations."   Flights to other Caribbean islands including Anguilla, St. Kitts and Nevis and St. Maarten were also disrupted on Thursday.

Montserrat is about 35 kilometers south of Antigua and Barbuda, but residents on the southern side of Antigua said heavy ash had fallen on their homes and made driving conditions difficult at times.   Yvonne McMillan, a resident of the southern village of Jennings, told an Antiguan radio station that "it was pretty rough" on Friday morning.   "Visibility was extremely poor. Coming off a hill you don't see what's below. I had to switch (my lights) to low beam all the time because high beam confused me even more," she said.   Meteorological officials described the ash fall as "quite bad."   Senior forecaster Lorne Salmon said cooling meant the air had become heavier, sinking into valley and low-lying areas.   "When this happens a lot of the ash becomes more concentrated," she said.
Date: Fri, 12 Feb 2010 16:08:48 +0100 (MET)

POINTE-A-PITRE, Guadeloupe, Feb 12, 2010 (AFP) - Ash from a volcano that has erupted on the Caribbean island of Montserrat has spread to neighbouring islands, forcing authorities to close schools in the French territory of Guadeloupe.

The Soufriere Hills volcano on Montserrat erupted on Thursday sending ash 10 kilometers (six miles) high into the sky, according to French weather experts, and forcing other islands to take precautions.   Montserrat is about 80 kilometers (50 miles) north of Guadeloupe.   Point-a-Pitre airport on Guadeloupe was closed straight away and French state representative Jean Fabre ordered schools to close on Friday. He said there was a risk of eye irritation and breathing problems.

Buildings and cars were covered in a layer of grey ash on Friday while flights to Guadeloupe were still diverted to Martinique about 250 kilometers (160 miles) to the south.   The Soufriere volcano has been active since 1995 when a major eruption buried half of Montserrat's capital, Plymouth. Two thirds of the island's 12,000 people have since left.
January 10, 2007 This Public Announcement is being issued to alert American citizens of increasing volcanic activity on the island of Montserrat, and to provide new information from the Government of Montserrat regarding sections of the island that are prohibited to visitors. Travelers are strongly advised to thoroughly consider the risks of travel to Montserrat, and to take adequate precautions to ensure their safety if they do travel. This Public Announcement expires April 9, 2007. U.S. citizens traveling to and residing in Montserrat should be aware that renewed volcanic activity at the Soufriere Hills Volcano has led to evacuations from certain areas of the island. The Government of Montserrat has identified unsafe restricted areas, which include the south and eastern parts of Montserrat adjacent to the active volcano. Remaining or attempting to enter these zones is prohibited by the Government of Montserrat. All Americans currently living or traveling in Montserrat are advised to make arrangements to depart on short notice if requested to do so by the Government of Montserrat. U.S. citizens in affected regions should immediately head to safe ground and/or identify shelter, monitor local media reports, and follow the instructions of local emergency officials. Visitors should be familiar with their hotel evacuation plans. U.S. citizens should carry their travel documents (i.e. U.S. Passport, Birth Certificate, picture IDs, etc.) with them at all times or secure them in a safe location. Additionally, all American citizens in the area are reminded to stay in contact with friends and family in the United States to keep them apprised of their current whereabouts. Lastly, residents and travelers can obtain official guidance and information by monitoring Radio Montserrat (Radio ZJB) or by checking the status of the volcano's activity at the Global Volcanism Program's website located at http://www.volcano.si.edu/reports/usgs. Americans living or traveling in Montserrat are encouraged to register with the U.S. Embassy Bridgetown, Barbados, through the State Department's travel registration website, https://travelregistration.state.gov. 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. For additional information on Montserrat, please consult the Department of State's latest Consular Information Sheet for Montserrat at http://travel.state.gov. American citizens may also obtain up-to-date information on the situation in Montserrat by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll free in the United States or Canada or 1-202-501-4444 from overseas. The duty officer at the U.S. Embassy Bridgetown, Barbados, can be reached at 246-823-2675.
5 February 2003 The vast majority of visits to Montserrat are trouble free. However, because of ongoing volcanic activity, entry into the southern part of the island and the southern coastal waters is prohibited. Life and commercial activity, including tourism continue as normal in the central and northern regions. There is no history of terrorism in the territory. Though the crime rate is very low you should take sensible precautions against petty crime, including tourism continue as normal in the central and northern regions. To view the article in full, visit the page below: http://www.fco.gov.uk/servlet/Front?pagename=OpenMarket/Xcelerate/ShowPage&c=Page&cid=1007029390590&a=KCountryAdvice&aid=1013618386244
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World Travel News Headlines

Date: Sat, 4 Apr 2020 06:20:31 +0200 (METDST)

London, April 4, 2020 (AFP) - The Falklands Islands government has confirmed the territory's first case of the new coronavirus.   A patient tested positive after being admitted to hospital with symptoms on March 31, according to a statement released on Friday that said they were in isolation and in "stable condition".   Located in the southern Atlantic Ocean, the British overseas territory had been among a dwindling number of remote places that have reported no COVID-19 cases during the pandemic.

Health authorities in the Falklands -- home to 3,400 people -- have been sending samples to the UK for testing, the statement said.   "In some respects we are fortunate that we have been COVID-19 free until now, as we have taken this time to plan our approach," Chief Medical Officer Dr Rebecca Edwards said.   "We have reorganised the hospital and staffing arrangements, and put our supplies and pharmaceuticals in place, which many countries were not in a position to do before they identified their first cases."

The disparate group of places to officially remain untouched by the pandemic include Samoa, Turkmenistan, North Korea and bases on the frozen continent of Antarctica.   Argentina, which invaded and briefly occupied the territory in 1982, claims sovereignty over the islands and calls them Las Islas Malvinas.
Date: Fri, 3 Apr 2020 23:54:18 +0200 (METDST)

Kinshasa, April 3, 2020 (AFP) - The Democratic Republic of Congo is prepared to take part in testing of any future vaccine against the coronavirus, the head of the country's taskforce against the pandemic said on Friday.   "We've been chosen to conduct these tests," said the head of the national biological institute, Jean-Jacques Muyembe.    "The vaccine will be produced in the United States, or in Canada, or in China. We're candidates for doing the testing here," Muyembe told a news briefing in comments that sparked controversy in DR Congo amid charges the population was being used as guinea pigs.

Muyembe suggested that clinical trials could begin in July or August.    "At some point, COVID-19 will be uncontrollable," the virologist said.   "The only way to control it will be a vaccine, just like Ebola. It was a vaccine that helped us end the Ebola epidemic."   Muyembe's comments came as two leading French doctors came under a storm of criticism after discussing on a television programme the idea of testing a vaccine for coronavirus in Africa.   Camille Locht, head of research at the National Institute of Health and Medical Research (INSERM) in Lille, and Jean-Paul Mira, head of intensive care at the Cochin hospital in Paris, suggested that Africa offered better conditions for testing the vaccine.

Their remarks sparked furious criticism, with the French anti-racism NGO, SOS Racisme, saying, "No, Africans aren't guinea pigs".    Even former international and Ivory Coast football star Didier Drogba joined in.    "It is inconceivable that we continue to accept this. Africa is not a laboratory. I strongly denounce these very serious, racist and contemptuous words," the former Chelsea and Marseille striker wrote on his Facebook page and on Twitter.   "Help us save lives in Africa and stop the spread of the virus that is destabilising the whole world instead of seeing us as guinea pigs. It is absurd."   The tenth Ebola epidemic in DR Congo is set to be declared over on April 12, after it killed more than 2,200 people in the east of the country since its outbreak on August 1, 2018.    More than 320,000 people were given two different experimental vaccines to stop the spread.
Date: Fri, 3 Apr 2020 21:56:23 +0200 (METDST)

Libreville, April 3, 2020 (AFP) - Gabon on Friday banned the sale and eating of bats and pangolins, which are suspected of sparking the novel coronavirus in China where they are highly prized in traditional medicine.   President Ali Bongo Ondimba also announced the government was planning to lock down the capital Libreville and unveiled an emergency package for those hard hit by the pandemic.   The novel coronavirus is believed to have come from bats, but researchers think it might have spread to humans via another mammal.   Pangolins are critically endangered and have long been protected, but they are sold in the markets of the capital Libreville, as are bats, and their meat is popular.

The central African nation is 88 percent covered in forest and hunting and bush meat have long been a way of life.   The water and forest ministry said the novel coronavirus was a "combination of two different viruses, one close to bats and the other closer to pangolins", and claimed to be quoting a scientific study published in Nature.   Gabon has declared 21 COVID-19 infections, but none from animals, the ministry said.   "A similar decision was taken by the authorities when our country was affected by the Ebola virus -- a ban on eating primates," Forestry Minister Lee White said.

The national parks agency ANPN announced in mid-March that tourists would no longer be allowed to interact with great apes to avoid any risk of contamination by the coronavirus.   The pangolin, the world's most heavily trafficked mammal, also called the scaly anteater, is believed to have possibly been a vector in the leap of the novel coronavirus from animal to human at a market in China's Wuhan city last year.   Its body parts fetch a high price on the black market as they are commonly used in traditional Chinese medicine, although scientists say they have no therapeutic value.

Gabon has also put in place a raft of measures such as grounding international flights, closing schools and ordering a night curfew to stop the spread of the coronavirus.   On Friday, Bongo said Libreville would be put under lockdown "in the coming days" but gave no precise date.   All but one of Gabon's reported 21 cases are in the city, where a large proportion of the country's two million residents live.   Bongo also announced an aid package of 250 billion CFA francs (380 million euros) to help both individuals and businesses whose livelihoods have suffered because of the crisis.
Date: Fri, 3 Apr 2020 20:36:36 +0200 (METDST)

Istanbul, April 3, 2020 (AFP) - Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Friday issued a mandatory confinement order for everyone aged under 20 starting from midnight, as part of tougher measures to stem the spread of the coronavirus in Turkey.    In a television address, Erdogan also announced that vehicles would no longer be able to leave or enter 31 towns and cities, including Istanbul and Ankara, for 15 days.   People aged over 65 or those with chronic medical conditions are already subject to mandatory confinement in Turkey.    "Throughout the country, people aged under 20, that is to say born after January 1, 2000, will not be allowed to go out on the street" from midnight on Friday, Erdogan said.

Also, from Saturday, all those going out to shops or markets will be obliged to wear a face mask, the Turkish leader added, calling on the population to maintain a distance of "three paces" from each other when outside.   Turkey has registered over 20,000 coronavirus cases, 425 of which have been fatal.   Health Minister Fahrettin Koca warned on Friday that the country is just at the beginning of the outbreak, which has left over 50,000 people dead worldwide.   More than half of the Turkish cases have been in the economic capital Istanbul, which has a population of around 16 million people.

The city's mayor Ekrem Imamoglu has been calling for total confinement.    Erdogan's announcements on Friday are the latest moves to stem the spread of the virus in Turkey in recent weeks.   Schools have been closed down, flights grounded and gatherings banned.   Next week the Turkish parliament is set to consider a draft law to free 90,000 prisoners, a third of the population of the overcrowded prisons.   It will concern several categories of prisoners, among them pregnant women and older people with medical conditions.   But it excludes convicted murderers, sexual offenders and narcotics criminals, as well as political prisoners charged under Turkey's controversial anti-terrorism laws.
Date: Fri, 3 Apr 2020 11:49:00 +0200 (METDST)

Singapore, April 3, 2020 (AFP) - Singapore will close schools and workplaces while people are being told to stay home, as the city-state ramps up curbs to stem the spread of coronavirus, the premier said Friday.   The country has won praise for its handling of the outbreak, and had largely kept the crisis in check by carrying out large numbers of tests and tracing close contacts of those infected.   Authorities had slowly been introducing curbs, such as closing bars and nightclubs, but had so far avoided the kind of tough restrictions seen in worse-hit nations.

However, after a jump in the number of locally transmitted cases in recent days, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said it was time to apply a "circuit breaker" to halt the virus's spread.   Workplaces except for essential services, such as supermarkets and hospitals, and those deemed to be in key economic sectors will be closed from Tuesday, he said in a televised address.

Schools will also be closed from next week except for children of those who have to continue to work and cannot make alternative arrangements, he said.   People are being told to stay at home as much as possible, and only go out for essentials -- such as buying food and getting exercise.   "Looking at the trend, I am worried that unless we take further steps, things will gradually get worse, or another big cluster may push things over the edge," Lee said.   Singapore has reported 1,114 virus infections including five deaths. Globally, the number of confirmed cases has soared past one million and deaths have topped 50,000.
Date: Fri, 3 Apr 2020 11:17:02 +0200 (METDST)

Berlin, April 3, 2020 (AFP) - Germans risk being fined up to 500 euros ($540) for standing too close to each other from Friday as officials crack down on people flouting rules brought in to control coronavirus.   Chancellor Angela Merkel's government has ordered people not leave their homes unless they have an exceptional reason such as grocery shopping, exercise or medical appointments.   Gatherings of more than two people are banned and a distance of at least 1.5 metres (five feet) must be kept from others at all times.   Local governments have the power to set fines for transgressors, with city officials in Berlin saying their fines would be as high as 500 euros.

Similar announcements have come from across Germany's 16 states.   Hesse, home to finance hub Frankfurt, and North Rhine-Westphalia both promised penalties of up to 200 euros for people who gather in groups of more than two.   Bavaria, Germany's largest state, has been the worst affected by the coronavirus so far, with more than 18,000 cases.   There, people who stand less than 1.5 metres apart risk being fined 150 euros.

Queues of people standing far apart have become a common sight outside German supermarkets and pharmacies, with many sticking down tape to mark where people should stand on the pavement.   However, German police have also reported numerous violations of the rules.   Germany has recorded over 79,000 cases of the novel coronavirus, according to the Robert Koch Institute for disease control.   A total of 1,017 people have died.
Date: Thu 26 Mar 2020
Source: Mongabay.com [edited]

In April 2018, workers with the Associacao Mico-Leao-Dourado, a Brazilian non-governmental organisation [NGO] dedicated to the protection of the golden lion tamarin, found one of the endangered primates, apparently sick and unable to climb trees, lying on the forest floor in Aldeia, some 80 km (50 mi) north east of Rio de Janeiro city. The following day, field staff searched for the animal but could not find it within the sprawling tropical forest. But later that month, the dead bodies of 2 others were discovered in nearby forest in Cambucaes and Imbau.

The stricken animals immediately set off alarm bells in Brazil's conservation community. By 17 May 2018, their worst fears were realized, as the 1st confirmed death of a golden lion tamarin due to yellow fever was announced by the Brazilian Ministry of Health and Ministry of the Environment.  "Until this report we didn't know if the [animals] were susceptible to the disease, even after 4 decades of working with the tamarins, but we now understand that they are even more susceptible to it than humans," explains Dr Carlos Ruiz, president of the Associacao Mico-Leao-Dourado (the Golden Lion Tamarin Association).

Known for their distinctive, lion-like manes and gold-orange pelage, the golden lion tamarin, or _Leontopithecus rosalia_, is a primate endemic to the Atlantic Forest biome that once stretched uninterrupted for hundreds of miles along Brazil's eastern coast, but which has since been reduced to only patches. By the 1980s, _L. rosalia_ was critically endangered due to habitat loss and extremely high levels of poaching.

By then, the population was down to just a few hundred individuals in isolated forest fragments scattered around the Sao Joao river basin in Rio de Janeiro state. However, a hugely successful campaign of intensively focused conservation action, including the introduction of zoo-born tamarins to wild populations, raised that number to 3700 by 2014.

Then came the outbreak of yellow fever, in late 2017-2018, Brazil's largest human epidemic since mass vaccinations began in the 1940s. The mosquito borne disease, normally found in remote reaches of the Amazon, spread to the populous southern states of Minas Gerais, Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo, killing hundreds of people and infecting thousands more.

Scientists, alerted by the 1st yellow fever casualties in 2018 among the golden lion tamarin, were astonished to see the species decline by 32% due to the disease, a terrible setback for an animal already classified as Endangered by the International Union for Conservation and Nature (IUCN).

Compounding the crisis was a misinformed reaction to the yellow fever outbreak by local people who made a spurt of attacks on all monkeys, apparently based on the false belief that tamarins, rather than mosquitoes, were capable of directly transmitting the disease to humans. Some primates were illegally killed by poisoning and others shot dead with rifles.

More bad news: Research published by Strier and colleagues in 2018 found that muriqui (woolly spider monkey) numbers also suffered "catastrophic" declines in the Atlantic Forest's Reserva Particular do Patrimonio Natural due to yellow fever, declining 10% and 26% for 2 separate populations.

"The impact of yellow fever has been absolutely devastating" on these primates, especially the tamarins, says Dr Ruiz. "It could set us back 30 years of conservation efforts." He does report some good news: Charity service volunteers are now continuously monitoring the surviving tamarin populations, aiding local health officials to ensure near 100% vaccination of people in stricken areas, and the regular exchange of information with government bodies to help prevent further significant outbreaks.

Yellow fever is believed to have originated in Africa and spread to Brazil as a result of the transatlantic slave trade. The disease first appeared in Recife, north east Brazil, in 1685, according to historical records. However, yellow fever is not endemic to the majority of the country, and therefore most monkeys have not developed resistance [or tolerance] to it, leaving them particularly vulnerable, according to the Brazilian Society of Primatology.

How, or whether, tamarin populations will bounce back after such significant losses remains unknown. "The biggest problem is how these species then recover from crashes," says Karen Strier, an anthropologist at the University of Wisconsin who has studied Atlantic Forest monkeys since the 1980s. "Either they must reproduce within the surviving group...or they must look to recruit from other populations. But the more fragmented the landscape, the more difficult [recruiting] is." The trouble with reproducing within just one group is that "if the population is small that may not work, and it also produces low genetic diversity."

Ominously, primate experts now fear that yellow fever outbreaks could become a regular occurrence in the Atlantic Forest biome, and that disease could be a looming new threat to the golden lion tamarin, even as illegal trafficking remains a serious concern. "From time to time, [yellow fever] reemerges...and may affect regions beyond the Amazon, if it has viability of transmission," says a spokesperson for the Brazilian Society of Primatology. "But it could become an endemic disease also of the Atlantic Forest."

A combination of climate change and deforestation in areas that serve as buffer zones between tropical forest and urban areas has allowed yellow fever to spread, the society representative added. Logging and charcoal production, agriculture and urbanization have devastated the tamarin's habitat, reducing it to only 2% of its original area in the Atlantic Forest, home to 22 of Brazil's 77 primate species.

Hope is now focused on a newly developed vaccine for non-human primates that could immunize species like the golden lion tamarin and perhaps save them from disease and help them evade extinction. Marcos Freire, a researcher at the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation in Rio de Janeiro, who previously worked on a team producing a human yellow fever vaccine, has been seeking an alternative for primates since 2017, and thinks he now has one that could work. "We would like to vaccinate some of these animals and then transport them back to areas where there have been mortalities," he says. "But nobody has ever vaccinated a species of monkey before and so there are a lot of challenges." Freire says that he is currently applying to the nation's Ministry of Health and Ministry of Agriculture for permission to capture and immunize wild populations of tamarins. "In Brazil, there have not yet been any licenses to administer vaccines for non-human primates," he says. "Dogs, cats and cows, yes -- but not primates."

The vaccine, which he initially hopes to use on 500 primates, is based on a dilution of the yellow fever vaccine administered to humans and uses a similar process and formula. "We applied different quantities of dosage to species in our primate center in Rio de Janeiro, and the results have been effective," he reveals. But practical challenges remain: How, for example, "would you test it on animals that are critically endangered?" asks Strier, who supports the vaccine's development. "And how do you administer it to animals in the wild in a cost-effective way? And what about the fact that there are humans that still haven't been vaccinated?"

Even if these hurdles are overcome, vaccination won't entirely eliminate the disease because some female mosquitoes pass the virus directly to their eggs. Meanwhile, other solutions offer promise, such as neutralizing mosquitoes by means of genetic modification, as explored in the case of the Zika virus, or using mathematical models to anticipate the arrival of the virus in various locales in order to immediately combat it.

The vaccine, should it prove efficacious, could offer important relief to these endangered primates, even as other human disruptions put heightened pressure on ecosystems in south eastern Brazil. No matter what the results, ongoing vaccine research will offer "a good opportunity to learn what happens," concludes Freire. "Do the [tamarins] survive because they are immune, or not infected? Any kind of [observed] result will be important. Because if every year we get another episode [of yellow fever and lack an effective response], then we'll have to go back to captive reproduction."  [byline: Peter Yeung]
====================
[The current expansion of yellow fever in South America raises concern for public health and also about potential conservation problems for susceptible non-human primate species in the continent. The virus is endemic in much of central and northern South America and makes sporadic incursions to southern areas of the continent, like the states of Santa Catarina, Parana and Rio Grande do Sul in Brazil, Misiones in Argentina, or Paraguay.

The yellow fever virus was introduced into the Americas approximately 400 years ago, yet the complex interactions that were established after its introduction are far from being elucidated. There is need for more research on the eco-epidemiology of the disease in the continent, specifically on the role of each non-human primate species, and especially in the presence of the persistent anthropogenic global environmental change.
Developing a vaccine to be used in golden lion tamarins can be a powerful tool, but there are some issues that need to be considered. First, applying the vaccine to 500 wild tamarins may be risky, as it involves capturing and restraining wild animals, so this should be fine-tuned to minimize the probability of seriously injuring the tamarins in the process. Using an effective vaccine in 500 individuals would preserve those individuals during an outbreak, but yellow fever is not a transient problem for South American non-human primates of the Atlantic rainforest, so in parallel non-vaccinated tamarins should be monitored to evaluate the evolution of resistance or tolerance, or otherwise they will be dependent on vaccination in aeternum.

For a picture of a golden lion tamarin, go to

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map of Brazil:
Date: Fri, 3 Apr 2020 08:29:09 +0200 (METDST)

Hanga Roa, Chile, April 3, 2020 (AFP) - Inhabitants of Easter Island are leaning on a traditional form of ancestral discipline to overcome a coronavirus-imposed lockdown that threatens the Pacific island's vital tourism sector, and consequently their livelihoods.   Situated 3,500 kilometers (2,200 miles) off the coast of Chile, the island of 7,750 people is renowned for its giant humanoid monoliths called moais that were sculpted from basalt more than 1,000 years ago.

So far, there have been just two confirmed coronavirus cases on Easter Island, with two or three more under observation. But the local population can ill afford the outbreak to spread with just one hospital and three ventilators on the island.   Faced with this crisis, the locals have turned to the Tapu, an ancient tradition based on taking care of oneself that has been passed down through generations of the native Rapa Nui people.   "To accompany this self-care concept, we're applying the Rapa Nui tradition, an ancestral rule based on sustainability and respect," said the island's mayor Pedro Edmunds.   "It's called Tapu. You can hear about this concept in all the Polynesian islands."

Tapu is a complex concept related to secrecy, rules and prohibitions from which the English word "taboo" derives.   "If you say the word Tapu to a Polynesian, they will immediately tell you why we have to do Tapu. That's precisely because they know and understand what it signifies," said Edmunds.   It means that the island's lockdown has been diligently respected, leading to the virus being prevented from spreading far and wide.   "We've applied the Tapu concept for all Rapa Nui and the acceptance has been incredible," said Edmunds.   "The virus is contained in two families in the same area, so we know where they are, who they are, and they've been respecting the (isolation) protocols since the beginning," Edmunds told AFP.

- Tourism impact -
But now, there are greater worries about the pandemic's impact on tourism.   On average, 100,000 people visit the volcanic Polynesian island each year, mostly attracted by the mysterious moais.   The local government was quick to react to the spreading pandemic in Latin America, closing the island's borders on March 11 -- a week before Chile's government in Santiago did likewise -- with the apparition of its first positive case.   Throughout Chile, there have now been more than 3,000 cases with 16 deaths.   A week ago, Easter Island was put under total lockdown with a nighttime curfew from 2:00 pm to 5:00 am. On Tuesday, these were extended for a further two weeks.

- Plan B planting -
With streets, beaches and parks deserted, the indigenous inhabitants have turned to the knowledge passed down through generations to deal with the crisis.   Some indigenous Rapa Nui inhabitants have already adapted to their new circumstances and started to cultivate their land, like their ancestors did, said Sabrina Tuki, who has worked in tourism for 20 years.   "Our family and many families are already applying a Plan B and we've already started planting," said Tuki, whose regular work has completely ground to a halt.

Everyone is worried about the coming months. Edmunds says the island's inhabitants can last for a month with the borders closed.   But at the end of April, 3,000 people "will be seen begging in the streets for food from some local or national authority, because they won't be able to eat," said Edmunds.   It won't be the Rapa Nui, though, according to Edmunds, because the community has begun to rally together behind its concept of Tapu.   But the island's other inhabitants, who make up around half the population and mostly work in the service industry, will be in trouble.

- Taken by surprise -
The mayor doesn't expect the recovery to come until August, when tourists would return to the islands.   When it does restart, he's expecting a reduced capacity compared to the two flights a week the island was welcoming until three weeks ago.   Only one airline, Latam, operated the five-hour flights from the continent, but like many airlines its business has been hard hit by the virus.   "We're all affected; the whole chain, from the biggest agency to the craftsman," said Samuel Atan, a hiking guide who says the crisis caught everyone unawares.

The pandemic has highlighted the fragility of such a remote location. Without state subsidies, many could not survive, Edmunds says.   The challenge for the future will be to improve infrastructure and "re-enchant people to come back," said Tuki.
Date: Fri, 3 Apr 2020 04:05:11 +0200 (METDST)

New York, April 3, 2020 (AFP) - New York mayor Bill de Blasio on Thursday urged all of the city's residents to cover their faces when outside and near others to help stop the spread of the coronavirus.   "Let's be clear. This is a face covering. It could be a scarf. It could be something you create yourself at home. It could be a bandana," de Blasio told reporters.   "It doesn't need to be a professional surgical mask. In fact, we don't want you to use the kind of masks that our first responders need, that our health care workers need. Don't use those," he added.   New York is the epicenter of America's deadly COVID-19 outbreak.   The city has recorded almost 50,000 confirmed cases, including 1,562 deaths, according to the mayor's office.   As of Thursday evening, the United States had a total of more than 243,000 declared cases and over 5,900 fatalities, according to a running tally by Johns Hopkins University.

President Donald Trump told reporters at his daily White House briefing on the coronavirus that he was not considering making it mandatory for all Americans to cover their faces.   "For example on the masks, if people wanted to wear them they can. If people wanted to use scarves, which many people have them, they can.   "In many cases, scarves are better. It's thicker. Depending on the material, it's thicker," he said.   Vice President Mike Pence added that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) would release official guidelines on masks in the coming days.   But Deborah Birx, the coronavirus response coordinator at the White House, said it is important people do not think masks replace social distancing or hand-washing.     "We don't want people to get an artificial sense of protection," she said. "They're an additive."

California Governor Gavin Newsom made similar recommendations as de Blasio on Thursday, but stressed that masks were "not a substitute" for social distancing.   "Individuals (who) want to have face coverings... that is a good thing and a preferable thing, in addition to the physical distancing and the stay-at-home order," he said.   More than three-quarters of Americans are currently living under various forms of lockdown, including New Yorkers who have been told not to leave their residences unless absolutely necessary.
Date: Fri, 3 Apr 2020 02:16:41 +0200 (METDST)

Lima, April 3, 2020 (AFP) - Peruvian President Martin Vizcarra announced on Thursday a new measure restricting public movement by gender, as the country tries to curb the spread of the new coronavirus.   Men will only be allowed to leave their homes on Mondays, Wednesday and Fridays, while women are authorized to step outdoors on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.   No one is allowed out on Sundays.   "We have 10 days left, let's make this extra effort to control this disease," said Vizcarra.   He said the restrictions would apply until April 12, the original end date to a lockdown he imposed on March 16.   Panama announced a similar measure on Monday that went into effect two days later and will last for 15 days.

By Thursday, Peru had recorded just over 1,400 coronavirus cases and 55 deaths.   Vizcarra said the new measure aims to reduce by half the number of people circulating in public at any one time.   "The (existing) control measures have given good results, but not what was hoped for," said Vizcarra.   These restrictions will not apply to people employed in essential services, such as grocery stores, banks, pharmacies and hospitals.   Vizcarra added that security forces tasked with patrolling the streets have been told to be respectful toward the gender identities of homosexual and transgender people.   "The armed forces and police have been instructed not to have homophobic attitudes," said the president.