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Malta

Malta US Consular Information Sheet
November 26, 2008

COUNTRY DESCRIPTION:
Malta is a small, developed, democratic Mediterranean island nation, positioned as a cultural stepping-stone between Europe and North Africa.
Malta became
a member of the European Union with nine other new member states on May 1, 2004, and became a full member of the Schengen area in March 2008.
Tourist facilities of all categories are widely available.
Read the Department of State Background Notes on Malta for additional information.

ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS:
Malta is a party to the Schengen agreement.
As such, U.S. citizens may enter Malta for up to 90 days for tourist or business purposes without a visa.
The passport should be valid for at least three months beyond the period of stay.
For further details about travel into and within Schengen countries, please see our fact sheet.
For further information concerning entry requirements for Malta, travelers should contact the Embassy of Malta at 2017 Connecticut Avenue, NW, Washington DC
20008, tel.: (202) 462-3611, web site: http://www.foreign.gov.mt/default.aspx?MLEV=47&MDIS=505, or the Maltese Consulate in New York City, tel.: (212) 725-2345.

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:
Malta remains largely free of terrorist incidents. No indigenous terrorist or extremist groups are known to be active in Malta, and no foreign terrorist organization has carried out an attack against U.S. interests in Malta in recent years.
Americans are reminded to remain vigilant with regard to their personal security and to exercise caution.

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

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

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

CRIME:
Malta has a low rate of violent crime.
Theft of unattended personal property and car stereos from vehicles is a common problem.
Visitors are strongly encouraged to secure their valuables, and be aware of pickpockets and purse snatchers.
Such criminals focus on areas and establishments frequented by tourists.
Caution is particularly urged in the Paceville nightclub area, where excessive drinking and poor crowd control have led to instances of violent behavior.
Poverty, homelessness, and panhandling are almost non-existent in Malta.
All visitors to Malta should practice the same good, common sense personal security precautions that are part of everyday life in urban areas within the U.S., particularly when spending time in areas frequented by tourists.

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 crime victim’s assistance agency is ‘APPOGG’- Support Line, tel: 179;
web site: www.appogg.gov.mt.
To learn about resources in the U.S. if you are the victim of a violent crime overseas, please also see our information on Victims of Crime.

The local equivalents to the “911” emergency line in Malta are: Police 191; Ambulance 196; Fire 199.
MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION: Medical care is available through public and private hospitals.
The quality of medical care in Malta is excellent.
Private hospitals generally offer a higher standard of service than the public hospitals, and the majority of the best doctors practice in private medical facilities.

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
The U.S. Department of State is unaware of any HIV/AIDS entry restrictions for visitors to or foreign residents of Malta.
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 Malta is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.

Traffic in Malta flows on the left, requiring attentiveness and caution from visitors from right-hand drive countries such as the United States.
In addition, drivers may be erratic or undisciplined. Roads flood easily, and are often narrow, winding, and congested, with poor visibility around curves.
Traffic arteries are prone to bottlenecks and accidents.
Buses are the primary means of public transportation.
Though the bus fleet is being modernized, most buses are old, cramped, and not air-conditioned.
Taxis are safe but expensive and are not metered; it is a good practice to agree with the driver in advance on the charge.

Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information.
There is a Malta Tourist Information Office located at Freedom Square Valletta, tel. 21-237-747, web site: http://www.visitmalta.com/getting-around
AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT: The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the Government of Malta’s Civil Aviation Authority as being in compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards for oversight of Malta’s air carrier operations.
For more information, travelers may visit the FAA’s web site at http://www.faa.gov/safety/programs_initiatives/oversight/iasa
SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES:
Malta customs authorities may enforce strict regulations concerning currency restrictions and temporary importation into or export from Malta of items such as firearms, antiquities, and any item that might be deemed to have resalable value.
It is advisable to contact the Embassy of Malta in Washington or the Consulate of Malta in New York City for specific information regarding customs requirements.
Malta’s customs authorities encourage the use of an ATA (Admission Temporaire/Temporary Admission) Carnet for the temporary admission of professional equipment, commercial samples, and/or goods for exhibitions and fair purposes.
ATA Carnet Headquarters located at U.S. Council for International Business, 1212 Avenue of the Americas, New York, N.Y. 10036, issues and guarantees the ATA Carnet in the United States.
For additional information call (212) 354-4480, send an e-mail to atacarnet@uscib.org or visit http://uscib.org for details.

For more information, please see our Customs Information.

CRIMINAL PENALTIES: While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country's laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law.
Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses.
Persons violating Malta’s laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned.
Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Malta are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines.
Engaging in illicit 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 Malta are encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate through the State Department’s travel registration web site and to obtain updated information on travel and security within Malta.
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 on the third floor of the Development House, St. Anne Street, Floriana, Valletta, telephone (356) 2561-4000.
The Consular Section’s telephone number is (356) 2156-4115, fax: (356) 2124-3229, web site: http://malta.usembassy.gov/uscit_intro.html.
The Consular Section is open to the public Monday, Wednesday, and Friday from 8:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m.
* * *
This replaces the Country Specific Information for Malta dated April 29, 2008, to update sections on Safety and Security and Exit and Entry Requirements.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Fri 16 Aug 2019
Source: Times of Malta [abridged, edited]

The number of measles cases in Malta has soared to an unprecedented level this year [2019], with 30 cases reported in the 1st 6 months, according to the World Health Organisation.

Data recently published by the health body showed that the figures until June 2019 are in stark contrast to those for the previous years. According to the WHO data, between 2011 and 2018, there were only 11 cases reported. There were no cases reported in a number of these years, and, between 2012 and 2017, there were only 2 cases reported, one in 2013 and another 2 years later.

Earlier this year [2019], the WHO had flagged the issue [slipping vaccine rates] with a rapid increase in measles cases on a global level. At the time, preliminary figures had shown that measles cases rose 300% worldwide through the 1st 3 months of 2019 when compared to the same period last year [2018].

According to the Superintendent of Public Health, Charmaine Gauci, after a number of years with no cases of the disease, in 2018, there were 5 imported cases and one local transmission.

Most of the cases occurred in adults who were not vaccinated. "This year [2019], we have already seen over 15 locally acquired cases. Most of the cases occurred in adults who were not vaccinated," Dr Gauci said when the preliminary figures came out.

In its report on this year's [2019] data, the WHO noted a "dramatic resurgence of measles compared to previous years" in the European region, with 49 of the 53 countries in the region together having reported over 160 000 measles cases and over 100 measles-related deaths by the end of May 2019.

"High national-level coverage can mask pockets of low coverage at the local level, resulting in an accumulation of susceptible individuals that often goes unrecognised until outbreaks occur. An enhanced response is needed to protect all populations in the region from this dangerous disease," WHO said. It has set the ambitious goal of achieving measles and rubella elimination in at least 5 of its regions by 2020.  [Byline: Claire Caruana]
Date: Sun 29 Jul 2018 17:28 CEST
Source: Times of Malta [summ., edited]

The number of salmonellosis cases reported to the health authorities so far in July 2018 has surpassed that in previous years, peaking at 20 cases in July alone.

Figures supplied to The Sunday Times of Malta by the health authorities showed that so far this month [July 2018], 20 cases of the food poisoning infection have been reported, up from 11 in 2017. Since the beginning of 2018, 67 cases have been brought to the authorities' attention.

Salmonellosis is a type of foodborne illness caused by bacteria and is often more common in summer. The infection is contracted when food contaminated with the bacteria is consumed, with young children, older adults, and those with impaired immune systems being more susceptible to severe infection. Symptoms include diarrhoea, fever, and abdominal cramps and usually develop 12 to 72 hours after the infection is contracted. It usually lasts 4 to 7 days.

Just this week, the health authorities confirmed _Salmonella_ had been found in eggs from St Joseph Farm [Southern region] during sampling by the veterinary authorities as part of the Veterinary National Control programme for _Salmonella_. Eggs packed by this farm have since been recalled, with the public being advised not to consume them. The Superintendent of Public Health warned that food that has been listed as recalled should not be consumed, while the general handling of eggs should also be done with caution.

Eggs, she said, should always be cooked until both the yolk and the white are firm, while egg dishes should be cooked to an internal temperature of 71 deg C [160 deg F] or hotter. The eggs used in sauces or any other items that contain raw or lightly-cooked eggs should be pasteurized, Dr Gauci said. Hands, and any implements that come in direct contact with raw eggs, should always be thoroughly washed.  [Byline: Claire Caruana]
============================
[While undercooked eggs are a common source for human salmonellosis, it is not unclear if the finding of contaminated eggs on Malta is related to the upswing of human cases. No information is given regarding the human and egg isolates to assess if they are related. - ProMED Mod. LL]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map of Il-Hamrun, Malta:
Date: Mon 13 Mar 2018
From: Christian Lenart <christian@lenart.at> [edited]

We report a case of _Leishmania donovani_/_L. infantum_ in a 56-year-old man from Austria. He travelled to Malta in June 2017 and complained about itchy, partly exulcerated papules in November 2017. His wife too was suffering from the same lesions but did not consult a dermatologist, since the lesions regressed spontaneously.

The patient first contacted a dermatologist, who performed an excision showing _Leishmania_ negative granulomatous inflammation as a histological result. He was then referred to the dermatological ward of the municipal hospital. The lesions were up to 2 cm [0.8 in] in size, disseminated on all extremities.

Another excision was performed, showing plenty of amastigotes affected macrophages. He then was checked for signs of visceral manifestation, but showed no hepatosplenomegaly. The blood sample showed no conspicuity with normal haematological results and normal CRP [C-reactive protein]. The PCR test for _Leishmania_ sp. DNA was positive.

The Western blot (IgG) was positive as well, whilst immunoaffinity chromatography was negative. Skin biopsy genotyping proved a diagnosis of _Leishmania infantum_/_L.donovani_. Since the patient had multiple lesions treatment with miltefosine was initiated.

Leishmania in Malta
-----------------------------------------
While especially leishmaniasis was quite common in the early 20th century in Malta, there were hardly any cases of cutaneous leishmaniasis at the end of the century. For the last years the incidence has been stable with about 3 to 4 cases of visceral leishmaniasis, VL, per year (1).  In 2012, 3 VL and no CL cases were reported (2). All cases of leishmaniasis are caused by _L. infantum_ in Malta, transmitted from dogs to humans by _Phlebotomus perniciosus_. The 2 identified zymodemes in Malta are MON 1, causing visceral and MON 78, causing cutaneous leishmaniasis (3).

References
---------------------------------------
1. Alvar J, Vélez ID, Bern C, et al and the WHO Leishmaniasis Control Team. Leishmaniasis worldwide and global estimates of its incidence. PLoS One. 2012; 7(5): e35671. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0035671; available at <http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0035671>.
2. Government of Malta, Ministry for Health, the Elderly and Community Care: Annual report 2012; p. 46; available at <https://www.gov.mt/en/Government/Publications/Documents/Annual%20Reports/MHEC.pdf>.
3. Pace D, Williams TN, Grochowska A, et al. Manifestations of paediatric _Leishmania infantum_ infections in Malta. Travel Med Infect Dis. 2011; 9(1):37-46. doi: 10.1016/j.tmaid.2010.11.005; available at <http://www.travelmedicinejournal.com/article/S1477-8939(10)00196-1/fulltext>.
--------------------------------------
Dr Christian Lenart
Department of Emergency Medicine
Krankenhaus Hietzing (Municipal Hospital Vienna-Hietzing)
Austria
christian@lenart.at
===============================
[Leishmaniasis is endemic in Malta and cases imported from Malta to other countries are not unusual. _Leishmania infantum_ usually results in visceral leishmaniasis and the genotyping in this case could not distinguish between _L. donovani_/_L. infantum_. Miltefosine is the drug of choice for cutaneous leishmaniasis. - ProMED Mod.EP]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail maps: Austria: <http://healthmap.org/promed/p/63886> Malta: <http://healthmap.org/promed/p/77>]
Date: Tue, 20 Feb 2018 18:18:07 +0100

Valletta, Feb 20, 2018 (AFP) - Malta International Airport was brought to a standstill on Tuesday by a fire that left flights suspended and hundreds of passengers stranded.   Passengers were evacuated from the airport as smoke billowed through the arrivals and departure lounges, an AFP reporter at the scene said.   Firefighters worked for two hours to put out the small blaze, which began at around 1:15 pm and caused no injuries.

Airport operators said 10 outbound international flights were delayed. They added later in an online statement that operations at the terminal were resuming.   The airport said the blaze broke out in the pump room for the airport's small aquarium, located in the arrivals concourse.   "Terminal operations are now resuming, and Malta International Airport's recovery plan has been activated," it said in a statement in the late afternoon.

Hundreds of passengers were left standing outside the airport and some even on the apron.   One flight to nearby Catania in Sicily was expected to take off 11 hours later than scheduled, according to the departures timetable.   Flights to Stockholm, Cyprus, Krakow, London Gatwick and Dublin were also delayed.   Flights from British airports Heathrow and Gatwick were diverted to Catania.
Date: Fri 24 Feb 2017
Source: Times of Malta [edited]

The meningitis B vaccine shortage [is] likely to persist. Malta will have to wait its turn, manufacturers say. Global demand for the vaccine outstrips supply, manufacturers say.

A one-year-old baby died of [meningococcal] meningitis [serogroup] B, a disease against which vaccines are currently unavailable, this newspaper is informed. Sources said the baby died last month [January 2017] after contracting the disease that affects the lining around the brain and spinal cord. The Central Procurement and Supplies Unit (CPSU) was informed that the local agent for the meningitis B vaccine had a stock of vaccines available in a number of local pharmacies, a Health Ministry spokeswoman said.

The representatives of international pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) in Malta were in liaison with their suppliers to hasten further delivery, and the CPSU was in liaison with both companies to monitor the situation, the spokeswoman added.

The ministry was also asked about the baby's death, but no reference was made to it in its reply late yesterday [23 Feb 2017] evening.

The government does not supply the vaccine against the specific strain that affected the infant, which can, however, be purchased from private hospitals and pharmacies. Paediatricians said private hospitals had purchased the vaccine from pharmacies abroad, but these too had since run out.

According to one paediatrician, the unavailability of such a vaccine in light of the baby's death was very worrying, particularly to parents. Another paediatrician, however, warned against the matter getting out of hand, saying the issue was not as worrying as parents were making it out to be. Babies who were not vaccinated were not in any immediate danger, he said.

A spokeswoman for the local representative of GSK confirmed that the vaccine was not available and it would not be for some time. She said no fixed date had yet been given as to when a supply would be made available to the local market. According to the spokeswoman, the vaccine was in high demand all over the world, and as GSK [GlaxoSmithKline] had agreements with a number of governments abroad, supplies would be shipped to these countries 1st. At present, demand exceeded the quantity manufactured.

"It's important to understand that, in these cases, we need to stock enough for boosters, so before sufficient doses are available, this will not be made available," the GSK spokeswoman said.

According to the Maltese Paediatric Association, about 10 cases of meningitis have been reported among children. The signs of meningitis are fever, severe headache, neck stiffness, vomiting, dislike of bright light and drowsiness. Infants and younger children may not always show such symptoms but, instead, feed poorly or become very lethargic.  [Byline: Claire Caruana]
===================
[Although there are at least 13 _ Neisseria meningitidis_ serogroups, based on the antigenic specificity of their capsular polysaccharides, disease due to serogroups A, B, C, Y, and W is most common. Meningococcal vaccines contain capsular polysaccharide for _Neisseria meningitidis_ serogroups A, C, Y, and W, either alone or conjugated to protein. The conjugate capsular polysaccharide vaccines are preferable, because, unlike the polysaccharide vaccines, conjugate vaccines immunize infants, reduce the carriage of meningococci in the throat and thus its transmission, as well as confer a more sustained immune response, and, therefore, longer-term protection than the polysaccharide vaccines.

Serogroup B vaccines are based upon meningococcal B outer membrane vesicle protein antigens, because group B polysaccharide is poorly immunogenic in humans and is a potential auto-antigen. At least 2 serogroup B meningococcal vaccines -- Bexsero (GlaxoSmithKline, GSK) and Trumenba (Pfizer) -- are available.

Meningococcal disease often occurs without warning and frequently progresses rapidly to death, even when it is treated appropriately. In addition, about 10-20 percent of survivors of meningococcal disease will suffer disabilities such as hearing loss, brain damage, and amputations. Vaccines are used to prevent meningococcal disease, not treat someone already ill from the disease. Immunity following use of a meningococcal vaccine is specific for the type of capsular polysaccharide the vaccine contains regarding the A, C, Y, and W polysaccharide or conjugate vaccines or the surface proteins regarding serogroup B vaccines, with no cross-protection against infection due to other meningococcal groups.

Vaccines are frequently used to prevent spread of meningococcal disease in the face of an institutional or community outbreak (<https://www.cdc.gov/meningococcal/downloads/interim-guidance.pdf>). Antibiotics are also used to prevent spread of meningococcal disease in persons who are at high risk because they have been in close contact (coughing or kissing) or lengthy contact, especially among people living in the same household.

According to the 2017 Malta National Immunization Schedule, meningococcal vaccines are not included in the series of vaccines for infants and children (<https://health.gov.mt/en/phc/pchyhi/Pages/National-Immunisation-Schedule.aspx>). In the U.S., vaccination against meningococcal disease due to serogroups A, C, Y, and W is only recommended for children aged 2 months through 10 years who are at increased risk for meningococcal disease, i.e., have complement component deficiencies, have functional or anatomic asplenia (including sickle cell disease), are in the risk group for an outbreak for which vaccination is recommended, or are traveling to or residing in regions where meningitis is epidemic or hyper-endemic (for specifics, see Table at <https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm6324a2.htm#Tab>). The serogroup B vaccines Bexsero and Trumenba have been licensed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) only for individuals aged 10 through 25 years. However, the European Medicines Agency has approved Bexsero for use in individuals of 2 months of age and older, and Bexsero has been added to the routine childhood immunization schedule in the UK and Ireland (<http://www.meningitis.org/menb-vaccine>).

Malta, a member of the EU, is a southern European island country consisting of an archipelago in the Mediterranean Sea, 80 km (50 miles) south of Italy, with a population of just under 450,000 residents (<https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Malta>). - ProMED Mod.ML]

[A HealthMap/ProMED-mail map can be accessed at:
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World Travel News Headlines

Date: Mon, 14 Oct 2019 11:08:10 +0200 (METDST)

Manila, Oct 14, 2019 (AFP) - Parents lined up from sunrise holding sleeping infants as the Philippines launched a campaign on Monday to vaccinate millions of children against polio, which has re-emerged nearly two decades after the nation's last cases.   Years of falling vaccination rates, made worse by the botched rollout of a dengue vaccine, culminated in an outbreak of the preventable disease in September.   "This is for the welfare of my child," Ruth Miranda told AFP after the vaccine was squirted into her child's mouth at the Manila slum they call home.

Miranda's child is among scores who are unprotected in the capital of about 13 million people, where vaccination rates of young children plunged from 77 percent in 2016 to a mere 24 percent in June.   The atmosphere at the event in Manila was festive -- with ice cream vendors and music -- but the stakes for the campaign are high.

Polio, which can cause paralysis and can be fatal in rare cases, has no cure and can only be prevented with several doses of oral and injectable vaccines.   Two cases were detected in September, the first polio infections in the Philippines since 2001, adding to the woes of a country already hit by deadly measles and dengue epidemic.   The risk of the disease spreading within the Philippines is high, according to World Health Organization, due to low immunisation coverage partly blamed to a dengue vaccine scandal.

The Philippines was the first nation to use Dengvaxia in a mass programme in 2016, but a botched rollout led to claims that children had died after being vaccinated.   A dramatic drop in vaccine confidence followed, with trust plunging from 93 percent in 2015 to 32 percent in 2018, according to a study led by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.   The Philippines polio outbreak has been traced back to the weakened form of the virus used in vaccines, which is excreted by people for a time after they receive it.   According to the WHO, that form can mutate and spread in the surrounding community when immunisation rates get too low.
Date: Mon, 14 Oct 2019 10:25:38 +0200 (METDST)
By Shingo ITO, Sara HUSSEIN

Tokyo, Oct 14, 2019 (AFP) - Tens of thousands of rescue workers in Japan battled on Monday to find survivors of a powerful typhoon that killed at least 43 people, as fresh rain threatened to hamper efforts.   Typhoon Hagibis crashed into the country on Saturday night, unleashing high winds and torrential rain across 36 of the country's 47 prefectures, and triggering landslides and catastrophic flooding.   "Even now, many people are still unaccounted for in the disaster-hit area," Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told an emergency disaster meeting on Monday.   "Units are trying their best to search for and rescue them, working day and night," Abe said.

But even as rescuers, including troops, combed through debris, the country's weather agency forecast rain in central and eastern Japan that it warned could cause further flooding and new landslides.   "I would like to ask people to stay fully vigilant and continue watching for landslides and river flooding," Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a news conference.   In Nagano, one of the worst-hit regions, rain was already falling and was expect to intensify.   "We are concerned about the impact of the latest rain on rescue and recovery efforts," local official Hiroki Yamaguchi told AFP.   "We will continue operations while watching out for secondary disasters due to the current rain."

- 43 dead, 16 missing: NHK -
By late Monday afternoon, national broadcaster NHK said the toll had risen to 43 dead, with 16 others missing and over 200 people injured. The government gave lower figures but was continuing to update its information.   The dead included a municipal worker whose car was overcome by floodwaters and at least seven crew from a cargo ship that sank in Tokyo Bay on Saturday night, a coast guard spokesman said.   Four others, from China, Myanmar and Vietnam, were rescued when the boat sank and the coast guard was still searching for a last crew member.   While Hagibis, one of the most powerful storms to hit the Tokyo area in decades, packed wind gusts of up to 216 kilometres (134 miles) per hour, it was the heavy rains that caused most damage.

A total of 142 rivers flooded, mainly in eastern and northern Japan, with river banks collapsing in two dozen places, local media said.   In central Nagano, a levee breach sent water from the Chikuma river gushing into residential neighbourhoods, flooding homes up to the second floor.   As water slowly receded Monday, television footage showed patients being transferred by ambulance from a Nagano hospital where some 200 people had been cut off by flooding.   Elsewhere, rescuers used helicopters to winch survivors from roofs and balconies, or steered boats through muddy waters to reach those trapped.

- Japan dedicates rugby win to victims -
By Monday afternoon, some 75,900 households remained without power, with 120,000 experiencing water outages.   The disaster left tens of thousands of people in shelters, with many unsure when they would be able to return home.   "Everything from my house was washed away before my eyes, I wasn't sure if it was a dream or real," a woman in Nagano told NHK.   "I feel lucky I'm still alive."   The storm brought travel chaos over the holiday weekend, grounding flights and halting commuter and bullet train services.

By Monday, most subway trains had resumed service, along with many bullet train lines, and flights had also restarted.   The storm also brought havoc to the sporting world, forcing the delay of Japanese Grand Prix qualifiers and the cancellation of three Rugby World Cup matches.   But a crucial decider pitting Japan against Scotland went ahead, with the hosts dedicating their stunning 28-21 win to the victims of the disaster.   "To everyone that's suffering from the typhoon, this game was for you guys," said Japan captain Michael Leitch.
Date: Sun, 13 Oct 2019 23:31:57 +0200 (METDST)

Kinshasa, Oct 13, 2019 (AFP) - Doctors will use a second Ebola vaccine from November in three eastern provinces in the Democratic Republic of Congo to fight the deadly virus, medical officials said Sunday.   "It's time to use the new Ad26-ZEBOV-GP vaccine, manufactured by Johnson & Johnson's Belgian subsidiary," said Dr. Jean-Jacques Muyembe, who leads the national anti-Ebola operation in the DRC.    It will arrive in the eastern city of Goma, in North Kivu province, on October 18 and be used from the beginning of next month, he added.   DRC's latest Ebola epidemic, which began in August 2018, has killed 2,144 people, making it the second deadliest outbreak of the virus, after the West Africa pandemic of 2014-2016.

Muyembe said the communes of Majingo and Kahembe had been selected to receive the vaccine as they were considered the epicentres of the epidemic.   "We will extend this vaccination to our small traders who often go to Rwanda to protect our neighbours," he added.   "If it works well, we will expand vaccination in South Kivu and Ituri."   DR Congo's eastern provinces of Ituri, North Kivu and South Kivu sit on the borders with Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi.   The Belgian laboratory will send a batch of 200,000 doses to neighbouring Rwanda and 500,000 doses in the DRC, Muyembe said.   More than 237,000 people living in active Ebola transmission zones have received a vaccination produced by the pharma company Merck Sharpe and Dohme since August 8, 2018. 

The J&J vaccine had been rejected by DRC's former health minister Oly Ilunga, who cited the risks of introducing a new product in communities where mistrust of Ebola responders is already high.   But Ilunga's resignation in July appears to have paved the way for approval of the second vaccine. He currently faces charges that he embezzled funds intended for the fight against Ebola.   In his letter of resignation Ilunga said "actors who have demonstrated a lack of ethics" want to introduce a second vaccine, but did not elaborate.    Muyembe, who took over the Ebola fight in the DRC in July, said "The Johnson & Johnson vaccine has the most science-based data."
Date: Thu, 10 Oct 2019 20:02:59 +0200 (METDST)
By Robbie COREY-BOULET

Addis Ababa, Oct 10, 2019 (AFP) - A palace that once housed Ethiopia's emperors and also served as a torture site under the communist Derg regime is to open to the public in a controversial government tourism project.    The palace compound in Addis Ababa, which Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed's government has rebranded "Unity Park", was formally launched Thursday and will be open from Friday.    Abiy's office said on Twitter Thursday that the project "symbolises our ability to come together".

But critics have dismissed it as vanity project for Abiy that could prove divisive.   Backed by the United Arab Emirates, the project cost more than $160 million (145 million euros), Ethiopian officials told reporters at a briefing earlier this week.    Built in the late 1800s by Emperor Menelik II, who founded Addis Ababa, the palace was the residence of Ethiopia's rulers for more than a century.   Abiy himself does not live there, and it has seen little activity in recent years.    Abiy's advisers say he has taken a keen interest in transforming the palace into a tourist attraction since coming to power in April 2018 -- visiting the site every day in recent weeks to monitor progress.

The government's "Home-Grown Economic Reform" agenda, unveiled last month, describes tourism as a primary engine of potential job creation.    On Thursday, government officials and the diplomatic corps toured the expansive site before attending a banquet that was expected to draw five regional heads of state and other dignitaries.    The restored rooms feature items like Menelik's sword and a life-size wax replica of former Emperor Haile Selassie, who lived at the palace and was then etained there after the Derg overthrew him in 1974.

The site also includes a sculpture garden with installations representing Ethiopia's nine regions, and a zoo is expected to open by the end of the year.    Aklilu Fikresilassie, an Ethiopian employee of the United Nations who attended the launch Thursday, said he was "really fascinated" to set foot inside a place that had been closed to the public his entire life.    "For us it's like a government house, so now when you enter that palace it tells you that we are getting somehow closer to our leaders," he said.

But not everyone is convinced the palace will succeed in bringing Ethiopians together.   In a country grappling with ethnic divisions, some worry that the palace could alienate ethnic Oromos who contend that their ancestors were forced off their land when Addis Ababa was built.    Journalist and former political prisoner Eskinder Nega said the renovations were undertaken "without consultation from the public", which he called "a huge mistake."    "This is all about heritage, about preserving heritage. The people should have had a say in it," he said.    "Like everything else this was decided from the top and implemented only by the decision of the prime minister."
Date: Thu, 10 Oct 2019 13:13:57 +0200 (METDST)

Hanoi, Oct 10, 2019 (AFP) - Selfie-snapping tourists railed against the closure of Hanoi's 'train street' on Thursday after police blocked off the Instragram-famous tracks for safety reasons.   The narrow railway corridor in central Hanoi has become a hotspot among visitors seeking the perfect holiday snap on the tracks -- often dodging trains that rumble through daily.    But Hanoi authorities said this week they would block people from the tracks to avoid accidents, and police on Thursday erected barricades to keep out disappointed visitors.    "I'm very frustrated because today I can't go in and take a picture," Malaysian tourist Mustaza bin Mustapha told AFP, vowing to come back later.

Dozens of other tourists were turned away, though some managed to get onto still-open sections of the railway, moving out of the way as an afternoon train chugged past.    Built by former colonial rulers, the railway once shipped goods and people across France's former Indochina colony and remains in use today by communist Vietnam's state-run railway company.    The stretch of the tracks was once known as a rough part of town, occupied by drug users and squatters until their recent discovery by camera-wielding holidaymakers who have splashed images of the area across social media.

Cafe owners complained that business would be hurt thanks to the new regulations, and that tourists always moved out of the way for oncoming trains.   "There has never been any regretful accidents here," said Le Tuan Anh, who runs a cafe from his home along the tracks.   "Compared to traffic density elsewhere in the city, this is much safer," he said, referring to Hanoi's chaotic, motorbike-clogged streets.   New signs were installed in the area Thursday, warning passersby not to take photos or videos in the "dangerous area", much to the chagrin of British tourist Harriet Hayes.   "People come from all over the world to Hanoi just to see the train go past," she told AFP.   "It's such a shame that we come and have been told that we have to leave."
Date: Thu, 10 Oct 2019 06:51:42 +0200 (METDST)
By Holly ROBERTSON

Sydney, Oct 10, 2019 (AFP) - Large numbers of tourists are rushing to scale Uluru -- also known as Ayers Rock -- ahead of a looming ban on climbing a site sacred to indigenous Australians.   Photographs of hundreds of people clambering up the giant red monolith have provoked a social media backlash, with critics lashing as "ignorant" those going against the wishes of the traditional Aboriginal owners of the land, the Anangu.   "A mass of morally and ethically bankrupt people," indigenous woman Laura McBride tweeted alongside an image showing a queue of people snaking up the side of Uluru.    "One even hiking a toddler up, teaching the next generation how to be ignorant."   "Imagine rushing to climb Uluru before it closes just so you could brag about disrespecting the oldest living culture in the world," tweeted National Indigenous Television journalist Madeline Hayman-Reber, who called the scenes "embarrassing".

Officials say the ban, which comes into effect on October 26, is intended to show respect for cultural practices, protect the site from further environmental damage and to ensure visitors' safety.    More than 395,000 people visited the Uluru-Kata National Park in the 12 months to June 2019, according to Parks Australia, about 20 percent more than the previous year. Around 13 percent of those who visited during that period made the climb, park authorities said.    More recent figures are not available but Tourism Central Australia CEO Stephen Schwer said there had been a "significant jump" in the number of people visiting in recent weeks, with the period leading up to the ban coinciding in part with school holidays.   "Its been very busy, particularly down in the national park precinct itself," he told AFP.   "We've had quite an issue with accommodation availability, because there's a lot of people want to climb Uluru before it closes. It's been a busier than normal holiday period."   Japanese visitors and Australians on driving holidays were most likely to want to scale Uluru, Schwer said, though he urged them not to do so.

Australian tourist Belinda Moore, 33, drove to Uluru from her home in central Queensland state to ascend the rock, an experience she said she "absolutely loved".   "It's always been something to tick off the bucket list and when we heard it was closing, we knew it was now or never," she told AFP.   Moore said she did not think her climb was disrespectful to traditional owners as she was not Aboriginal.    "It may be for their own people, because it's their sacred site," she said.   "I'm pretty sad that they're closing it, but it's still amazing just to see it. I would still recommend it."   The climb will be permanently closed as of October 26, the anniversary of ownership being handed back to the Anangu people.

Uluru has great spiritual and cultural significance to indigenous Australians, with their connection to the site dating back tens of thousands of years.   Though visitor numbers were expected to decline once the ban was in place, Schwer said local tourism operators were "not particularly concerned" as it would return the area to normality.   "People need to remember that in central Australia we're a very interconnected community," he said. "The people who are requesting the climb closure are our friends and colleagues.   "We're just looking forward to being able to have the climb consigned to the annals of history."
Date: Wed, 9 Oct 2019 22:01:17 +0200 (METDST)

Kinshasa, Oct 9, 2019 (AFP) - Six people were killed in the Democratic Republic of Congo after torrential rains hit the capital Kinshasa, flooding several neighbourhoods. a local official said.    The bodies were found between Tuesday night and Wednesday morning.    Five people were killed in the capital's Selembao municipality where around 30 houses collapsed, local mayor Augustin Mankesi told Top Congo radio station.   One woman died in the Pelende district after she was electrocuted, he added.    "Our community is stricken," Mankesi added, calling on the Congolese authorities for help.   Fatal floods and rains are frequent in Kinshasa. In January last year 48 people were killed in landslides, floods and after houses collapsed, according to authorities.    Residents told AFP the road from the sea port district of Matadi to the Kinshasa turnoff has been closed due to erosion caused by the rain.    The passage is Kinshasa's main supply route for imported goods and also serves as an exit point for exports.
Date: Tue, 8 Oct 2019 04:13:25 +0200 (METDST)
By Margioni BERMÚDEZ

Caracas, Oct 8, 2019 (AFP) - The small waiting room at the home of self-styled healer "Brother Guayanes" in Caracas' rundown Petare district fills up quickly with patients -- business has never been better.   With Venezuela's chronic medicine shortages and hyperinflation, more and more people are turning to alternative medicine to treat common ailments in the crisis-wracked South American country.   "We go to the hospital and there's nothing there. They don't have medicines, or they're too expensive, what are we to do?" said Rosa Saez, 77, who has come to get treatment for a painful arm.   Carlos Rosales -- he uses the more ceremonious "Brother Guayanes" for his business -- is finishing up a "spiritual intervention" on a patient in what passes for his surgery.   The patient lies, eyes closed, on a cot as, in a series of swishes and clicks, the healer waves five pairs of scissors one after another over his prone body.    The healer says he performs 200 such interventions a week in a dim, candle-lit room that features two camp beds and an array of plaster statues that Rosales says represent "spiritual entities".   A regular visitor to the spiritual center, Saez says she has faith in Rosales' methods: "He healed my kidneys."

- Natural healing -
All across Venezuela, but particularly in poor areas like Petare, patients cannot hope to afford the price of medicines that due to the economic crisis, have become exceedingly rare.  Venezuela's pharmacists' federation say pharmacies and hospitals have on average only about 20 percent of the medicine stock needed.   Rosales' clinic is muggy with the smell of tobacco. A crucifix suspended from a chain around his neck, he practices a seeming mixture of smoke-blowing shamanism, plant-based medicine and mainstream religion.    Posters hung near the entrance remind clients to arrive with a candle and tobacco and "Don't forget that payment is in cash".   Much like a general practitioner, Rosales spends time consulting with his patients, examining them with a stethoscope, before offering a diagnosis. Often he prescribes potions based on plants and fruit, such as pineapple and a type of local squash known as chayote.   "We know medicines are necessary," he says. "I'm not against medicine, but my medicine is botany."

- Plants replace drugs -
At her stall in a downtown Caracas market, 72-year-old Lilia Reyes says she has seen her trade in medicinal plants flourish.   "I can't keep up with the demand," she said at her stall, bathed in the aroma of camomile, one of the 150 plants she sells.   Careless consumption of some herbs can be deadly, warns Grismery Morillo. A doctor at a Caracas public hospital, she says she has seen many cases of acute liver failure in people who have eaten certain roots.   According to Venezuela's opposition parties, some 300,000 chronically ill people are in danger of dying from the shortages of medicines.

But despite the risks, people like Carmen Teresa say they have no alternative.    In the kitchen of her restaurant which closed down three years ago as the economic crisis took hold, the 58-year-old Colombian prepares an infusion of fig leaves to treat "diabetic neuropathy".   The painkillers needed for the condition are "too expensive" and prices are going up due to hyperinflation, so she is cutting back on the pills and supplementing her treatment with herbal infusions.   She needs at least four tablets a day to keep her diabetes at bay. Her mother, bedridden since breaking a leg a year ago, suffers from Alzheimer's disease and needs five pills a day for hypertension.   "I'm still taking my pills, but I reduced the dose," says Teresa, who is also replacing cholesterol pills with lemon juice.
Date: Sun, 6 Oct 2019 12:04:37 +0200 (METDST)

Riyadh, Oct 6, 2019 (AFP) - Saudi Arabia announced Sunday it would allow unmarried foreign couples to rent hotel rooms together as the ultraconservative kingdom begins offering up tourist visas for the first time.   The tourism authority said in a statement published on Twitter that Saudi women travelling alone would also be able to check into a hotel by presenting valid ID.

In the past, couples wanting to stay in a hotel had to prove they were married.    "This is no longer required for tourists," the statement said.   Saudi Arabia announced on September 27 it was opening its doors to holidaymakers with the goal of diversifying its oil-dependent economy.   The kingdom had previously only issued visas to Muslim pilgrims, foreign workers, and recently to spectators at sporting or cultural events.

Kickstarting tourism is one of the centrepieces of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's Vision 2030 reform programme to prepare the biggest Arab economy for a post-oil era.   Citizens from 49 countries are now eligible for online e-visas or visas on arrival, including the United States, Australia and several European nations.   On September 28, Saudi authorities warned that tourists who violated "public decency", including with immodest clothing and public displays of affection, would be subject to fines.
Date: Sat, 5 Oct 2019 03:30:17 +0200 (METDST)
By Giovanna FLEITAS

Petorca, Chile, Oct 5, 2019 (AFP) - For Erick Hurtado, the worst thing about the drought that has devastated his family farm in Chile is the dead animals.   "Going out and seeing the animals dead on the ground is so horrible," Hurtado says as he gazes across the dusty paddocks of his farm in Petorca, near the coastal city of Valparaiso.

Farmers are counting the cost of one of the driest austral winters in six decades, which has destroyed crops and left tens of thousands of farm animals dead in the fields of central Chile.   Hurtado's farm, owned by his grandfather, has lost half its 60 head of cattle.   So far, 106,000 animals have died due to lack of water and fodder, mostly goats, cattle and sheep, according to the agriculture ministry.   President Sebastian Pinera, who last month announced a $5 billion plan to improve water distribution, this week set up a crisis group of government agencies to tackle the water crisis, which he said had become "more extensive and more intense."

In Colina, north of the capital Santiago, the drought has been hard on small farmers. Scrawny cattle pick at sprigs of strawy grass on pastures that have turned to dust. Cows, goats and horses roam hungry on hills have turned to a dry muddy brown.   "The drought has been disastrous for us," said Sandra Aguilar. Her family owned about a hundred head of cattle. Today, only half survive thanks to a trickle of water provided by a neighbor who still has some reserves.   "The situation is complicated," said Javier Maldonado, governor of the province of Chacabuco, where several agricultural areas have been hit particularly hard by the drought.    "We have to be realistic, climate change is here to stay," he said.

- Water shortages -
Dominga Mondaca points out the deep fissures that run through the garden behind her house in the village of La Ligua near Valparaiso. The garden used to be full of strawberries and citrus trees; now it's cracked earth.    "We have had many years with little water. But the last year, it didn't rain at all," said the 73-year-old, one of more than 600,000 people the government is supplying by tanker trucks as part of emergency measures.   She says she has had to give up raising chickens, in order to keep what little water she and her husband receive for their own consumption, washing and cleaning. Whatever is left, she uses to sprinkle on herbs in a small kitchen garden.   The agriculture ministry says 37,000 family farms need assistance in the central Chile.

- Thirsty avocados? -
In Petorca, some rivers have run dry, and the landscape has been left parched, but lush avocado and citrus plantations are nevertheless thriving.   Locals in Petorca say the real, long-term problem is the mismanagement of water resources.    "There is an excess of monoculture plantations that consume all the water," said Diego Soto of the Movement for the Defense of Access to Water, Land and Environmental Protection (MODATIMA) told AFP.   Avocados need a lot of water to grow, said Soto.   "An avocado tree needs 600 liters of water per week, whereas humans consume 50 liters a day, or 350 liters a week," he said.   Producers refute these figures and say the real problem is a lack of infrastructure to store water, both above and below ground.    "The avocado is not a crop that needs more water," insisted Francisco Contardo, chairman of the local producers' committee.   Avocados are a key export for Chile, mostly to the US and China, but drought has reduced exports by 25 percent.

- Less snow -
For many though, the changes being wrought by climate change are overwhelmingly obvious. Snow in the highlands of central Chile was relatively scarce this year.    Scientists predict an average decrease of between five and 10 percent snowfall every 10 years in almost the entire Andes mountains, one of the country's main sources of water.   "The central zone of Chile is highly dependent on the summer melt season, its snow and glaciers, which means that if the snow cover is reduced, there is also a reduction in the availability of water resources," said Paul Cordero, climate change expert at the University of Santiago.   Weak snowfall forced the country's main ski resorts to use artificial snow machines much earlier and more often this season than in previous years.    "Chile has been living as if it were a country with an abundance of water," said Pinera.   "Climate change and global warming have changed this situation probably forever."