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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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Vanuatu

Vanuata US Consular Information Sheet
February 10, 2009
COUNTRY DESCRIPTION:
Vanuatu consists of more than 80 islands in a Y-shaped archipelago, 1300 miles northeast of Sydney, Australia.
It is an independent parliamentary democracy a
d a member of the British Commonwealth, with a primarily agricultural economy.
Tourist facilities are limited outside the capital, Port Vila, which is located on the Island of Efate.
The National Tourism Office of Vanuatu can be contacted at PO Box 209, Port Vila, Vanuatu, telephone (678) 22515, 22685, 22813, fax (678) 23889, e-mail: tourism@vanuatu.com.vu.
Read the Department of State Background Notes on Vanuatu for additional information.
ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS:
A valid passport and onward/return ticket and proof of sufficient funds are required.
Visas are not required for stays up to 30 days after which an extension of the stay of up to 120 days is possible.
For further information on entry requirements, particularly for those persons planning to enter by a sailing vessel, please contact the Permanent Mission of the Republic of Vanuatu to the United Nations,
800 Second Avenue, Suite 400B, New York, N.Y. 10017, Telephone: (212) 661-4303; fax: (212) 422-3427, (212) 661-5544, e-mail: vanunmis@aol.com
Travelers who plan to transit or visit Australia must enter that country with an Australian visa or, if eligible, through Electronic Travel Authority (ETA). The ETA replaces a visa and allows eligible travelers a stay of up to three months in Australia. An ETA may be obtained for a small service fee at http://www.eta.immi.gov.au/. Airlines and many travel agents in the United States are also able to issue ETA’s.
Travelers may obtain more information about the ETA and Australian entry requirements from the Australian Embassy at 1601 Massachusetts Ave. NW, Washington, DC
20036, tel. (202) 797-3000.
Information about dual nationality or the prevention of international child abduction can be found on our web site.
For further information about customs regulations, please read our Customs Information sheet.
SAFETY AND SECURITY:
Civil disorder is rare; however, U.S. citizens are advised to avoid public demonstrations and/or political rallies if they occur.
For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department of State's, Bureau of Consular Affairs’ web site, where the current Travel Warnings and Travel Alerts, as well as the Worldwide Caution, can be found.
Up-to-date information on safety and security can also be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll-free in the U.S. and Canada, or for callers outside the U.S. and Canada, a regular toll-line at 1-202-501-4444.
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 A Safe Trip Abroad.
CRIME:
Although violent crime is rare in Vanuatu, the level of criminal activity has increased in the past year. Typical crimes in Vanuatu are theft, burglary and sexual harassment/assault. Tourists, therefore, should take reasonable precautions to avoid exposing themselves to undue risk especially in Luganville (Espiritu Santo island), Lakatoro (Malekula island), and Lenakel (Tanna island).
Women have sometimes been victims of sexual assault or harassment in Vanuatu; therefore, it is advisable that women travelers not travel alone.
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 U.S. Embassy in Port Moresby.
If you are the victim of a crime while overseas, in addition to reporting to local police, please contact the U.S. Embassy in Port Moresby for assistance.
The Embassy staff can 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 local equivalent to the “911” emergency line in Vanuatu is 112.
Please see our information on Victims of Crime, including possible victim compensation programs in the United States.
CRIMINAL PENALTIES:
While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country's laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law.
Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than those in the United States for similar offenses.
Persons violating Vanuatu’s laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested, or imprisoned.
Penalties for possession or use of, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Vanuatu 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.
SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES:
Vanuatu and Australian customs authorities may enforce strict regulations concerning temporary importation into or export from Vanuatu of items such as firearms, certain prescription drugs, wooden artifacts, exotic animals, food, and sexually explicit material.
Other products may be subject to quarantine.
It is advisable to contact the Permanent Mission of the Republic of Vanuatu to the United Nations,
800 Second Avenue, Suite 400B, New York, N.Y. 10017, Telephone: (212) 661-4303; fax: (212) 422-3427, (212) 661-5544, e-mail: vanunmis@aol.com and the Australian Embassy for specific information regarding customs requirements.
Please see our Customs Information sheet.
U.S. citizens are encouraged to carry a copy of their U.S. passports with them at all times, so that, if questioned by local officials, proof of identity and proof of U.S. citizenship are readily available.

Natural Disasters:
=====================
Vanuatu is prone to sudden tidal movements, tropical storms, and cyclones. The Pacific cyclone season lasts from November through April.
Local media and hotels will convey cyclone alerts issued by local authorities, and detailed weather information is published by the Naval Pacific Meteorology and Oceanography Center, Météo-France in New Caledonia and the Fiji Meteorological Service.
Volcanoes/Earthquakes: Vanuatu is situated on in active seismic zone, and prone to volcanic eruptions and earthquakes, sometimes followed by tsunamis.
The risk level of Vanuatu’s many active volcanoes can change on a daily basis. Travelers to areas where there are volcanoes can contact the Department of Geology and Mines at 22423 to obtain information about the activity of a volcano.
Please contact the Vanuatu Tourism Office prior to traveling to areas where volcanic activity may occur.
Detailed information about earthquakes is available from the National Earthquake Information Center of the United States Geological Survey.
If a natural disaster occurs, follow the advice of local authorities.
General information about natural disaster preparedness is available from the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency
(FEMA) and from the Naval Pacific Meteorology and Oceanography Center.
MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION:
Medical facilities are limited.
The nearest reliable medical treatment is in Australia or New Zealand.
There are two hyperbaric recompression chambers in Vanuatu; one in Luganville, on Espiritu Santo Island, and the other in Port Vila, on Efate Island.
Please note, however, that diving-related injuries may require medical evacuation to Australia or New Zealand.
There is a paramedic service in Vanuatu called ProMedical, which is manned by Australian and New Zealand personnel. They also handle any medical evacuations.
Serious injuries requiring hospitalization and/or medical evacuation to the United States or elsewhere can cost thousands of dollars. Doctors and hospitals often expect immediate cash payment for their services.
Pharmacies in Vanuatu are found only in urban centers and at missionary clinics.
They are small and may be inadequately stocked.
Travelers should bring adequate supplies of their medications for their stay in Vanuatu.

Travelers who anticipate the possible need for medical treatment in Australia should obtain entry permission for Australia in advance.
Entry permission for Australian can be granted by the Australian High Commission in Port Vila, but it may be easier to obtain a visa or ETA prior to leaving the United States (See the section above on Entry/Exit Requirements).
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 web site.
For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad consult the World Health Organization’s (WHO) web site. Malaria is prevalent in some areas.
Further health information for travelers is available from the WHO.
The Government of Vanuatu does not impose any entry restrictions for persons with the HIV/AIDS virus, as long as they include the information on the arrival form.
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 Vanuatu is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.
Vehicular traffic in Vanuatu moves on the right.
Travel on highways outside of major towns can be hazardous.
Drivers and passengers are advised to wear seatbelts.
There is no country-wide road network; roads are generally in poor repair.
Because Vanuatu is a chain of islands and atolls, most long-distance travel is by air or sea.
Only the capital city of Port Vila (on Efate Island) and the town of Luganville (on Espiritu Santo Island) have consistently paved roads, which have a maximum speed limit of 50 kilometers per hour.
These paved roads can be quite narrow in spots; drivers should take care, especially at night or along unfamiliar routes.
The roads in all other areas are mostly unpaved or dirt tracks.
Drivers on all roads should give way to traffic coming from the right, and to traffic coming from the left at a round-about.
Travelers must take care when driving off main roads to avoid trespassing on communal land.
Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information.
For specific information concerning Vanuatu driving permits, vehicle inspection, road tax and mandatory insurance, please contact the National Tourism Office of Vanuatu or the Vanuatu Mission to the United Nations at vmsnyc@attglobal.net
AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT:
As there is no direct commercial air service to the United States by carriers registered in Vanuatu, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not assessed Vanuatu’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.
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:
The U.S. Embassy in Papua New Guinea
provides primary assistance for U.S. citizens in Vanuatu.
The Embassy is located on Douglas Street, adjacent to the Bank of Papua New Guinea, in Port Moresby.
Use that address for courier service deliveries.
The mailing address is PO Box 1492, Port Moresby, N.C.D. 121, Papua New Guinea; the telephone number is (675) 321-1455; after hours duty officer telephone number is (675) 683-7943; fax (675) 321-1593.
American citizens may submit consular inquiries via e-mail to ConsularPortMoresby@state.gov.

Americans living or traveling in Vanuatu are encouraged to register with the U.S. Embassy in Port Moresby through the State Department’s travel registration web site, https://travelregistration.state.gov, and to obtain updated information on travel and security within Vanuatu.
Americans without Internet access may register directly with the Embassy.
By registering, American citizens make it easier for the Embassy to contact them in case of emergency.
*

*

*
This replaces the Country Specific Information for Vanuatu dated July 18, 2008, to update sections on Crime, Special Circumstances and Medical Facilities.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Wed, 31 Jul 2019 17:52:50 +0200 (METDST)

Wellington, July 31, 2019 (AFP) - A strong 6.6-magnitude earthquake struck near the Pacific island nation of Vanuatu Thursday, the US Geological Survey said, but no tsunami warning was issued.   USGS said the quake hit about 178 kilometres (110 miles) northwest of the capital Port Vila at 2:02 am (1502 GMT Wednesday) at a depth of 179 kilometres.   The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center said there was no tsunami threat from the quake.   USGS said there was a low likelihood of casualties and damage.   Vanuatu is part of the "Ring of Fire," a zone of tectonic activity around the Pacific frequently subject to earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.
Date: Wed 19 Dec 2018
Source: BBC [edited]

A baby on a small Pacific island has become the 1st person given a vaccine delivered by a commercial drone. UNICEF arranged for the drone to be flown some 40 km (25 mi) across rugged mountains in Vanuatu that otherwise take hours to cross. About 20% of children in Vanuatu don't receive important vaccinations because the supply is too difficult. The UN children's organisation hopes that drone delivery will in the future be of vital importance in remote areas.

"Today's small flight by a drone is a big leap for global health," UNICEF executive director Henrietta Fore said. "With the world still struggling to immunize the hardest-to-reach children, drone technologies can be a game changer for bridging that last mile to reach every child."

While drones have been used before to deliver medicine, UNICEF says this was the 1st time globally that a country had contracted a commercial drone company to get vaccines to remote areas.

Two companies competed for the project on Vanuatu, and it was Australia's Swoop Aero that won the bid after successful trials earlier this month [December 2018]. Its drone carried the vaccines in a Styrofoam box with ice packs and a temperature logger to a remote village on the island of Erromango, from Dillon's Bay on the west of the island to Cook's Bay on the east. The medicine was then used by local nurse Miriam Nampil to vaccinate 13 children and 5 pregnant women.

Without the drone, Cook's Bay is only accessible on foot or by boat; both of those options take hours compared to the 25 minutes it took for the drone to reach the village. Medical supplies also have to be kept at a cold temperature.

"It's extremely hard to carry ice boxes to keep the vaccines cool while walking across rivers and mountains, through the rain, and across rocky ledges," Ms Nampil said. "As the journey is often long and difficult, I can only go there once a month to vaccinate children. But now, with these drones, we can hope to reach many more children in the remotest areas of the island."
Date: Tue, 18 Dec 2018 09:43:37 +0100

Sydney, Dec 18, 2018 (AFP) - A one-month-old on a remote island in the Pacific archipelago of Vanuatu became the first child to be immunised in a commercial trial of drone-delivered vaccines, the UN children's fund UNICEF said Tuesday.   Aid agencies hope the successful run in the country, where one in five children is not fully immunised, could eventually help governments and organisations reach others in far-flung places around the world.  "Today's small flight by drone is a big leap for global health," UNICEF executive director Henrietta Fore said in a statement.   "With the world still struggling to immunise the hardest to reach children, drone technologies can be a game changer for bridging that last mile to reach every child."

While this is not the first time that drones have been used to deliver vaccines, it is the first time such a method has been deployed in Vanuatu, which has 83 islands, most only accessible by boat.   It is also the first time a commercial contract is being used for routine immunisations, UNICEF said.   A key requirement for the deliveries is maintaining the temperatures at which the vaccines are carried.   In warmer places such as Vanuatu, transportation across limited roads has its challenges.   In the trial, the drone travelled across almost 40 kilometres (25 miles) of rough and mountainous terrain from the west of the southern island of Erromango to its east, arriving at the remote Cook's Bay.

The vaccines were kept in styrofoam boxes that carried ice-packs and a temperature sensor that would be triggered if it exceeded the required range. A total of 13 children and five pregnant women were vaccinated by a registered nurse, UNICEF added.   "As the journey is often long and difficult, I can only go there once a month to vaccinate children. But now, with these drones, we can hope to reach many more children in the remotest areas of the island," the nurse, Miriam Nampil, told UNICEF.   The agency said Vanuatu's government was considering incorporating drone deliveries of vaccines into their national immunisation programme, and with the supply of other health aids.
Date: Wed, 22 Aug 2018 01:34:08 +0200

Sydney, Aug 21, 2018 (AFP) - A 6.7-magnitude earthquake hit the Pacific island nation of Vanuatu on Wednesday morning, the US Geological Survey said, but no tsunami warning was issued.   The quake struck at a moderate depth of 30 kilometres (19 miles) with the epicentre just off the northern tip of Vanuatu's sparsely-populated Ambrym island.

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center said there was no tsunami risk.    "Shaking would have been felt throughout the whole of Vanuatu," Geoscience Australia senior seismologist Eddie Leask told AFP.   "But it's hard to tell whether it will cause damage. It's reasonably shallow but it all depends on the buildings, soil type and so on."

On its website, Geoscience put the potential damage radius at 63 kilometres.   The nearest city, Lakatoro, is 78 kilometres away, with the capital Port Vila 187 kilometres north of the epicentre.   "We get a lot of five and six magnitude quakes coming through Vanuatu," added Leask.   "We'd expect to see smaller aftershocks, and even a bigger one."   The Vanuatu Disaster Management Office told AFP it was not aware of any immediate damage.

Vanuatu, with a population of about 280,000 spread over 65 inhabited islands, is regarded as one of the world's most disaster-prone countries.   It sits on the so-called "Pacific Ring of Fire," making it vulnerable to strong earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, while powerful cyclones also regularly lash the islands.   A 7.0-magnitude quake struck in 2017, but no damage was reported.
Date: Fri, 27 Jul 2018 05:34:13 +0200

Wellington, July 27, 2018 (AFP) - Vanuatu renewed a state of emergency on the volcano-hit island of Ambae Friday and ordered the compulsory evacuation of all residents.   A series of eruptions at the Manaro volcano that began last September intensified this week, sending a 12 kilometre (7.5 mile) column of ash spewing into the atmosphere.

The Vanuatu Meteorology and Geo-hazards department has described the volcano as a "danger to direct safety to life" and warned people to stay three kilometres from its vent.   "The local population from Ambae and from neighbouring islands will continue to hear rumbling, volcanic explosions (and) smell volcanic gases," it said.

The Red Cross reported that a thick cloud of ash had covered the Pacific island, choking crops and cutting visibility to two metres in some areas.   Foreign Minister Ralph Regenvanu said the government had decided to order the island's population to be evacuated.   "Cabinet has reimposed the state of emergency and ordered the compulsory evacuation of the entire population of Ambae," he tweeted.

The island has already undergone two evacuations since September. In the first one, just after the volcano started rumbling, authorities scrambled to temporarily remove all 11,000 residents using ferries and small private boats.   The second evacuation in May was better organised, with thousands of people shipped to camps set up on neighbouring islands.   However, it was not compulsory and many villagers indicated they wanted to stay.   It is unclear whether the government is planning to make the latest compulsory evacuation permanent.
More ...

World Travel News Headlines

Date: Sat, 4 Apr 2020 16:10:44 +0200 (METDST)

London, April 4, 2020 (AFP) - Britain on Saturday reported 708 more deaths from COVID-19 in a new daily high, as the number of confirmed cases rose to nearly 42,000.   The health ministry said 4,313 people who tested positive for the virus in hospital had died as of 1600 GMT Friday while there were 41,903 confirmed cases as of 0800 GMT Saturday, up 3,735.   The toll has been steadily increasing at more than over 500 deaths a day this week and the country is bracing for an expected peak in the next week to 10 days.   Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who is in self-isolation after developing mild symptoms of the disease, ordered a three-week lockdown of the country on March 23 to try to cut infections.

But there has been concern that warmer weather forecast for this weekend could tempt people from their homes to green spaces and public parks.   "I just urge you not to do that," Johnson said in a video message on Friday. "Please, please stick with the guidance now."   Health Secretary Matt Hancock also warned against any relaxation in social distancing. "If we do, people will die," he told a daily briefing on the government's response on Friday.   A special address on the crisis by Queen Elizabeth II is to be broadcast on Sunday evening.

Imperial College London epidemiologist Neil Ferguson, who is advising the government, told BBC radio on Saturday a peak was expected around the Easter weekend.   "We still think things will plateau but we'll be at quite high levels of infection for weeks and weeks rather than seeing quite a rapid decline as the type seen in China," he said.   But he said that was dependent on people staying at home. If that happened, it could lead to less stringent measures in place "at least by the end of May", he added.

The announcement of another record rise in deaths came after 13 residents at a care home in Glasgow died in one week in a suspected outbreak of coronavirus.   The Burlington Court Care Home in the Cranhill area of the city said those who died had underlying medical conditions and two staff members were being treated for COVID-19.

Tests for coronavirus are currently carried out on the most serious cases that require hospital treatment, suggesting the true extent of confirmed cases and deaths is an under-estimate.   The government meanwhile announced that up to 4,000 low-risk prisoners near the end of their sentence could be release from jails in England and Wales to try to stop the spread of COVID-19.   A total of 88 prisoners and 15 prison staff have tested positive for the virus, and there is concern it could spread rapidly because of shared cells and overcrowding.   The justice ministry said those released would be electronically tagged and temporarily released on licence in stages. High-risk offenders will not be considered for early release.
Date: Sat, 4 Apr 2020 15:38:20 +0200 (METDST)

Madrid, April 4, 2020 (AFP) - Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez announced Saturday the extension of the country's lockdown until April 25 in order to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus.   "The cabinet on Tuesday will again ask for authorisation from parliament to extend for a second time the state of alert until Saturday April 25 at midnight,' Sanchez said in a televised speech.
Date: Sat, 4 Apr 2020 15:26:30 +0200 (METDST)

Istanbul, April 4, 2020 (AFP) - Turkey stepped up controls Saturday on crowded public spaces including markets and ferries in Istanbul a day after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan imposed the use of face masks to curb the coronavirus outbreak.    Turkey has so far recorded 425 coronavirus-related deaths and nearly 21,000 cases, most of them in the country's economic capital Istanbul, according to official figures.   From Saturday, all those going out to shops or markets must wear a face mask, Erdogan said, calling on the population to maintain a distance of "three paces" from each other when outside.

At an Istanbul bazaar in the Besiktas neighbourhood open every Saturday, police and local municipal employees handled the use of masks and hand disinfectants, while checking the temperature of incoming customers at the entrance.   Veli Yildirim, 50, who sells vegetables including tomatoes, said the measures came "too late."   "We are the latest compared to the rest of the world. Even this is not enough, there should be a complete lockdown" in Istanbul, he told AFP.    A 60-year-old customer in the bazaar, Asuman Karaman wearing a mask, agreed: "If these measures had been taken one or two months earlier, maybe the virus would not have been so widespread."   The bazaar looked quite calm -- in stark contrast to its usual noisy and crowded state.

Vendors complained their business was hit badly.    "This has a had a big impact, there is no one at the market, at this time of the day, we have nothing to do here," said Abbas Kose, who sells vine leaves.   At the ferries in Istanbul, passengers were seen wearing face masks.    The city's mayor Ekrem Imamoglu has been calling for total confinement but authorities have so far stopped short of that.    As part of the measures taken nationwide, authorities suspended international flights, issued a confinement order for everyone aged under 20 and over 65 and shut schools.   Erdogan on Friday also said vehicles would no longer be able to leave or enter 31 towns and cities, including Istanbul, for 15 days.
Date: Sat, 4 Apr 2020 15:22:33 +0200 (METDST)

Geneva, April 4, 2020 (AFP) - Switzerland on Saturday saw the number of cases of the new coronavirus in the country pass 20,000, as its death toll in the pandemic swelled past 500.   The health ministry said 20,201 people in Switzerland had tested positive for COVID-19 as of Saturday morning -- nearly 1,000 more than a day earlier.   The small Alpine country of some 8.5 million people is thus one of the worst hit compared to population size, now counting 236 registered infections per 100,000 people.    At the same time, an additional 76 people died over the past 24 hours, bringing Switzerland's death toll in the pandemic to 540, the health ministry said.   "We have not yet reached the peak," health ministry official Daniel Koch told reporters.

Worldwide, well over 1.1 million cases have been registered across 188 countries, while close to 60,000 people have died, according to a tally compiled by AFP Saturday from official sources.   The high incidence in Switzerland could in part be linked to the fact that it is among the countries that have administered most tests per capita.   Since the first case surfaced in the country on February 24, more than 150,000 tests have been administered with around 15 percent coming up positive.   Drive-in testing stations have been set up in several places, including in the capital Bern, to help simplify safe testing for COVID-19.   In the past 24 hours, the country has conducted nearly 7,000 tests, including 975 that were positive, the health ministry said.

Switzerland's southern canton of Ticino, which borders hard-hit Italy, has registered most cases, followed by Geneva.   As in other countries, men seemed to suffer more from the virus. Slightly more women had tested positive for the virus, but men accounted for 64 percent of the deaths, the ministry found.   Switzerland has unblocked some $60 billion to buffer the harsh blow to its economy from the pandemic and the measures taken to halt the spread of the virus.   The economic affairs ministry said Saturday some 1.3 million people, or a quarter of the country's workforce, have applied for temporary unemployment benefits since the start of the crisis.
Date: Sat, 4 Apr 2020 07:04:32 +0200 (METDST)

Honiara, April 4, 2020 (AFP) - At least 28 ferry passengers were swept overboard in a powerful storm off the Solomon Islands, reports said Saturday, with the captain unaware he had lost anyone until the boat docked.   The passengers were heading from the capital Honiara to West Are'are, more than 120 kilometres (75 miles) away, under a government programme to evacuate people to their home villages during the global coronavirus epidemic.

The MV Taimareho set sail on Thursday night as tropical cyclone Harold bore down on the Solomons, and with weather forecasters warning against any unnecessary voyages.   But the captain ignored advice not to sail, the nation's leader said, as survivors reported dozens of people were swept overboard by huge waves and strong winds. Local media put the death toll at 28.

But police said it was impossible to verify the number.   "Initial reports say the captain of the boat had no knowledge of the missing people until he was informed when the boat arrived at her destination at Are'are," police marine department chief Charles Fox Sau said.    "At this stage we cannot confirm how many people are missing as the investigation into this sad incident continues."

In an address to the nation, Prime Minister Manasseh Sovagare said a search and rescue operation was under way.    "It is with deep regret to learn that a number of passengers are missing at sea after being washed overboard from a passenger vessel which departed ... from Honiara, despite the several weather warnings issued," he said.    Disaster authorities in the Solomons, which has limited healthcare facilities, have been stretched as they prepared for the impact of coronavirus while the region was being battered by tropical cyclone Harold.

The island nation, with a population of just over 600,000, is one of a dwindling number of countries where there have been no reported coronavirus cases so far.   Harold, packing winds of up to 160 kilometres per hour (100 mph), downed trees and damaged homes before heading away and was expected to intensify before reaching Vanuatu late Sunday.   Although the government has not yet completed a damage assessment, Australia has donated Aus$100,000 (US$60,000) in immediate emergency funding.
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.