WORLD NEWS

Getting countries ...
Select countries and read reports below or

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.
*

*

*
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: Tue, 10 Mar 2020 12:05:21 +0100 (MET)

Ulaanbaatar, March 10, 2020 (AFP) - Mongolia on Tuesday barred anyone from entering or leaving its cities for six days and banned most international flights after the country reprted its first coronavirus case -- a Frenchman
who arrived from Moscow.   The National Emergency Council suspended flights from Moscow and Istanbul, the main transit points for travellers from Europe, until March 29. It also stopped arrivals from Kazakhstan.   The country had already banned flights from South Korea and Japan, and the latest move effectively leaves Germany as the only way for people to fly to Mongolia from abroad.

Mongolia had already sealed its border with neighbouring China, the epicentre of the global epidemic, in an effort to keep the deadly virus out of the landlocked country of three million people.   "The capital Ulaanbaatar and all province centres are quarantined until March 16 to curb the outbreak," Deputy Prime Minister Enkhtuvshin Ulziisaikhan said at a press conference.   The move means people are not allowed to enter or leave the capital or rural cities for almost a week, he said.   The government also closed all shops except those selling food, petrol and tyre services, and the National Emergency Council urged businesses to let employees work from home.

Mongolia is the latest country to enact tough measures to contain the epidemic.   China has locked down some 56 million people at the epicentre of the crisis in Hubei province and told millions more to stay home across the country.    Italy has imposed restrictions on the entire country.   More than 4,000 people have died and over 110,000 have been infected worldwide, with China accounting for most cases though infections are now growing at a faster pace abroad.

In Mongolia's first case, the French national arrived on March 2 on a flight from Moscow, said Health Minister Davaajantsangiin Sarangerel.   The man, who works for a subsidiary of French nuclear firm Orano, was supposed to have remained in quarantine in his hotel for 14 days but ignored the rule, the minister said.   He also visited a uranium mining project in Dornogobi province.   But an Orano spokesman denied that the man had been told to go under quarantine when he landed in Mongolia as he only started showing symptoms five days after arriving in the country.   Orano has a subsidiary in Mongolia called Badrakh Energy, which mines for uranium in the vast country.
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:
More ...

Oman

Oman US Consular Information Sheet
February 11, 2009
COUNTRY DESCRIPTION: The Sultanate of Oman, a land of great natural beauty on the southeast corner of the Arabian Peninsula, has a long and proud heritage.
Oman has seen rapid economic a
d social development in the past three decades.
The Government of Oman estimated its population at 2,340,815 in its 2003 census, but the current number is likely to be significantly higher due to an influx of expatriate workers in numerous sectors of the economy.
The CIA World Factbook estimates Oman’s population to be 3,311,640 in its latest on-line update as of December 18, 2008.
A monarchy governed by Sultan Qaboos bin Said, the country does not have political parties or a legislature, although a bicameral representative body (the lower house of which is directly elected) provides the government with advice and reviews draft legislation.
While Oman is traditionally Islamic and Islam is the state religion, Omanis have for centuries lived with people of other faiths.
Non-Muslims are free to worship at churches and temples built on land donated by the Sultan.
The economy is largely dependent on the production and export of oil and natural gas, but is becoming increasingly diversified.
Excellent tourist facilities are available in the major cities of Muscat, Salalah, Sohar, and Nizwa and can increasingly be found elsewhere in the country.
Travelers may wish to visit the Sultanate’s tourism web site at http://www.omantourism.gov.om/ for more information.
Travelers may also wish to read the Department of State Background Notes on Oman for additional information.
ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS:
A valid passport and visa are required for entry into Oman.
Omani embassies and consulates issue multiple-entry tourist and/or business visas valid for up to two years.
Omani immigration officials at the port of entry determine the length of stay in Oman, which varies according to the purpose of travel.
Alternatively, U.S. citizens may obtain a 30-day visa by presenting their U.S. passports on arrival at all Oman land, sea, and air entry points.
Note: The validity period of the applicant's passport should not be less than six months.
Adequate funds and proof of an onward/return ticket, though not required, are strongly recommended.
The fee is Rials Omani 6.00 (approximately USD 16.00).
This visa can be extended for an extra 30 days only; a completed extension application form and the fee of Rials Omani 6.00 (USD 16.00) should be submitted to the Directorate General of Passports and Residence or to its branches at regional Royal Omani Police offices.
Other categories of short-term visit/business/work contract visas are available, but these must be arranged in advance through an Omani sponsor.
To obtain a visa or for details on entry and travel requirements, please contact the Embassy of the Sultanate of Oman, 2535 Belmont Road NW, Washington, DC
20008, telephone (202) 387-1980/2.
Evidence of yellow fever immunization is required if the traveler enters from an infected area.
Visit the Embassy of Oman web site 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.
Forbidden items:
The Sultanate prohibits pornographic materials and firearms from entering Oman.
Local law limits each traveler to two bottles of alcohol.
Items subject to confiscation at the airport due to content considered culturally inappropriate include, but are not limited to, compact discs, digital video discs, and video and audiocassettes.
Please refer to our Customs Information to learn more about customs regulations.
SAFETY AND SECURITY:
There have been no instances in which U.S. citizens or facilities in Oman have been subject to terrorist attacks.
However, the Department of State remains concerned about the possibility of terrorist attacks against United States citizens and interests throughout the region.
American citizens in Oman are urged to maintain a high level of security awareness.
The State Department suggests that all Americans in Oman maintain an unpredictable schedule and vary travel routes and times whenever possible.
Americans are also urged to treat mail or packages from unfamiliar sources with suspicion.
Unusual mail or packages should be left unopened and reported to local authorities.
U.S. citizens with security concerns are encouraged to contact local authorities and the Consular Section of the U.S. Embassy in Muscat.
For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department’s web site, where the current Worldwide Caution, Travel Warnings and Travel Alerts 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 information on A Safe Trip Abroad.
CRIME:
The incidence of street crime is low in Oman; violent crime is rare by U.S. standards, but can occur.
Crimes of opportunity remain the most likely to affect visitors.
Visitors to Oman should, therefore, take normal precautions, such as avoiding travel in deserted or unfamiliar areas and after dark.
Visitors should also protect personal property from theft.
In particular, valuables and currency should not be left unsecured in hotel rooms.
Common sense and caution are always the best methods for crime prevention.

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

The local equivalent to the “911” emergency line in Oman is:
9999
See our information on Victims of Crime.
SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES: By Omani custom and law, expressing frustration either verbally or through otherwise innocuous hand gestures is considered insulting and abusive.
Any individual, regardless of citizenship and residency status, may file a personal defamation charge, and accusation of wrongdoing is sufficient to initiate a legal process.
While not commonplace, the incidence of American citizens charged with personal defamation has been on the rise in recent months.
These cases are normally resolved by a formal apology and a payment of damage to the aggrieved party, but one American citizen’s case went to trial in 2008.
Omani law typically does not permit a foreigner accused of a crime, including defamation, to depart the country while legal proceedings are ongoing.
Confrontations leading to defamation charges occur mostly on Oman’s roads, and visitors should exercise caution when dealing with difficult drivers.
Omani employers often ask that expatriate employees deposit their passports with the company as a condition of employment.
While to an extent still customary, this practice is contrary to Omani law.
The U.S. Embassy in Muscat advises Americans to exercise caution on the issue of permitting an employer to hold their passports, since this can operate as a restraint on travel and could give undue leverage to the employer in a dispute.
U.S. passports are the property of the U.S. government.
Islamic ideals provide the conservative foundation of Oman's customs, laws, and practices.
Foreign visitors are expected to be sensitive to Islamic culture and not dress in a revealing or provocative style, including the wearing of sleeveless shirts and blouses, halter-tops and shorts.
Athletic clothing is worn in public only when the wearer is obviously engaged in athletic activity.
Western bathing attire, however, is the norm at hotel pools and beaches.

CRIMINAL PENALTIES:
While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country's laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law.
Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses.
Persons violating Omani laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested, or imprisoned.
Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Oman 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.

MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION:
There are a number of modern medical facilities in Oman.
Local medical treatment varies from quite good to inadequate, depending in large part on location.
Many Western pharmaceuticals can be found in Oman.
Hospital emergency treatment is available.
Doctors and hospitals often expect cash payment for health services.

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 the CDC’s web site.
For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad consult the World Health Organization (WHO).
Further health information for travelers is available from the WHO.

Some HIV/AIDS entry restrictions exist for visitors to and foreign residents of Oman.
Oman requires persons seeking work or residence visas to take an HIV/AIDS test after arriving in the country; U.S. HIV/AIDS tests are not accepted.
Please verify this information with the Embassy of Oman at (202) 387-1980/2 before you travel.

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 Oman is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.
Road Conditions and Hazards: Road conditions, lighting, and traffic safety in cities and on major highways are good.
The condition of rural roads varies from good to poor.
Travel between cities, especially at night, may be dangerous due to poor or no lighting, wandering livestock, and speeding drivers.
The safety of public transportation is generally good.
Taxis, minivans, and small buses may swerve to the side of the road to pick up passengers with little notice or regard for other vehicles.

Local Laws and Practices:
Traffic laws in Oman are strictly enforced and the consequences for violating them may be severe by U.S. standards.
For example, running a red light results in a mandatory, non-bailable detention period of 48 hours, followed by confiscation of one’s driver’s license, vehicle registration, and car registration plate until the Omani judicial process is concluded, which may take as long as several months.
Other common traffic violations that carry strict penalties, up to and including jail sentences, fines, and/or deportation, include: driving without a license, driving under the influence of alcohol, failure to wear a seat belt, talking on cellular telephones while driving (other than using hands-free technology), speeding excessively, overtaking another vehicle, screeching a car’s tires or failing to keep one’s car clean.
In the event of a traffic violation and fine, drivers should cooperate with police officers and should not attempt to pay or negotiate payment at the time of the traffic stop.

Effective June 1, 2007, the Royal Oman Police (ROP) introduced new procedures for minor Road Traffic Accidents (RTA) to reduce traffic jams.
According to the ROP, the new procedure is currently in force in the Governorate of Muscat area and will eventually be implemented in the other governorates and regions of the Sultanate.
American citizens considering driving in Oman are advised to familiarize themselves with the new procedures available on the ROP web site under “Minor Road Traffic Accidents.”
Note:
Minor RTA are accidents that cause minor damage to one or more vehicles but do not result in injuries, deaths, or material damage to public/private properties.
Parties involved in such accidents should immediately move their vehicles to the side of the road.

American citizens involved in accidents outside of the Muscat area are advised not to move their vehicles from the accident location until the ROP gives them permission; moving a vehicle may be interpreted as an admission of guilt.

The use of European-style traffic circles is prevalent in Oman.
However, unlike European traffic practice, the driver on the inside lane always has priority.
A driver flashing his/her high beams is generally asking for a chance to pass.
Turning right on a red traffic signal is prohibited.
Visitors should not drive without a valid license.
Short-term visitors in possession of a valid U.S. driver's license may drive rental vehicles, but residents must have an Omani driver's license.
To obtain an Omani license, a U.S. citizen must have a U.S. license that has been valid for at least one year or must take a driving test.
Visitors hiring rental cars should insure the vehicles adequately against death, injury and loss or damage.
Residents may insure their vehicles outside the Sultanate; however, third party liability insurance must be purchased locally.

Emergency Services:
A modern ambulance service using American equipment and staff trained in the U.S. was instituted in 2004 and has been assessed as very good.
The service currently serves only certain urban locations in Oman, including the capital area, but is eventually expected to provide coverage for motor vehicle accident victims throughout the entire Sultanate.
For all traffic-related emergencies, the Royal Omani Police can be contacted by dialing "9999."
Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information.
Visit the web site of Oman’s national tourist office for further information.
AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT:
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the Government of Oman’s Civil Aviation Authority as being in compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards for oversight of Oman’s air carrier operations.
For more information, travelers may visit the FAA’s web.

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 Oman are encouraged to register with the U.S. Embassy in Muscat through the State Department’s travel registration web site and to obtain updated information on travel and security within Oman.
Americans without Internet access may register directly with the U.S. Embassy in Muscat.
By registering, American citizens make it easier for the Embassy to contact them in case of emergency.

The U.S. Embassy is located on Jamiat A’Duwal Al Arabiya Street, Al Khuwair Area (Shatti Al-Qurum), in the capital city of Muscat.
The mailing address is: PO Box 202, Medinat Al Sultan Qaboos 115, Sultanate of Oman, telephone: (968) 24-643-400, fax: (968) 24-643-535.
The Embassy’s Consular e-mail address is ConsularMuscat@state.gov.
American Citizens Services are available on a walk-in basis from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. every Saturday, Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.
The U.S. Embassy is closed on Omani and American holidays.
In the event of an emergency outside of normal office hours, American citizens may call the number above for assistance.
* * *
This replaces the Country Specific Information for Oman dated December 3, 2007 to update the sections on Country Description, Entry/Exit Requirements, Safety and Security, Information for Victims of Crime, Special Circumstances, Medical Facilities and Health Information, Traffic Safety and Road Conditions, and Registration/Embassy Location.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Mon, 24 Feb 2020 16:22:59 +0100 (MET)

Dubai, Feb 24, 2020 (AFP) - The new coronavirus hit four more Middle Eastern states on Monday, with Bahrain, Iraq, Kuwait and Oman reporting new cases and the UAE calling on its citizens not to travel to Iran and Thailand.   Oman also halted flights to and from Iran  -- which is battling the deadliest outbreak outside China --with immediate effect.   The move came shortly after two Omani women who had returned from Iran were diagnosed with the disease.

The three cases in Kuwait and the one in Bahrain were also in individuals who had returned from Iran, where the virus has claimed the lives of 12 people.   Bahrain also shut three schools after a man who had transported children to the institutions tested positive after returning from Iran on February 21 via Dubai airport, the health ministry said.

In Kuwait, a 53-year-old Kuwaiti, a 61-year-old Saudi national and a 21-year-old stateless Arab who tested positive had all returned from Iran's holy city of Mashhad, the Kuwaiti health ministry said.   In Iraq, the virus was confirmed in an Iranian national studying in the southern shrine city of Najaf, health officials said.   All seven bourses in the oil-rich Gulf states were down on Monday as fears of a pandemic hit crude prices. The Saudi stock exchange led the slide, shedding 2.95 percent.

- Travel bans -
Iran's confirmed death toll rose to 12 on Monday, with the government vowing to be transparent and dismissing a lawmaker's claim the toll could be as high as 50.   The outbreak has prompted travel bans from nearby countries.

Last week, Kuwait banned entry of all ships from the Islamic republic and suspended flights to and from the country.   Kuwait also banned non-citizens coming from Iran from entering the Gulf state and operated chartered flights to bring back hundreds of Kuwaiti Shiite pilgrims from the Islamic republic.

Around a third of Kuwait's 1.4 million citizens are Shiite Muslims, who travel regularly to Iran to visit religious shrines. Kuwait also hosts roughly 50,000 Iranian workers.   Over half of Bahrain's population of under one million are Shiites, who also travel frequently to Iran.   The United Arab Emirates has already announced 13 cases of the novel coronavirus, all of them foreigners. The latest were a 70-year-old Iranian man, whose condition is unstable, and his 64-year-old wife.

On Monday, Abu Dhabi authorities called on all UAE citizens "to not travel to Iran and Thailand at present and up until further notice" as part of its efforts to monitor and contain the spread of the disease.   UAE airlines have suspended most flights to China -- where the virus first emerged in December -- except to the capital Beijing, but have not yet taken any measures to restrict travel to and from Iran. Around half a million Iranians live and work in the UAE.

Two Gulf states -- Saudi Arabia and Qatar -- remain free of the virus, but all have suspended flights to China.   Qatar Airways said on Monday that people arriving from Iran and South Korea would be asked to stay in home isolation or a quarantine facility for 14 days.   China's death toll from COVID-19 rose to nearly 2,600 on Monday, while the virus has now spread to more than 30 countries.
Date: Thu 28 Nov 2019
Source: GDN Online [edited]

Two expatriates living in Oman died after contracting the seasonal influenza (H1N1) or swine flu in the governorate of Dhofar -- the 1st in July and the 2nd in August [2019]. They were among 78 confirmed cases of swine flu registered at the Sultan Qaboos Hospital over the first 9 months of 2019 in the governorate.

The hospital authorities reported a total of 599 registered suspected cases of H1N1 between January and last September [2019]. Doctors working at Sultan Qaboos Hospital dealt overall with 1779 cases of respiratory infections during the same period.

Patients most vulnerable to the respiratory viruses are those over 18 years, particularly pregnant women; those suffering from chronic illnesses, kidney and heart diseases, liver problems, diabetes, asthma, blood disorders, and HIV/AIDS; and even health workers, according to Muscat Daily.
Date: Thu 14 Feb 2019
Source: Muscat Daily [edited]

The Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries (MoAF) has announced that it has imposed veterinary quarantine on a farm in the wilayat [district] of Shinas in North Batinah [governorate] after it registered a case of Crimean-Congo haemorrhagic fever (CCHF) in a citizen. MoAF has also confirmed that the citizen infected is undergoing treatment at Sohar Hospital and his condition is stable.

Experts took samples of tick insects, a carrier of the disease from the animals at the citizen's farm and other animals in the area and sent them to the laboratory for examination. MoAF elaborated that experts are guiding the citizen's family on how to handle animals. CCHF is caused by a virus carried by ticks.

Animals like sheep, goats, and cows become carriers after they are bitten by the infected ticks. Humans get infected either by tick-bites or through direct contact with the infected animal's blood and tissues during or after slaughtering. Human-to-human transmission can occur resulting from close contact with blood, secretions, organs, or other bodily fluids from infected persons, the ministry said.
=====================
[CCHF virus has the greatest geographic range of any tick-borne virus and there are reports of viral isolation and/or disease from more than 30 countries in Africa, Asia, Eastern and Southern Europe, and the Middle East. Numerous domestic and wild animals, such as cattle, goats, sheep, and small mammals, such as hares and rodents, serve as asymptomatic hosts for amplification of the virus, which is transmitted through _Ixodid_ ticks, especially _Hyalomma_ spp that act as both reservoirs and vectors  (<https://www.biorxiv.org/content/biorxiv/early/2018/12/20/502641.full.pdf>).

Oman is situated in the south-eastern corner of the Arabian Peninsula, bordering the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, and Yemen. Cases of CCHF were first detected in Oman in 1995 with 3 unrelated sporadic cases, and another in 1996. A 1996 survey in Oman revealed asymptomatic seropositivity for CCHFV in 1/41 (2.4 percent) of Omanis compared to 73 (30.3 percent) of 241 non-Omani citizens with occupational animal contact. No further human cases of CCHF were reported in Oman until 2011 and there has been a steady increase in cases since then. Asia lineage 1 (clade IV) of CCHF virus has been identified in one of 1996 confirmed cases from Oman. Al-Abri et al have published a detailed report on CCHF cases from Oman from 2011-17 and describe a higher mortality rate of over 36 percent in their study (<http://dx.doi.org/10.1101/502641>).

The Oman MoH has undertaken a number of activities and initiatives to educate and inform the public about the risks of CCHF infection associated with slaughtering. A joint strategic initiative was developed in collaboration with the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries and the Ministry of Regional Municipalities and Water Resources. Education and information on prevention of CCHF in different languages has been targeted at those involved in slaughtering and handling animals. In addition, guidelines have been produced for culturally acceptable safe burials. - ProMED Mod.UBA]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map of Oman:
Date: 28 Jan 2019
Source: Times of Oman [edited]

Four new cases of Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) coronavirus have been detected in Oman, according to the Ministry of Health. "This brings the total number of recorded cases from various governorates in the Sultanate to 18 since 2013," the ministry said in a statement. The new cases are receiving necessary medical care at one of the hospitals.

"The ministry affirms its continued effort to monitor and control the disease through the effective Epidemiological Surveillance System," the ministry added. "All hospitals are capable of dealing with such cases," the ministry said, "We urge all citizens and residents to comply with preventative measures to control infection and to maintain hygiene when sneezing and coughing."

MERS is a viral respiratory disease caused by a novel coronavirus (Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus, or MERS-CoV) that was 1st identified in Saudi Arabia in 2012. Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that can cause diseases ranging from the common cold to severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS).

Symptoms: "Typical MERS symptoms include a fever, cough and shortness of breath. Pneumonia is common, but not always present. Gastrointestinal symptoms, including diarrhoea, have also been reported. Some laboratory-confirmed cases of the MERS-CoV infection are reported as asymptomatic, meaning that they do not have any clinical symptoms, yet they are positive for a MERS-CoV infection following a laboratory test. Most of these asymptomatic cases have been detected following aggressive contact tracing of a laboratory-confirmed case," the World Health Organization (WHO) said. Approximately 35 per cent of patients reported to be infected with MERS-CoV have died.

"Although most human cases of MERS-CoV infections have been attributed to human-to-human contact in health care settings, current scientific evidence suggests that dromedary camels are a major reservoir host for MERS-CoV and an animal source of MERS infection in humans. However, the exact role of dromedaries in the transmission of the virus and the exact route(s) of transmission are unknown. "The virus does not seem to pass easily from person to person unless there is close contact, such as when providing unprotected care to a patient. Health care associated outbreaks have occurred in several countries, with the largest outbreaks seen in Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and the Republic of Korea," the WHO added.
=======================
[According to the above media report (and the MOH press release available at: <https://www.moh.gov.om/en/-/---951>, this now brings the total number of MERS-CoV infected individuals occurring in Oman to 18. According to prior reports, as of the date of the last reported case of MERS-CoV infection by Oman in March 2018, there had been a total of 11 cases reported by Oman (see MERS-CoV (10): Oman, Saudi Arabia, WHO http://promedmail.org/post/20180315.5690014). The addition of these 4 newly confirmed/reported cases would bring the total to 15, unless there were 3 previously reported cases that we have missed. Another explanation might be the addition of 3 Omanis who were diagnosed to have MERS-CoV infection after travelling to other countries. There were 2 reported Omani travelers to Thailand confirmed to have MERS-CoV infections in 2015 and 2016 (MERS-CoV (70) - Thailand ex Oman, 1st report, RFI http://promedmail.org/post/20150618.3447631, and MERS-COV (08): Thailand ex Oman, Saudi Arabia corr http://promedmail.org/post/20160124.3962172) and an Omani confirmed to have a MERS-CoV infection in the United Arab Emirates in 2013 (MERS-CoV - Eastern Mediterranean (81): Saudi Arabia, UAE ex Oman, RFI http://promedmail.org/post/20131108.2044846). Clarification of this would be greatly appreciated. In addition, more information on the newly confirmed cases including age, gender, governorate of presumed exposure, dates of onset of illness, and history of possible high-risk exposures (direct or indirect camel contact, consumption of raw camel products, contact with other confirmed cases of MERS-CoV infection) would be greatly appreciated. Are the 4 newly reported cases a defined cluster with common contacts?

The HealthMap/ProMED map of Oman: <http://healthmap.org/promed/p/124>  - ProMED Mod.MPP]
Date: 15 Mar 2018
Source: WHO Emergencies preparedness, response, Disease Outbreak News (DONs) [edited]

Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) - Oman 15 Mar 2018
--------------------------------------------------------------------------
On [4 Mar 2018], the National IRH focal point of Oman reported 1 additional case of Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV).

The patient was a 74-year-old male Omani national, living in Batinah, who had symptom onset on [23 Feb 2018]. The patient had neither recently travelled nor had any contact with any person with respiratory symptoms or with a known MERS-CoV case. The patient took care of camels that were reportedly ill. The investigation of the patient's exposure in the 14 days prior to the onset of symptoms is still ongoing.

Prior to this patient, the last laboratory-confirmed case of MERS-CoV from Oman was reported in November 2017.

Globally, 2144 laboratory-confirmed cases of MERS-CoV, including at least 750 related deaths, have been reported to WHO.
==================
[This is the 1st laboratory confirmed case of MERS-CoV infection reported by Oman in 2018, bringing the total number of laboratory confirmed cases reported by Oman to 11. During 2017, there were 2 cases reported by Oman. One on 5 Nov 2018 (see MERS-CoV (69): Oman, Saudi Arabia (RI, QS) RFI http://promedmail.org/post/20171105.5425993) and one reported to WHO on 30 Aug 2017, and reported by WHO on 12 Oct 2017 (see MERS-CoV (59): Oman, Saudi Arabia, WHO http://promedmail.org/post/20170913.5313874). In addition, there have been 2 cases reported in Omani citizens travelling to Thailand and confirmed by Thailand. A common observation in the cases reported by Oman is a history of contact with camels in the 14 days preceding onset of illness.

In total, there have been 2144 laboratory-confirmed cases of MERS-CoV reported to WHO since September 2012, including at least 750 related deaths (reported case fatality rate 35.0 percent). (This total includes cases reported by Saudi Arabia up through 11 Jan 2018).

The HealthMap/ProMED map of Oman can be found at:
More ...

Egypt

Geographical Information:
Egypt has a total area of about 385,000 sq. miles and sits on the North Eastern corner of Africa. It is bounded by the Mediterranean Sea and on the East by Israel and the Red Sea. The Southern border is with Sudan (the large
t country in Africa) and on the West it shares a border with Libya. The country extends about 675 miles from north to south and is widest at its southern border where it covers 780 miles. Egypt is well known for the great Nile river which courses throughout its length. It is the longest river in the world and has historic links stretching back to at least 3200BC.
Climate:
The hot season in Egypt is from May to September. During this time temperatures can easily reach 370C though northern winds can provide a very necessary respite. November to March is the cooler time of the year and typical temperatures reach 140C though, during the evenings, temperatures can occasionally fall to near freezing. The humidity is mainly along the Mediterranean coastline and the average rainfall here is only about 8".
Medical Facilities:
In the main towns and cities the level of medical care is very adequate for the tourist. English speaking doctors will be associated with all the larger hotels but nevertheless care should always before being admitted to a ‘clinic’ for further treatment should this ever become necessary. Travellers are encouraged to contact the Irish Embassy in Cairo for emergency assistance should the need ever arise.
Food & Water Hygiene:
A significant number of tourists visiting Egypt suffer stomach complaints. In many cases this is due to eating food from the market places or using the hotel tap water supply for drinking or brushing teeth. The hotter climate of the country and the poorer level of food hygiene leave the unwary tourist at particular risk. Salads and shellfish meals should particularly be avoided.
Cruising along the Nile:
Over the past number of years many Irish holiday makers have enjoyed themselves cruising along the Nile for a week and then visiting Luxor in the southern part of the country. In most cases these travellers remain very well with no particular health problems. Nevertheless, in a small number they appear to forget the basic rules of food and water hygiene and will sample the local foods in the market places on shore. This practice is frequently associated with a ruined second half of the holiday. Commonsense rules of looking but not touching are much wiser.
Sun Stroke:
The ambient temperatures in Egypt can be very high and tourists are frequently exposed to the strong sunlight during their time in Egypt. It is essential that an adequate fluid intake is maintained (much higher than at home) and that travellers remember they may need to increase their salt intake (if this is not contraindicated because of heart disease or blood pressure). Small children and the elderly are at special risk.
Malaria risk in Egypt:
The risk of malaria in Egypt is small. The disease is usually only found during the warmer summer months (June to October) in the El Faiyûm area. Travellers may require prophylaxis but they should continuously remember to use adequate protection against mosquitoes and other insects.
Swimming in Egypt:
The fresh water rivers of Egypt are commonly infected with a disease called Schistosomiasis (Bilharzia). This parasite penetrates through intact skin and can cause significant health problems. Travellers are encouraged to swim only in the Mediterranean, the Red Sea or in well maintained swimming pools to avoid exposure.
Health Care while Diving:
Many of the world's most beautiful sites for diving are situated along the Red Sea. These are common tourist destinations and generally the risk of significant health worries will be small. However, check out the professionalism of the diving company before you develop too close a relationship. Make sure their equipment is in good working order and that their instructors are insisting on standard safety procedures for any proposed dive. Never dive after a large meal or following alcohol intake. Remember that you can get significantly sunburnt while snorkeling so take care to cover your back and shoulders with either a suit or sufficient water repellent cream.
Diving at night may be a beautiful experience but take extra care. Never dive beyond your personal limits and ensure that the 'buddy system' is fully operational at all times. Even the most experienced divers can have problems at times so never let you guard down and stay alert.
Rabies:
This disease is widespread in Egypt and is normally transmitted through the bite of warm blooded animals. Any bites, licks or scratches from these animals should be treated seriously by washing out the wound, applying an antiseptic and the seeking urgent competent medical attention.
Vaccines for Egypt:
All Irish travellers to Egypt should ensure that their vaccines against Poliomyelitis, Typhoid, Tetanus and Hepatitis A are in date. Those staying for longer periods or trekking through the country may require further protection against diseases like Rabies, Meningitis and Hepatitis B.
Further Information:
Further general health information on staying healthy while travelling abroad may be obtained free-of-charge from the Tropical Medical Bureau at either of our centres. Please always remember that each traveller is distinct and so individual specific information will require a medical consultation.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Tue, 24 Mar 2020 18:12:57 +0100 (MET)

Cairo, March 24, 2020 (AFP) - Egypt will impose a night-time curfew for two weeks from Wednesday to contain the spread of the coronavirus, Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouli announced.   "Movement will be banned on all public roads from 7 pm to 6 am... for two weeks," Madbouli told a news conference on Tuesday.   "All mass transport, public and private, will be halted over the same period."

Penalties for violators include a fine of up to 4,000 Egyptian pounds (just over $250) and even prison, he said.   The prime minister said central and provincial government services, including the issuing of licences, would be suspended for two weeks.   He said that malls and shops selling more than basic goods would be allowed to open until 5 pm on work days but would be required to close over the Friday-Saturday weekend.   Cafes and nightclubs would be closed, while restaurants and other food outlets would be allowed to offer delivery services only.   Bakeries, grocery stores, pharmacies and supermarkets outside malls would be exempted.

Cairo supermarket owner Sayed Hamdan was supportive of the government's curfew and was upbeat that economic activity would not slow down.   "This decision is wise for the people in general. As supermarket owners, it's not going to affect us as much. People will just end up buying during the day instead of at night and it might even increase because people are afraid of the coronavirus," he told AFP.   "We have undertaken sterilisation measures for our workers and the store itself using gloves, disinfectants and masks," Hamdan added.   He also noted that he had enough stock for his customers who gravitated towards staples like oil, sugar and bottled water.

The health ministry has so far registered 19 deaths from the coronavirus in Egypt out of 366 confirmed cases.   The government has already closed schools and universities and halted air traffic in a bid to slow the spread of the coronavirus among the country's 100 million people.    Flights have been grounded for a further period until 15 April, Egypt's information minister announced Tuesday, following the prime minister's new conference.   Religious authorities have since Saturday shut all mosques and churches and halted prayer gatherings for at least two weeks.

- Demonstrations -
Madbouli said the government might impose stricter measures if the situation worsened and the number of confirmed cases topped 1,000.   He condemned calls for demonstrations saying they provided fertile ground for the transmission of the virus.

Early Tuesday, police moved promptly to disperse dozens of demonstrators who had attempted to hold overnight marches in the Mediterranean coastal city of Alexandria.    Footage posted on Twitter showed marchers chanting: "God is greatest," and: "May God rescue us from this plague."   They were "dispersed in accordance with government measures preventing gatherings to avoid contagion", a security source told AFP, adding that no arrests were made.   Dar al-Ifta, Egypt's institution for issuing religious edicts, condemned such protests as "malicious" and "forbidden" under Islamic law.

The institution urged Egyptians to comply with government measures against the spread of the virus.    Protests have effectively been banned in Egypt since 2013 and the country has been under a state of emergency since April 2017.   In a series of tweets after the prime minister's announcement, President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi said his government will be strict in its enforcement of the curfew.    "Any breaking of the measures will be dealt with firmly and swiftly according to the law," he said.

In Sayeda Zeinab, a working class suburb in the heart of Islamic Cairo, Akram Ramadan also expressed relief at the premier's measures and was critical of the small scale gathering in Alexandria.   "People aren't heeding the message and they're still out and about in the streets...These are people who are trying to ruin the country and we can't put up with this anymore," he said.   "I myself am going out shopping now before night-time... we should be considerate of others and not hoard items," Ramadan added.
Date: Thu, 19 Mar 2020 13:56:05 +0100 (MET)

Cairo, March 19, 2020 (AFP) - Egypt on Thursday ordered the overnight closure of cafes, restaurants, nightclubs and sporting clubs to fight the spread of the novel coronavirus.   The decision, issued by Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouli and carried in the official gazette, covers the hours between 7 pm and 6 am local time and the closure will run until March 31.

The decree includes "all restaurants, cafes, casinos, nightclubs, bars, malls and any similar facilities selling commercial goods, serving food or providing entertainment services".   It excludes bakeries, grocery stores, pharmacies and supermarkets.    Egypt has so far recorded six deaths, including a German tourist in Luxor, the site of coronavirus cases originating on a Nile cruise boat, out of 210 confirmed COVID-19 cases.

Other measures have been taken to limit social interaction including reducing the number of public sector employees and the closure of schools and universities.    Egypt halted air traffic from Thursday and until March 31.     On Tuesday, Al-Azhar, the Sunni Muslim world's prestigious institution in Egypt, allowed the suspension of mass prayers at mosques.   The coronavirus originated from the Chinese city of Wuhan late last year and has since spread to all corners of the world.   Declared as a pandemic by the World Health Organization on March 11, the virus has so far killed more than 9,000 people and infected over 217,000 across the globe.
Date: Tue, 17 Mar 2020 16:25:11 +0100 (MET)

Cairo, March 17, 2020 (AFP) - Egypt on Tuesday locked down the Red Sea resort of Hurghada where a German tourist died of new coronavirus earlier this month as it battles the spread of the disease.   Hurghada is a magnet for tourists, including divers, who come year-round for its clear waters, coral reefs and unique marine life.   The Red Sea governor, who is based in Hurghada, said a two-week lockdown has been imposed from Tuesday as part of a "national plan" to combat the virus.   The move was aimed "to ensure the safety and well being of citizens from being infected as well as the safety of tourists... until they (can) leave the country", a statement said.   No one would be allowed in or out of the governorate for two weeks, it added.

The new coronavirus has claimed the lives of four people in Egypt, including two German tourists, one of whom became the first fatality in the country after dying in Hurghada.   The 14-day lockdown also affects other resorts in the Red Sea governorate including Marsa al-Alam, where shopkeepers, hotel and restaurant workers were told to stop work and enter quarantine.   On Monday, Health Minister Hala Zayed said "touristic" governorates would be shut down in the coming days as part of draconian measures by authorities to stem the spread of the virus.   "Stepped up preventive measures have been taken and others will come into effect in the coming days, and will restrict mobility," Zayed said on a late-night television show.

She also announced that 300 families were placed under quarantine in a Nile Delta village, after the deaths there of a 72-year-old woman and a 50-year-old man, both of whom were Egyptian.   Zayed did not name the village in the Daqahliya governorate north of Cairo, but said "cleansing procedures" were underway to prevent further infections.   Though Egypt has declared only 166 COVID-19 cases, foreign experts say the number could be much higher, since many foreign tourists caught the disease in Egypt and were diagnosed when they returned home.   Tourism is key to Egypt's economy, with revenues reaching $12.6 billion in 2019 according to the central bank.   As part of its efforts to combat the spread of new coronavirus, Egypt has said it will suspend all flights from Thursday until the end of March.   Authorities have warned of tough measures, including jail terms, for anyone who spreads false information concerning the virus.
Date: Mon, 16 Mar 2020 16:14:04 +0100 (MET)

Cairo, March 16, 2020 (AFP) - Egypt said on Monday all flights would be suspended until the end of the month to stem the spread of the coronavirus, in a move expected to hit the key tourism industry.   "Flights will be suspended from Thursday until March 31," Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly told a televised news conference.   He said the move was necessary to lessen social interaction especially among "tourists coming in or out of Egypt".

Losses from a flight shutdown are expected to reach more than 2.25 billion Egyptian pounds ($130 million), the prime minister said.   The tourism industry is key to Egypt's economy, with revenues growing to $12.6 billion between 2018 and 2019, compared to $10 billion the previous year, according to the central bank.   Tourism had taken a beating after the 2011 revolution and the 2015 downing of a Russian airliner by the Islamic State group hit visitor arrivals.   But it has shown signs of recovery in recent years.    Though still far off the 14.7 million recorded in 2010, Egypt welcomed 11.3 million arrivals in 2018, compared with just 5.3 million in 2016.   Egypt has not been spared from the spread of the novel coronavirus.

There are 126 confirmed cases, including of foreigners, and the country has recorded two deaths -- a German tourist and an Egyptian woman, according to authorities.   Twenty-six patients who were infected have recovered and released from hospital.   Authorities have taken a number of measures to stem the spread of the coronavirus, including closing schools and universities    On Monday, the prime minister also urged Egyptians to "stay put" in their homes and avoid "panic shopping" saying the state has ample reserves of food items and other basic products.
Date: Sun, 8 Mar 2020 20:19:53 +0100 (MET)

Cairo, March 8, 2020 (AFP) - A German tourist died Sunday of the novel coronavirus in a Sinai resort of eastern Egypt, the health ministry announced, the first death from the epidemic recorded in Africa.   "The 60-year-old German citizen showed symptoms of a fever (and) checked into Hurghada hospital on 6 March," before testing positive for COVID-19, it said in a statement.   The tourist, who arrived from Germany a week ago, died after having refused to be transferred to an isolation ward until 7 March once his breathing had been affected by "acute pneumonia".

On Saturday, the health ministry announced 45 suspected cases of Egyptians and foreigners contracting the virus aboard a Nile cruise ship.   The boat was carrying 171 people -- 101 foreigners and 70 Egyptian crew -- Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouli told reporters.    Besides the cruise ship cases, Egypt has detected three cases of the virus, the first of which was announced on February 14.    The health ministry said last week that the first patient, a Chinese national, had recovered and been released.

The other two cases, a Canadian working in an oil company and an Egyptian who returned from Serbia through France, were still undergoing treatment.     Other countries, including France, have announced that six travellers returning from Egypt had tested positive for the virus.   Israeli Interior Minister Aryeh Deri on Sunday announced an entry ban on "anyone who has been in Egypt during the past two weeks and is not a citizen or resident of Israel".
More ...

World Travel News Headlines

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Nordic nation has recorded 4,875 infections and 187 deaths related to COVID-19.    It is the second European country after Austria to unveil its plans for a gradual easing of restrictions.
Date: Tue, 7 Apr 2020 00:04:15 +0200 (METDST)

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

Police, security agents and soldiers in armoured cars have been deployed around the country, erecting road barriers and control points.   The official number of COVID-19 cases in Morocco has doubled in a week to 1,120, including 80 fatalities.   The real numbers are likely to be significantly higher as there is a lack of testing gear in the country.
Date: Mon, 6 Apr 2020 22:58:13 +0200 (METDST)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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