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Mongolia

Mongolia US Consular Information Sheet
November 21, 2008
COUNTRY DESCRIPTION:
Mongolia is a vast country of mountains, lakes, deserts and grasslands approximately the size of Alaska.
It peacefully abandoned its communist system in 199
and has been successfully making the transition to a parliamentary democracy.
Economic reforms continue, although the country’s development will depend on considerable infrastructure investment, particularly in the mining, energy, transportation, and communication sectors.
Travelers to Mongolia should be aware that shortcomings in these areas might have an impact on travel plans.
Read the Department of State Background Notes on Mongolia for additional information.

ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS:
A valid passport is required for American visitors.
No visa is required for Americans visiting for fewer than 90 days; however, visitors planning to stay in Mongolia for more than 30 days are required to register with the Office of Immigration, Naturalization and Foreign Citizens in Ulaanbaatar within the first seven days of arrival.
American visitors who fail to register and who stay longer than 30 days, even for reasons beyond their control, will be stopped at departure, temporarily denied exit, and fined.
It is recommended that visitors who will be in Mongolia beyond 30 days register with the Office of
Immigration, Naturalization and Foreign Citizens within the first seven days of their arrival.

Americans planning to work or study in Mongolia should apply for a visa at a Mongolian embassy or consulate outside of Mongolia.
Failure to do so may result in authorities denying registration, levying a fine, and requiring that the visitor leave the country.
Travelers arriving or departing Mongolia through China or Russia should be aware of Chinese and Russian visa regulations (transiting twice will require a double- or multiple-entry visa) and note that some land-entry points have varying days and hours of operation. Many small land border posts do not operate on a fixed schedule.
Travelers need to check with immigration authorities to make certain the post they intend to use will be open when they want to enter. Travelers planning travel to Russia should get visas prior to arriving in Mongolia, because they are difficult to obtain at the Russian Embassy in Mongolia. For more information on these requirements, see the Country Specific Information for Russia and China.

Travelers without Mongolian visas are subject to an exit tax payable either in U.S. dollars or Mongolian Tugrugs upon departure.
American citizen visitors to Mongolia do not require a visa if they stay less than 30 days and no fee is payable if they depart within the 30 day period.
If they stay longer without having registered with immigration, a penalty fee will be assessed at time of departure.
Travelers should inquire whether the exit tax is included with the price of the airline ticket at the time of purchase. In an effort to prevent international child abduction, many governments have initiated procedures at entry/exit points.
These often include requiring documentary evidence of relationship and permission for the child’s travel from the parent(s) or legal guardian if not present.
Having such documentation on hand, even if not required, may facilitate entry/departure.

Visit the Embassy of Mongolia web site at http://www.mongolianembassy.us for the most current visa information.
Travelers can also contact the Embassy of Mongolia at 2833 M Street NW, Washington, DC
20007, telephone (202) 333-7117 for the most current visa information.

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

SAFETY AND SECURITY:
There have been no significant acts of terrorism or extremism in Mongolia. There are no regions of instability in the country.
U.S. citizens are advised to avoid all protests, including political protests, and street demonstrations that occur occasionally in Ulaanbaatar, as the demonstrations may become violent.

For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs’ web site at http://travel.state.gov, where 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 pamphlet A Safe Trip Abroad.

CRIME:
Over the past few years there has been a significant rise in street crime in Mongolia, particularly in Ulaanbaatar, the capital.
Violent crime, particularly aggravated assault, is increasing, and it is not advisable to walk alone through the city after dark.
The most common crimes against foreigners are pick pocketing and bag snatching.
There are reports of organized groups operating in open areas, usually after dark, who surround, grab, and choke an individual in order to search the victim’s pockets.
Thieves have also sliced victims’ clothing in attempts to reach wallets, cell phones and other valuables.
U.S. citizens who detect pick pocket attempts should not confront the thieves, as they may become violent.
Caution is advised when using public transportation and in crowded public areas, such as open-air markets, the Central Post Office and the Gandan Monastery.
Crime rises sharply before, during and after the Naadam Summer Festival in July and throughout the summer tourist season, as well as during and after Tsagaan Sar, the Winter Festival, in January or February.

Travelers should be extremely cautious at these specific locations:
Chinggis Khan International Airport in Ulaanbaatar: tourists arriving at and departing from this airport are frequently targeted for robbery and pick pocketing by organized groups.
The State Department Store:
tourists are targeted by organized pick pocket gangs at the entries/exits/elevators and the area surrounding the store.
Naran Tuul Covered Market:
Organized criminal groups look for and target foreigners for robbery and pick pocketing.
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.
American victims of crime in Mongolia should be prepared to hire their own translators and lawyers if they intend to pursue a criminal complaint against a Mongolian.

The local equivalent to the “911” emergency line in Mongolia are 102 to contact the police department and 103 for a medical emergency.

See our information on Victims of Crime.

MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION:
Medical facilities in Mongolia are very limited and do not meet most Western standards, especially for emergency health care requirements.
Many brand-name Western medicines are unavailable.
Ulaanbaatar, the capital, has the majority of medical facilities inside the country; outside of Ulaanbaatar, medical facilities and treatment are extremely limited or non-existent.
Specialized emergency care for infants and the elderly is not available.
Infectious diseases, such as plague, meningococcal meningitis, and tuberculosis, are present at various times of the year. Sanitation in some restaurants is inadequate, particularly outside of Ulaanbaatar.
Stomach illnesses are frequent.
Bottled water and other routine precautions are advisable.

Serious medical problems requiring hospitalization and/or medical evacuation to the United States can cost tens of thousands of dollars.
A June 2005 medical evacuation from Ulaanbaatar to Seoul, Korea, cost the patient $87,000.
Doctors and hospitals usually expect immediate payment in cash for health services.
Medical evacuation companies will not initiate an evacuation without a fee guarantee beforehand and in full.
Please see Medical Information for Americans traveling abroad.

Local hospitals generally do not contact the Embassy about ill or injured Americans in their care; hospitalized American citizens who need Consular assistance from the Embassy should ask the doctor or hospital to contact the U.S. Embassy in Ulaanbaatar.
For more information, please contact the U.S. Embassy in Ulaanbaatar, which has a list of medical facilities available to foreigners (also available on the U.S. Embassy web site at http://mongolia.usembassy.gov/) or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s international traveler’s hotline (see below).
The U.S. Department of State is unaware of any HIV/AIDS entry restrictions for visitors to or foreign residents of Mongolia.

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 web site at http://wwwn.cdc.gov/travel/default.aspx.
For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad consult the World Health Organization’s (WHO) web site at http://www.who.int/en.
Further health information for travelers is available at http://www.who.int/ith/en.

MEDICAL INSURANCE:
The Department of State strongly urges Americans to consult with their medical insurance company 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 Mongolia is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.

Driving in Ulaanbaatar can be extremely difficult due to poorly maintained streets, malfunctioning traffic lights, inadequate street lighting, a shortage of traffic signs, and undisciplined pedestrians.
There has been a dramatic increase in the number of vehicles on the roads in recent years, but the knowledge and skills of the driving population have not kept pace with the growth in the number of automobiles on the streets. There are many metered taxis in Ulaanbaatar.
There are a few car rental companies, but safety and maintenance standards are uncertain, and rental vehicles should be utilized with caution.
Cars with drivers can be obtained from local tourist companies.
Public transportation within the capital is extensive, cheap, and generally reliable, but it is also extremely crowded (see Information on Crime above), with the result that pickpockets often victimize foreigners.
For specific information concerning Mongolian drivers permits, vehicle inspection, road tax, and mandatory insurance, contact the Embassy of Mongolia at: 2833 M Street NW, Washington, DC
20007, telephone (202) 333-7117.

Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information.
Visit the web site of Mongolia’s national tourist office and national authority responsible for road safety at http://www.mongolianembassy.us/default.php.

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

The U.S. Embassy prohibits U.S. government personnel from using the domestic services of Mongolian International Air Transport (MIAT) for official travel because of uncertainties regarding service and maintenance schedules, aircraft certification and insurance status.
This prohibition does not extend to MIAT’s international flights or to the domestic flights of other carriers.
SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES:
Traveler’s checks in U.S. dollars are accepted at some hotels and may be converted to dollars or Tugrugs at several banks.
Credit cards can be used at a variety of hotels, restaurants, and shops in Ulaanbaatar.
Outside of the capital, travelers should have cash.
Cash advances against credit cards are available at some commercial banks such as Trade and Development Bank, Golomt Bank, Khan Bank, and Xac Bank.
International bank wire transfers are also possible.
There are a handful of VISA and Maestro/Cirrus ATM machines in Ulaanbaatar, but they do not always function and are not reliable.
ATM machines do not exist outside the capital.

U.S. consular offiers may not always receive timely notification of the detention or arrest of a U.S. citizen, particularly outside of Ulaanbaatar.
American citizens are encouraged to carry a copy of their passport with them at all times, so that, if questioned by local officials, evidence of identity and citizenship are readily available.
Severe fuel shortages and problems with central heating and electrical systems may cause seriously reduced heating levels and power outages in Ulaanbaatar and other cities during the winter.
Smaller towns in the countryside may have no heat or electricity at all.
The Embassy advises all American residents in Mongolia to be prepared to depart if there is a complete energy failure.
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/.

Mongolian customs authorities enforce strict regulations concerning import and export of items such as firearms, ammunition, and antiquities.
Import of firearms or ammunition requires prior approval from the Government of Mongolia.
Export of antiquities requires a special customs clearance certificate issued by authorized antique shops at the time of purchase. For additional information contact the Embassy of Mongolia at: 2833 M Street NW, Washington, DC
20007, telephone: (202) 333-7117.
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 those in the United States for similar offenses.
Persons violating Mongolia’s laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned.
Penalties for possession or use of, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Mongolia are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines.
Engaging in sexual conduct with children or using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is a crime, prosecutable in the United States.
Please see our information on Criminal Penalties.

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

REGISTRATION / EMBASSY LOCATION:
Americans living or traveling in Mongolia are encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate through the State Department’s travel registration web site so that they can obtain updated information on travel and security within Mongolia.
Americans without Internet access may register directly with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate.
By registering, American citizens make it easier for the Embassy or Consulate to contact them in case of emergency.
The U.S. Embassy is located at: at Micro Region 11, Big Ring Road, Ulaanbaatar.
The telephone number is (976) 11-329-095, the Consular Section fax number is (976) 11-353-788, and the Embassy’s web site is http://mongolia.usembassy.gov/.
The Consular Section can be emailed directly at cons@usembassy.mn.
The Consular Section is open for American Citizens Services Monday and Thursday from 1-3 p.m., except on U.S. and Mongolian holidays.
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This replaces the Country Specific Information for Mongolia dated September 22, 2008 to update the sections on Safety and Security, and Aviation Safety Oversight.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Mon, 6 May 2019 17:00:57 +0200

Ulaanbaatar, May 6, 2019 (AFP) - A Mongolian couple has died of the bubonic plague after eating raw marmot kidney, triggering a quarantine that left tourists stranded in a remote region for days, officials said Monday.

The ethnic Kazakh couple died on May 1 in Mongolia's westernmost province of Bayan-Ulgii, which borders Russia and China.   "The two dead were local people," said local governor Aipiin Gilimkhaan. "There were no cases reported after them."   A six-day quarantine was declared on residents in the region, preventing nine tourists from Russia, Germany and Switzerland from leaving.   "We are all fine. No one is ill," said a German tourist named Teresa, who did not want to give her last name.

Sebastian Pique, a 24-year-old American Peace Corps volunteer who has lived in the region for two years, said he and the tourists were invited to the governor's office on Friday to be informed about the situation.    "After the quarantine (was announced) not many people, even locals, were in the streets for fear of catching the disease," Pique told AFP.   The quarantine was expected to be lifted late Monday after no other cases of the plague were reported.   Authorities have warned people against eating raw marmot meat because it can carry Yersinia pestis, the plague germ.

At least one person dies of the plague every year in Mongolia, mostly due to consuming such meat, according to the National Center for Zoonotic Disease.   Some people ignore the warnings as they believe that consuming the innards of the large rodent is good for their health.   The Black Death wiped out millions of people in the Middle Ages but cases are now very rare.    Its most common form is bubonic, which is spread by fleas and causes swelling of the lymph node. The more virulent form is pneumonic plague, which can be transmitted between humans through coughing.
Date: Fri 3 May 2019
Source: Mirror [edited]

A married couple has died, leaving their 4 children orphaned after an outbreak of the bubonic plague, which sparked plane panic.

The man, 38, named only as Citizen T, and his pregnant wife, 37, are thought to have fallen ill after hunting and eating contaminated marmot, a large species of squirrel, in Mongolia. The man died on 27 Apr [2019], and the woman died 3 days later, reports the Siberian Times.

The highly contagious bacterial disease is spread by fleas living on wild rodents. It has sparked fears of an outbreak, and urgent measures and precautions have been put in place to stop the infection spreading. Around 158 people have been put under intensive medical supervision after coming into contact directly or indirectly with the couple.

There were dramatic scenes when a flight from Bayan, Ulgii and Khovd in Mongolia -- the area where the couple fell ill -- was met by workers in white anti-contamination suits as [the plane] landed in the country's capital of Ulaanbaatar. Eleven passengers from the west of the country were held at the airport and sent immediately for hospital checks. Others were examined in a special facility at the airport. Paramedics in anti-contamination boarded the flight as soon as it landed.

Some frontier checkpoints with Russia are reported to have been closed, leading to foreign tourists being stranded in Mongolia.

Dr N. Tsogbadrakh, director of National Centre for Zoonotic Dermatology and Medicine, said, "Despite the fact that eating marmots is banned, Citizen T hunted marmot. He ate the meat and gave it to his wife, and they died because the plague affected his stomach. Four children are orphaned."

Bubonic plague is believed to be the cause of the Black Death that spread through Asia, Europe, and Africa in the 14th century, killing an estimated 50 million people.

The plague is a bacterial disease that is spread by fleas living on wild rodents such as marmots. The disease can kill an adult in less than 24 hours if not treated in time, according to the World Health Organisation.  [Byline: Will Stewart and Amber Hicks]
========================
[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map:
Bayan-Olgiy Aymag, Bayan-Olgiy, Mongolia:
Date: Fri, 15 Mar 2019 02:55:29 +0100
By Khaliun Bayartsogt

Bornuur, Mongolia, March 15, 2019 (AFP) - In the world's coldest capital, many burn coal and plastic just to survive temperatures as low as minus 40 degrees -- but warmth comes at a price: deadly pollution makes Ulaanbataar's air too toxic for children to breathe, leaving parents little choice but to evacuate them to the countryside.   This exodus is a stark warning of the future for urban areas in much of Asia, where scenes of citizens in anti-pollution masks against a backdrop of brown skies are becoming routine, rather than apocalyptic.   Ulaanbaatar is one of the most polluted cities on the planet, alongside New Delhi, Dhaka, Kabul, and Beijing. It regularly exceeds World Health Organisation recommendations for air quality even as experts warn of disastrous consequences, particularly for children, including stunted development, chronic illness, and in some cases death.

Erdene-Bat Naranchimeg watched helplessly as her daughter Amina battled illness virtually from birth, her immune system handicapped by the smog-choked air in Mongolia's capital.   "We would constantly be in and out of the hospital," Naranchimeg told AFP, adding that Amina contracted pneumonia twice at the age of two, requiring several rounds of antibiotics.   This is not a unique case in a city where winter temperatures plunge towards uninhabitable, particularly in the districts that rural workers moved to in search of a better life.   Here row upon row of the traditional tents -- known as gers -- are warmed by coal, or any other flammable material available. The resulting thick black smoke shoots out in plumes, blanketing surrounding areas in a film of smog that makes visibility so poor it can be hard to see even a few metres ahead.   Hospitals are packed and young children are vulnerable, common colds can quickly escalate into life-threatening illness.

- Birth defects -
The situation was so bad that doctors told Naranchimeg the only solution was to send her little girl to the clean air of the countryside.   Now aged five, Amina is thriving. She lives with her grandparents in Bornuur Sum, a village 135 kilometres away from the capital.   "She hasn't been sick since she started living here," said Naranchimeg, who makes the three-hour round trip to see Amina every week.   "It was very difficult in the first few months," she said. "We used to cry when we talked on the phone."   But like many parents in Ulaanbaatar, she felt the move was the only way to protect her child.

The levels of PM2.5 -- tiny and harmful particles -- in Ulaanbaatar reached 3,320 in January, 133 times what the World Health Organisation (WHO) considers safe.   The effects are terrible for adults but children are even more at risk, in part because they breathe faster, taking in more air and pollutants.   As they are smaller, children are also closer to the ground, where some pollutants concentrate, and their still-developing lungs, brains, and other key organs are more vulnerable to damage.   Effects to prolonged exposure range from persistent infections and asthma to slowed lung and brain development.   The risks apply in utero, too, because gases and fine particles can enter a mother's bloodstream and placenta, causing miscarriage, birth defects and low birth weights, which can also affect a child for the rest of their lives.   Researchers are now investigating whether pollution, like exposure to tobacco smoke, has health effects that could even be passed down to the next generation.

- 'Terribly afraid' -
Buyan-Ulzii Badamkhand and her husband need to stay in capital for work, but they have decided to send their two-year-old son Temuulen more than 1,000 kilometres away.   The 35-year-old mother-of-three struggled with the decision, even moving from one ger district to another in the hope her son's health would improve.   But successive bouts of illness, including bronchitis that lasted a whole year, finally convinced her to send Temuulen to his grandparents.   Hours after he arrived, she called her mother-in-law to discuss her son's medicines.   "But my mother-in-law asked me 'does he still need medicine? He isn't coughing anymore," she said.   "I tell myself that it doesn't matter that I miss him and who raises him, as long as he is healthy, I am content."   Respiratory problems are the most obvious effect of air pollution, but research suggests dirty air can also put children at greater risk for diabetes and cardiovascular disease later in life.   And the WHO links it to leukaemia and behavioural disorders.   When air pollution peaks in winter, Ulaanbaatar's playgrounds empty and those who are able to are increasingly travelling abroad to wait out the smog.

In desperation, Luvsangombo Chinchuluun, a civil society activist, borrowed money to take her granddaughter to Thailand for all of January.   "We can't let her play outside (in Ulaanbaatar) because of the air pollution, so we decided to leave," she said.   The persistent smog has caused tensions in the city, with those living in wealthier areas blaming the ger residents for the pollution and even calling for the tent districts to be cleared.   But the ger residents say coal is all they can afford.   "People come to the capital because they need sustainable income," said Dorjdagva Adiyasuren, a 54-year-old mother of six.   "It's not their fault," she added.    In a bid to tackle the problem, the local government banned domestic migration in 2017, and a ban on burning coal comes into force from May.   But it is unclear whether the moves will be enough to make a difference.   For Naranchimeg, the problems are serious enough to make her consider whether she wants more children.    She explained: "Now, I am terribly afraid of to give birth again. It is risky to carry a child and what will happen to the child after it is born in this amount of pollution?"
Date: Tue 19 Feb 2019
Source: AFP [edited]

Mongolian authorities have temporarily closed all KFC restaurants in the country after more than 200 customers suffered food poisoning symptoms, and dozens were hospitalized.

The 1st cases emerged earlier this month [February 2019], with 16 people showing symptoms of food poisoning, including diarrhoea, vomiting and high fever after eating at the fried chicken franchise. Ulaanbaatar's Metropolitan Professional Inspection Department said 247 similar cases have been reported, and 42 people have been hospitalized.

The department decided to shut down the country's 11 KFC restaurants, all based in the capital, while it investigates what happened.

A preliminary investigation found that 35 employees at a restaurant were not thoroughly vetted to handle food, with most of them having blank medical examination reports, which is illegal. The restaurant also lacked internal hygiene management.

A bacterium known as _Klebsiella_ spp was detected in water at the restaurant. Traces of _E. coli_ were also found in a soda machine, and 4 people contracted _Shigella, -- which causes diarrhoea and fever -- after coming into contact with KFC staff.
=========================
[The aetiology is not directly stated, but if contacts of the cluster have been diagnosed with shigellosis, the primary illness may well be the same.

Ulaanbaatar, formerly anglicized as Ulan Bator (literally "Red Hero"), is the capital and largest city of Mongolia. The city is not part of any aimag (province) (<https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ulaanbaatar>). - ProMED Mod.LL]

[HealthMap/ProMED map available at:
Ulan Bator, Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia:
Date: Tue, 19 Feb 2019 11:40:36 +0100

Ulaanbaatar, Feb 19, 2019 (AFP) - Mongolian authorities have temporarily closed all KFC restaurants in the country after more than 200 customers suffered food poisoning symptoms and dozens were hospitalised.   The first cases emerged earlier this month, with 16 people showing symptoms of food poisoning, including diarrhoea, vomiting and high fever after eating at the fried chicken franchise.   Ulaanbaatar's Metropolitan Professional Inspection Department said 247 similar cases have been reported and 42 people have been hospitalised.   The department decided to shut down the country's 11 KFC restaurants -- all based in the capital -- while it investigates what happened.

A preliminary investigation found that 35 employees at a restaurant were not thoroughly vetted to handle food, with most of them having blank medical examination reports, which is illegal. The restaurant also lacked internal hygiene management.   A strong bacteria known as Klebsiella spp was detected in water at the restaurant. Traces of E-coli were also found in a soda machine, and four people contracted the Shigella germ -- which causes diarrhoea and fever -- after coming into contact with KFC staff.
More ...

World Travel News Headlines

Date: Thu, 5 Dec 2019 09:54:04 +0100 (MET)
By Joseph Schmid

Paris, Dec 5, 2019 (AFP) - A nationwide strike shut down public transport, schools and other services across France on Thursday as unions kicked off an open-ended strike against President Emmanuel Macron's plans for a "universal" pension system they say will force millions of people to work longer.

Parents scrambled to organise daycare as teachers walked off the job or were unable to get to work, and many employees were working from home or forced to take the day off as trains, metros and buses were cancelled.   Union leaders have vowed to keep up their protest unless Macron drops the pension overhaul, the latest move in the centrist president's push to reform wide swathes of the French economy.   "The idea of social concertation that Macron says is so important in fact doesn't exist," the head of the CGT union, Philippe Martinez, said on BFM television Thursday.

Around 90 percent of high-speed TGV trains as well as regional lines were cancelled, and Air France has axed 30 percent of domestic flights and 15 percent of short-haul international routes.   In Paris, 11 of the 16 metro lines were shut down and others had just bare-bones service during the morning rush hour, and the Eiffel Tower turned away tourists because of the strike.   "There are not enough employees to open the monument in secure conditions," the tower's operator said in a statement.

The strike -- which is open-ended and could last several days -- has drawn comparisons with the showdown between government and unions over pensions in November-December 1995, when the country was paralysed for around three weeks.   Unions won that battle, and are banking on widespread support from both public and private-sector workers against Macron's reform.   The government has yet to unveil the details of the project, but officials have conceded that people will have to work longer for the system to remain financial viable.

- Outcome uncertain -
The strikes will be a major test of whether Macron, a former investment banker who came to power on the back of a promise to transform France, has the political strength to push through one of his key campaign pledges.   He has already succeeded in controversial labour and tax reforms aimed at encouraging hiring, as well as an overhaul of the state rail operator SNCF, long seen as an untouchable union bastion.

He has also largely seen off the "yellow vest" protests against declining living standards that erupted a year ago, but that anger could feed into the latest protest.   "The moment of truth for Macron," the Le Monde daily wrote in Thursday's edition. "The next days are a decisive test for the head of state."   The SNCF said international lines including the Eurostar and Thalys services were severely disrupted, and Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer said Wednesday that he expected just three in 10 schools would be able to open.

- 'Special regimes' -
The strike is the latest in a series of protests against Macron this year by the "yellow vests" as well as police, firefighters, teachers, hospital workers and lawyers.   Macron wants to implement a "universal" retirement system that would do away with 42 "special regimes" for sectors ranging from rail and energy workers to lawyers and Paris Opera employees, which often grant workers higher pensions or early retirement.

But unions say the changes would effectively require millions of private-sector workers to work beyond the legal retirement age of 62 if they want to receive the full pension they have been promised.   Prime Minister Edouard Philippe, who has acknowledged French workers will gradually have to work longer, is set to unveil details of the reform on December 12.

Interior Minister Christophe Castaner said Wednesday that some 250 demonstrations are expected nationwide, warning that a radical fringe of protesters could cause trouble.   Paris police chief Didier Lallement said around 6,000 members of the security forces would be deployed in the capital alone, with 180 motorbikes used to respond fast to any rioting.   Two major demonstrations are planned for Paris that will converge on the Place de la Nation, with officials ordering Paris businesses along the routes to close on Thursday.   British low-cost carrier EasyJet has cancelled 223 domestic and short-haul international flights and warned others risk being delayed.
Date: Thu, 5 Dec 2019 08:13:04 +0100 (MET)
By Sofia CHRISTENSEN

Johannesburg, Dec 5, 2019 (AFP) - South African Airways was placed under a state-led rescue plan on Thursday as part of a massive restructuring following a costly week-long strike last month.   Thousands of South African Airways (SAA) staff walked out on November 15 after the cash-strapped airline failed to meet a string of demands, including higher wages and job in-sourcing.   The strike was called off the following week after SAA management and unions eventually clinched a deal.

But the walkout dealt a severe blow to the debt-ridden airline, which has failed to make a profit since 2011 and survives on government bailouts.   "The Board of SAA has adopted a resolution to place the company into business rescue," said a statement by South Africa's Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan, adding that the decision was also supported by the government.   "It must be clear that this is not a bailout," said Gordhan. "This is the provision of financial assistance in order to facilitate a radical restructure of the airline."   South Africa is struggling to get state-owned companies back on track after nine years of corruption and mismanagement under former president Jacob Zuma.

- Costly strike -
Its national airline -- which employs more than 5,000 workers and is Africa's second largest airline after Ethiopian Airlines -- had been losing 52 million rand ($3.5 million) a day during the strike.   SAA's board said the business rescue, scheduled to start immediately, was decided after consultations with shareholders and the public enterprises department "to find a solution to our company's well-documented financial challenges".   "The considered and unanimous conclusion has been to place the company into business rescue in order to create a better return for the company's creditors and shareholders," said the SAA board of directors in a statement.

Business practitioners were set to be appointed "in the near future" to oversee the process, they added.   Unions did not immediately respond to AFP's requests for comment.   They have agreed to a 5.9-percent wage increase backdated to April, but which would only start to be paid out next March depending on funding.   SAA had initially refused any pay rise.    The cash-strapped airline needs two billion rand ($136 million) to fund operations through the end of March.   "SAA understand that this decision presents many challenges and uncertainties for its staff," said the board.   "The company will engage in targeted communication and support for all its employee groups at this difficult time."
Date: Thu, 5 Dec 2019 07:01:49 +0100 (MET)

Manila, Dec 5, 2019 (AFP) - The number of people killed by Typhoon Kammuri's pounding of the Philippines this week has hit 13, officials said Thursday, as authorities confirmed reports of storm-related deaths.   Kammuri's fierce winds toppled trees and flattened flimsy homes across a swathe of the nation's north on Tuesday, and forced a rare 12-hour shutdown of Manila's international airport.   Authorities said on Wednesday one person had drowned while three died after being hit by trees and flying objects.

Disaster officials did not offer details on how the other victims died, but local police reports indicated some may have drowned or been crushed by trees.   Mark Timbal, spokesman for the national disaster agency, said no new bodies have been found but the death toll could rise as reports on the ground are verified.    "There is the possibility of an increase in the number, but we are hoping against it," Timbal told AFP.    Hundreds of thousands of people living in exposed or low-lying areas were evacuated from their homes before Kammuri made landfall late Monday, which authorities said had saved lives.

Still the storm damaged 135 schools and destroyed nearly 1,200 homes, with crop damage in the hardest hit areas estimated to reach nearly $16 million.   The Philippines is hit by an average of 20 storms and typhoons each year, killing hundreds and putting people in disaster-prone areas in a state of constant poverty.    President Rodrigo Duterte is scheduled to visit on Thursday the Bicol region, a peninsula south of Manila which was hit hard by the typhoon.     Ninoy Aquino International Airport was closed half of Tuesday as a precaution, affecting over 500 flights, while roughly half the day's programme at the Southeast Asian Games, hosted by Manila and nearby cities, had to be postponed.
Date: Thu, 5 Dec 2019 05:14:37 +0100 (MET)

Bogota, Dec 5, 2019 (AFP) - Thousands of protesters took part in anti-government demonstrations in Colombia's capital Bogota and other cities Wednesday during the country's third general strike in two weeks.   Strike leaders say they intend to maintain pressure on right-wing President Ivan Duque's government, after brushing aside his appeals to cancel the strike on the grounds its effects were crippling the economy.   But crowds were smaller than previous demonstrations as protests took place for a 14th consecutive day.   Some roads were blocked in the capital and in the northeastern city of Cali, but many businesses remained open.   Around 250,000 people took part in the first demonstration against Duque's 15-month-old government on November 21, when the initial general strike brought the country to a standstill.

Interior Minister Nancy Patricia Gutierrez estimated that 40,000 people took part in demonstrations across the country on Wednesday, but organizers said the number of participants was much higher.   "The Colombian people have woken up!" shouted Paola Jiminez, a 41-year-old lawyer taking part in a pot-banging "cacerolazo" demonstration in Bogota.   "Colombians are finding it more and more difficult financially," she said.   A student taking part in one of several peaceful protests in Bogota, who gave his name as Nicolas, held up a banner saying: "The state lies more than my ex."

Police were deployed in nearby streets, but there were no confrontations of the kind that have marred some protests over the last two weeks, during which four people died. Some 500 have been injured.   On Tuesday, the Colombian National Strike Committee -- comprising unions, students and teacher organizations, indigenous groups and the opposition -- met directly with Duque's advisors for the first time, but reached no agreement.    Another meeting was scheduled for Thursday.

Under fire for his economic policies and corruption in the country, Duque launched a national dialogue with mayors and other officials 10 days ago.   The strike committee has presented Duque with a list of 13 demands, including the withdrawal of his proposed tax reforms, and full compliance with the 2016 peace deal with FARC guerrillas.   Among them is a call to dismantle the feared ESMAD riot police, widely criticized for its heavy handed response to protesters.   Duque has yielded to some of the demands on tax reform, announcing the return of Value Added Tax to the poorest 20 percent of the population and benefits for companies that hire young people.
Date: Thu, 5 Dec 2019 00:51:07 +0100 (MET)
By Neil SANDS

Wellington, Dec 4, 2019 (AFP) - Samoa entered a two-day lockdown Thursday as authorities launched an unprecedented mass vaccination campaign to contain a deadly measles outbreak that has devastated the Pacific island nation.   Officials ordered all businesses and non-essential government services to close, shut down inter-island ferry services and told private cars to keep off the roads.

Residents were advised to stay in their homes and display a red flag if they were not yet immunised as hundreds of vaccination teams fanned out across the nation of 200,000 in the early hours of the morning.   The operation, carried out under emergency powers invoked as the epidemic took hold last month, is a desperate bid to halt an inexorably rising death toll that reached 62 on Thursday, most of them young children.   "I've seen mass mobilisation campaigns before, but not over an entire country like this," UNICEF's Pacific island chief Sheldon Yett told AFP.   "That's what we're doing right now. This entire country is being vaccinated."

Immunisation rates in Samoa were about 30 percent before the outbreak and have risen to more than 55 percent since a compulsory mass vaccination campaign began a fortnight ago.   Yett said the aim of this week's two-day drive was to push the rate above 90 percent, which should help curb the current outbreak and stop future epidemics.   He said the normally busy streets of the capital Apia were almost deserted early Thursday.   "It's very, very quiet out here. I can just hear a few barking dogs. The streets are empty. There are no cars," he said.   "People are staying at home waiting for the vaccination campaign. The teams are getting their supplies together and getting ready to go out."   Even Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi's residence had a red flag fluttering outside it, with the leader saying his nephew had recently arrived from Australia and needed a measles shot.

Malielegaoi said he was angered by anecdotal reports that some parents were encouraging their children to hide from the vaccination teams to avoid the mandatory immunisation injection.    "The message is that we have vaccinated a lot of people and they are OK," he told reporters.   "The only cure for this is vaccination... having your children vaccinated is the only way."   Children are the most vulnerable to measles, which typically causes a rash and fever but can also lead to brain damage and death.

The latest figures show that 54 of the 62 dead were aged four or less and infants account for most of the 4,217 cases recorded since the outbreak began in mid-October.   There have also been measles epidemics in neighbouring Fiji and Tonga, but higher immunisation rates mean they have been more easily contained, with no fatalities.
Date: Wed, 4 Dec 2019 22:05:06 +0100 (MET)

Goma, DR Congo, Dec 4, 2019 (AFP) - Doctors Without Borders (MSF) said Wednesday it was pulling its non-local staff from an eastern region of Democratic Republic of Congo after it said an armed group tried to enter its compound.    The NGO becomes the latest aid agency to withdraw its staff from the Biakato region after an unclaimed attack last week saw three Ebola workers killed at an accommodation camp in Biakato Mines in Ituri province, causing the World Health Organization to withdraw its staff from the area.     MSF and an Ebola Treatment Centre (ETC), which is treating two people with confirmed cases of Ebola and nine suspected cases, decided to stay in the Biakato region despite last week's incident.

The NGO said that on Tuesday night a group wielding machetes and sticks broke into the Biakato Health Centre, which houses the ETC, but did not cause any casualties and did not enter the Ebola facility.   A separate group with the same weapons then tried but failed to enter the MSF facility in Biakato Mines. The NGO said they threw stones but did not do any damage.   "Due to a deterioration in the security situation, MSF made the difficult decision to withdraw all non-local staff from the Biakato region," MSF said in a statement.    According to local authorities, the attackers from last week's incident are likely to be members of the Mayi-Mayi militia group.

The Democratic Republic of Congo is undergoing its 10th Ebola epidemic, which is the second deadliest on record.    An outbreak of the much-feared haemorrhagic virus has killed 2,206 people mainly in North Kivu and neighbouring Ituri, according to the latest official figures.   Insecurity has complicated the epidemic from the outset, compounding resistance within communities to preventive measures, care facilities and safe burials.   On November 4, the authorities said more than 300 attacks on Ebola health workers had been recorded since the start of the year, leaving six dead and 70 wounded, some of them patients.
Date: Wed, 4 Dec 2019 15:50:07 +0100 (MET)
By Ish MAFUNDIKWA, with Zinyange AUNTONY in Bulawayo

Harare, Dec 4, 2019 (AFP) - The floor is dusty, the walls filthy and the furniture decrepit, but for two weeks last month a tiny flat in a Harare township was transformed into a maternity clinic where scores of babies were born.   Its owner, 69-year-old Esther Gwena, says she helped to deliver 250 infants as Zimbabwe's health sector tottered -- a feat that earned comparisons to Florence Nightingale, the pioneer of modern nursing.

Hundreds of junior medics at state hospitals began a strike three months ago because their salaries -- less than $200 a month -- are not enough to live on in a country gripped by 500 percent inflation.   Nurses are only working two days a week.   Those who can't afford private care -- the majority of the 14 million people reeling under an economic crisis compounded by acute food shortages -- suffer at home or seek help from people like Gwena.   Senior doctors, in a letter last week, said state hospitals had become a "death trap" and warned of a "slow genocide".   Gwena, a widow and member of the local Apostolic Faith sect, is a self-taught midwife.   When the health services strike peaked last month, she came to the rescue.

- 'I had to do something' -
"A man came to me and said there were two women in advanced labour at (a nearby clinic) but the place was closed because the nurses were on strike," she told AFP in her two-room flat in Mbare township.   She rushed there and found that one of the women had a baby which had died.   "I took the other one to my place, where I helped her. The baby survived. From that time, I knew I had to do something," she said.   Word that she was helping deliver babies for free spread quickly.

The state-owned television ZBC described her as "a modern Zimbabwean version of Florence Nightingale" and First Lady Auxillia Mnangagwa visited Gwena and donated food, detergents and blankets.   A funeral services company chipped in with a mobile water tank and pitched a tent outside to serve as a waiting room for women before they went into advanced labour.   "I helped to deliver 250 babies ... (they) are alive and kicking and at home with their mothers," Gwena said.   Two weeks later, the government asked her to stop after a nearby maternity clinic reopened.   Winnie Denhere, 35, cradled her two-day-old baby boy outside the clinic, where she had taken him for an immunisation injection.   "Everything went very well, she didn't ask us for money," she said, speaking of Gwena, who brought her child into the world.

- 'People dying' -
But while some laud Gwena as a selfless do-gooder, doctors worry that she exposed herself, the mothers, the babies to infection.   "We need to do something about our facilities so no one goes to her," Harare's director of medical services Prosper Chonzi, said.   Medicines have been in short supply and broken machines go unrepaired.   The government has fired 448 junior octors for striking.    Senior doctors last week also stopped work in protest over the sacking of junior colleagues. Dozens marched in Harare on Monday.   "People dying has become the order of the day in our hospitals," said the vice-president of the Senior Hospital Doctors Association Raphael Magota.

He told AFP machines were breaking down and that intensive care units were only able to treat two or three people "due to lack of equipment".     A senior doctor, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the situation has become untenable.   "There is no public health in Zimbabwe at the moment; everything has come to a standstill," he said.   Even the scarce equipment is often not right.   "One needs gloves that fit just right when performing delicate operations, but we get old gloves that are too big," said another doctor.   A UN special rapporteur on food security, Hilal Elver, last week spoke of "disturbing information" that public hospitals had exhausted food stocks, forcing them to seek humanitarian aid and that medical equipment in some cases was "no longer operational".

In the second largest city of Bulawayo, Zimbabweans living abroad are helping in a small way by crowdfunding and sending money back home to offer health care for the vulnerable.   One such initiative is Citizwean Clinic, which opened its doors last month and attended to hundreds of patients in the first five days -- providing free consultation and drugs.   "We go to the hospital these days it's bad, there are no doctors. We heard that there were doctors here," said hypertensive patient Elina Dzingire, 63.    "We've really been helped here," she told AFP from the clinic in the city's Cowdray Park township.    Health Minister Obadiah Moyo admitted the situation in hospitals is constrained but says the government will soon advertise the posts left vacant by the sacked doctors.
Date: Tue, 3 Dec 2019 13:55:04 +0100 (MET)
By Ron LOPEZ

Manila, Dec 3, 2019 (AFP) - Typhoon Kammuri killed at least two people in the Philippines on Tuesday as it tore roofs off houses and forced the international airport in Manila to shut down.   The storm roared ashore late Monday and passed south of Manila -- home to 13 million people -- and thousands of athletes at the regional Southeast Asian Games.   Just before it exited into the South China Sea, the typhoon killed two people in the central island of Mindoro, where one man was crushed by a falling tree and another killed by a flying piece of lumber, police said.    Ahead of the storm's arrival a 33-year-old man was electrocuted on Monday while securing a roof against the winds, which by late Tuesday weakened to a maximum of 130 kilometres (81 miles) per hour.

Authorities were still assessing the storm's impact, but a small local airport was seriously damaged, many power poles toppled and homes were battered.   "A lot of trees fell... There were a lot of roofs flying during the typhoon too," said Junie Castillo, a disaster officer in one of the areas first hit.   Manila's Ninoy Aquino International Airport was "closed for operations" due to high winds, leaving nearly 500 flights cancelled, general manager Ed Monreal told AFP.   Flights would resume at 11:00 pm (1500 GMT), Monreal later told a news conference.   One of the terminals AFP visited, which would normally be bustling with morning departures, was occupied by a handful of staff and stranded passengers.

One traveller, 23-year-old Canadian Constance Benoit, was hit with a nearly day-long delay to her flight back home.   She had arrived in Manila on a typhoon-buffeted flight Monday morning from the central island of Cebu.   "It was the most turbulent flight I ever took in my life," she told AFP. "I just discovered what airsickness is."   About 340,000 people had been evacuated from their homes in the central Bicol region, disaster officials said.   The Philippines is hit by an average of 20 storms and typhoons each year, killing hundreds and putting people in disaster-prone areas in a state of constant poverty.   The country's deadliest cyclone on record was Super Typhoon Haiyan, which left more than 7,300 people dead or missing in 2013.

- Games rescheduled -
Kammuri had already snarled some plans for the SEA Games, which opened Saturday and are set to run through December 11 in and around Manila.   The typhoon forced organisers to reschedule about half of the events set for Tuesday, but they pledged the competition would finish on time.   Kammuri wrought particular havoc on water-based and outdoor competitions, causing more than a dozen events to be postponed.   The storm is another difficulty for the Games, which suffered from a string of logistical glitches and a rush of last-minute construction in the run-up to Saturday's opening.    The competition, which is spread across three main sites that are hours' drive apart, includes a Games-record 56 sports and dozens of venues.   Around 8,750 athletes and team officials are expected at this year's 30th edition -- the biggest ever -- along with another 12,000 volunteers.
Date: Tue, 3 Dec 2019 06:24:08 +0100 (MET)

Sydney, Dec 3, 2019 (AFP) - A man and woman have been rescued after surviving two weeks in Australia's arid outback on little more than vodka, groundwater and biscuits, but a third person is still missing, police said Tuesday.   The three friends set out to explore the country's vast sun-baked interior near Alice Springs on November 19 when their car became bogged down in a river bed.   After three days staying put and waiting for a rescue, the group feared supplies were dwindling and two of them decided to walk along a property fence line in the hope of finding help.   Police said Tuesday that a local rancher had found the man, 40-year-old Phu Tran, "slightly disorientated" but in a "good condition" a two-day walk from the vehicle.

His discovery came after Tamra McBeath-Riley, 52, was found on Sunday less than two kilometres from the same vehicle suffering from dehydration.   McBeath-Riley told public broadcaster ABC that the trio -- accompanied by their blue Staffordshire terrier Raya -- had survived by drinking pre-mixed vodka drinks and water from a hole dug for cattle, eating biscuits and sheltering in a hole dug under her car.   But the third person, 46-year-old Claire Hockridge, has not been seen since splitting from Phu two days ago.   "She was still fine when he left but we obviously are now focusing our search to identify where she is," police superintendent Pauline Vicary said.   Police were "hopeful that she's still in that condition," Vicary added, as her colleagues resumed an aerial search.   McBeath-Riley and Hockridge live in Alice Springs, while Phu was visiting from elsewhere in Australia.
Date: Tue, 3 Dec 2019 06:07:45 +0100 (MET)

Wellington, Dec 3, 2019 (AFP) - The World Health Organisation warned of a "slide back" in global efforts to eliminate measles Tuesday, as the death toll from an outbreak that has killed dozens of children in Samoa continued to climb.   A total of 55 people have died since the epidemic began in mid-October, 50 of them children aged four or under, officials in the Pacific nation said Tuesday.   Another 18 infants are critically ill in hospital and the crisis shows no sign of slowing, with 153 new cases in the past 24 hours, taking the national total to 3,881 in a population of 200,000.   Emergency measures including compulsory mass immunisations and school closures have so far done little to stop the virus spreading in a country that was particularly vulnerable to measles due to low vaccination rates of about 31 percent.

World Health Organisation (WHO) medical officer for the western Pacific, Jose Hagan, said it was a grim reminder of the danger posed by "probably the most infectious disease that we know of".   "Unfortunately the case (to) fatality rate of measles is much higher than people realise," he told Radio New Zealand.   "This is quite a severe disease and we just aren't used to seeing it, so it comes as quite a surprise when we see how fatal it can be."   He said the fatality rate in Samoa was less than two percent but had been known to reach five percent in developing countries.

Hagen said increased access to measles vaccines was estimated to have saved 21 million lives over the past 20 years.   "But we are starting to have a slide back and there are outbreaks happening all over the world in all WHO regions and it's leading to the virus being exported through international travel," he said.   Cases have skyrocketed in Europe, leading to Britain, Greece, the Czech Republic and Albania all losing their measles-free status in August.   The United States narrowly maintained its "measles eliminated" status a few months later, despite experiencing its worst outbreak since 1992.   The WHO has pointed to various reasons for declining immunisation rates including lack of access to healthcare and complacency about the need to vaccinate.

Another major factor, which has been cited by the WHO as a reason for the severity of the Samoa outbreak, is misinformation about immunisation from anti-vaccine campaigners.   Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi this week said vaccination was the only answer to the epidemic.   He has ordered the government to cease non-essential operations on Thursday and Friday so public servants can help a mandatory vaccination campaign that aims to give anti-measles jabs to everyone aged below 60.