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New Zealand

New Zealand US Consular Information Sheet
September 22, 2008
COUNTRY DESCRIPTION:
New Zealand is a highly developed, stable parliamentary democracy, which recognizes the British monarch as sovereign. It has a modern economy, and tourist fa
ilities are widely available. The New Zealand Tourist Board, which has a wide range of information of interest to travelers, can be contacted via the internet at http://www.newzealand.com/USA/.
Read the Department of State Background Note on New Zealand for additional information.

ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS:
U.S. citizens eligible for a visa waiver do not need a visa for tourist stays of three months or less. For more information about visa waivers and entry requirements, contact the Embassy of New Zealand: 37 Observatory Circle NW, Washington, DC 20008, telephone (202) 328-4800; or the Consulate General of New Zealand in Los Angeles: 2425 Olympic Blvd Suite 600E, Santa Monica, CA 90404, telephone (310) 566-6555.
Visit the Consulate of New Zealand web site at http://www.nzcgla.com 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:
U.S. citizens in New Zealand should review their personal security practices, be alert to any unusual activity around their homes or businesses, and report any significant incidents to local police.

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 other callers, 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 personal security while traveling overseas.
For general information about appropriate measures travelers can take to protect themselves overseas, see the Department of State’s pamphlet A Safe Trip Abroad.

CRIME:
Crime rates in New Zealand are low but have increased in recent years. The most prevalent crime is theft or attempted theft from cars, camper vans and hostels. To help protect against theft, do not leave passports, or other valuable items in unattended vehicles. Violent crime against tourists is unusual; however, visitors who are traveling alone should be especially vigilant, and avoid isolated areas that are not frequented by the public.

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.
In New Zealand, a private organization called Victim Support works both independently and with the NZ Police to assist victims of crime. Victim Support is available 24 hours per day on 0800-842-846, 0800-Victim, by email at victim@xtra.co.nz.

The local equivalent to the “911” emergency line in New Zealand is 111.
See our information on Victims of Crime.

MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION: Quality medical care is widely available, but waiting lists exist for certain types of treatment.
High-quality medication (both over-the-counter and prescription) is widely available at local pharmacies, though the products’ names may differ from the American versions.
Serious medical problems requiring hospitalization and/or medical evacuation to the United States can cost thousands of dollars. Doctors and hospitals often expect immediate 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); fax 1-888-CDC-FAXX (1-888-232-3299), 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/.

The U.S. Department of State is unaware of any HIV/AIDS entry restrictions for visitors to or foreign residents of New Zealand.
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 New Zealand is provided for general reference only.

All traffic travels on the left in New Zealand, and drivers should exercise extra caution if accustomed to driving on the right. Driving on the wrong side of the road is a leading cause of serious injury and death for American tourists.
Cars turning left must yield to oncoming cars that are turning right.
Proceed carefully through intersections.
Red means “stop”—do not turn at a red light.

New Zealand has only 100 miles of multilane divided motorways. Most intercity travel is accomplished on two lane roads.
While these are in good condition, New Zealand's rugged terrain means motorists often encounter sharper curves and steeper grades than those found in the U.S. interstate highway system. Renting a car or camper is a popular way to enjoy New Zealand's natural beauty, but visitors unfamiliar with local conditions should drive particularly conservatively.
Posted speed limit signs should be observed. Drivers should use caution to avoid animals when driving in rural areas.

Pedestrians are advised to look carefully in all directions before crossing a street or roadway, and to use crosswalks.
Pedestrians do not have the right of way except in crosswalks.
New Zealand law requires that cars yield to pedestrians in a crosswalk, and that cars stop at least two meters (approximately 6 feet) from a crosswalk that is in use.

Traffic circles are common throughout New Zealand.
When approaching a traffic circle, always yield to traffic coming from the right –noting that traffic already in the circle has the right-of-way-- and merge to the left into the circle.

Public transportation, including buses, trains and taxis, is for the most part reliable and safe.
In case of emergency, phone the local police at 111.

Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information.
For specific information concerning the operation and rental of motor vehicles, contact the New Zealand Tourist Board via the Internet at http://www.newzealand.com/USA/ or the Land Transport Safety Authority at http://www.ltsa.govt.nz.

AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT:
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the Government of New Zealand’s Civil Aviation Authority as being in compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards for oversight of New Zealand’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:
Some heavily populated parts of New Zealand are in areas of very high seismic activity. General information regarding disaster preparedness is available from the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) at http://www.fema.gov.

Many tourists come to New Zealand to participate in extreme adventure sports, such as bungee jumping, sky diving, hiking, rappelling, climbing, motorcycling, and kayaking.
All too often, injuries and even death result from participation in such activities.
Travelers are advised to employ caution and common sense when engaging in adventure sports.
Never participate in such sports alone, always carry identification, and let someone else know where you are at all times.
Before kayaking, check the river conditions and wear a life jacket.
When hiking, rappelling, or climbing, carry a first aid kit, know the location of the nearest rescue center, and bring a friend along.

New Zealand is an island nation, and the government is serious about preserving its delicate ecosystem.
The Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry (MAF) imposes strict regulations regarding what can be imported into New Zealand.
People failing to declare goods that could be quarantined can be fined up to $100,000 NZ and/or face up to five years in prison. People failing to declare risk goods such as fresh fruit, seeds, and plants can receive an instant fine of $200 NZ.
When importing a pet, thorough veterinary documentation and a quarantine period are required.
Unfinished wood products, used hiking shoes and gardening tools, fresh food items, and items such as used pet carriers may be seized and destroyed by MAF.
More information can be found at http://www.biosecurity.govt.nz/personal-travel-belongings-and-mail/arriving-by-air/what-you-cannot-bring
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 New Zealand laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned.
Penalties for possession of, use of, or trafficking in illegal drugs in New Zealand 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 New Zealand 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 New Zealand.
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 in Wellington is located at 29 Fitzherbert Terrace, Thorndon, Wellington.
The telephone number is (64) (4) 462-6000.
The fax number is (64) (4) 471-2380.
The Embassy’s web site is http://wellington.usembassy.gov.
The U.S. Embassy in Wellington does not have a consular section and thus cannot provide consular services to American citizens.
All consular services for American citizens are provided by the Consulate General in Auckland.
The U.S. Consulate General in Auckland is located on the third floor of the Citigroup Centre, 23 Customs Street East, between Commerce and Queen Streets. The telephone number is (64) (9) 303-2724. The fax number is (64) (9) 366-0870.
See information on services to Americans at http://wellington.usembassy.gov/service.html.
The Consulate General in Auckland handles all consular matters in New Zealand.

For after-hours emergencies anywhere in New Zealand, a duty officer can be contacted by telephone. Persons seeking after-hours assistance may call (64) (4) 462-6000; after listening to a brief recording, the caller may leave a message on the voice mail system, describing the nature of the emergency and giving a point of contact. The phone system will automatically call the duty officer in Wellington or in Auckland, who will listen to the message and take the appropriate action .
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This replaces the Country Specific Information dated January 31, 2008, to update the Information for Victims of Crime, Medical Facilities and Health Information sections.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Wed, 5 Feb 2020 02:27:15 +0100 (MET)

Wellington, Feb 5, 2020 (AFP) - Severe flooding forced thousands of residents in New Zealand's South Island to flee their homes on Wednesday and left hundreds of tourists stranded at the remote Milford Sound beauty spot.   The Southland region declared a state of emergency after being deluged with more than 1,000 mm of rainfall in 60 hours, triggering landslides on major roads and causing rivers to burst their banks.

Authorities told residents in the low-lying areas of Gore and Mataura to evacuate immediately early on Wednesday as floodwaters in the Mataura river peaked, warning those further downstream in Wyndham to prepare to leave.   "We have issued notices to evacuate and to prepare to evacuate to 6,000 people across the region," an Emergency Management Southland (EMS) spokeswoman told AFP.

Residents were advised to grab medication, clothing and identification documents, then head to higher ground.   Power to affected areas was cut off as a precaution and evacuation centres were set up in local churches and schools.

Floodwaters washed away sections of the only road to Milford Sound, a popular hiking spot for international tourists, and EMS said almost 200 people were being airlifted to nearby Te Anau.   "The tourists... have been well catered for," it said.   "Morale has been high amongst the visitors and staff, as they received regular briefings and have been in contact with friends and family."   Only two minor injuries have been reported after a landslide hit a hut on the Routeburn walking track, with both people receiving treatment at the scene.
Date: Fri 24 Jan 2020
Source: Stuff [abridged, edited]

Authorities have sounded the alarm after a passenger infected with measles flew from Auckland to Tonga [and returned] in recent days.

People who were on the flights should be on guard for signs of the highly infectious disease, Auckland Regional Public Health Service (ARPHS) medical officer of health Maria Poynter said.

The same measles patient flew from Auckland to Tonga and back over 2 days.

[See URL for flights.]
Date: Wed 8 Jan 2020
Source: Stuff [abridged, edited]

More than 2400 people travelling on the Interislander over the holidays may have been exposed to measles. A child, whose family had chosen not to vaccinate, likely contracted the measles in Auckland, then crossed Cook Strait on the Interislander's Kaitaki ferry twice during the holiday period.

There were 1219 passengers on the 1st crossing and 1220 passengers on the 2nd. KiwiRail, which runs the Interislander, became aware of the issue after the Canterbury District Health Board (CDHB) publicly notified the case on Tuesday [7 Jan 2020].

The CDHB urged people who had not been vaccinated and may have come into contact with the child to isolate themselves. "We are contacting all passengers and crew who travelled on the 2 affected sailings to provide health advice from the Canterbury District Health Board," KiwiRail tourism and marketing executive general manager Ahleen Rayner said.  [See URL above for locations, dates of possible exposure.]  [Byline: Oliver Lewis]
Date: Fri 27 Dec 2019
Source: NZ Herald [abridged, edited]

A total of 7 new cases of measles have been confirmed in Hawke's Bay in the past 2 weeks, taking the total to 26 for the year [2019]. Hawke's Bay District Health Board Medical Officer of Health Dr. Rachel Eyre said the new cases were linked to an infant too young to be immunised, who had been hospitalised recently.

"Public health has worked hard over the Christmas break to identify other close contacts to identify those not immune (protected against measles) because of the high likelihood they could get it too," she said. Dr. Eyre said, as the cases were all closely linked, any risk to the wider general public was low.  [Byline: Christian Fuller]
Date: Fri, 13 Dec 2019 05:24:44 +0100 (MET)
By Neil SANDS

Wellington, Dec 13, 2019 (AFP) - Adventure tourism is a key part of New Zealand's international appeal but the White Island volcano eruption is a tragic reminder that such activities carry genuine risk that must be better explained to travellers, experts say.   The South Pacific nation offers a wealth of adrenaline-fuelled pursuits, from heli-skiiing on snow-capped mountains to ballooning and blackwater rafting through caves.

Some, such as bungee-jumping, jet-boating and zorbing -- where you hurl yourself down a hill inside an inflatable ball -- were invented or popularised in a country that prides itself on catering to intrepid visitors.   The tourism industry as a whole is among New Zealand's biggest earners, generating about NZ$16.2 billion ($10.7 billion) and attracting 3.8 million international visitors annually.     "Adventure tourism is a massive sector in New Zealand. We are promoting ourselves as the adventure capital of the world," professor Michael Lueck, a tourism expert at Auckland University of Technology, told AFP.

New Zealand is also renowned for its rugged landscapes, which feature prominently films such as Kiwi director Peter Jackson's "Lord of the Rings".   Day-trips to White Island combined both, taking tourists including cruise ship passengers to a desolately beautiful island off the North Island coast where they could experience the thrill of standing on an active volcano.   Instead, at least 16 people are believed to have died and dozens suffered horrific burns when 47 tourists and guides were caught on the island during Monday's eruption.

The disaster has raised questions about why tourists were allowed on a volcano where experts had recently raised threat levels, as well as broader issues about the regulation of risky activities in the tourism sector.   "There will be bigger questions in relation to this event," Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told parliament after the eruption.   "These questions must be asked, and they must be answered."

- 'Slapdash' or world's best? -
The disaster on White Island -- also known as Whakaari -- is not the first mass-fatality accident to affect tourists in New Zealand.   In 2015, seven people were killed when a scenic helicopter flight crashed into Fox Glacier. Two years earlier, a hot-air balloon claimed 11 lives and in 2010 nine died when a plane carrying skydivers plunged into a paddock.

Briton Chris Coker's son Brad, 24, died in the skydive plane crash and since then he has campaigned from afar for tighter regulations in New Zealand's adventure tourism sector.   "In my opinion, the New Zealand authorities... are still slapdash about tourist safety," Coker told news website stuff.co.nz after the White Island eruption.   "To run tourists there is insane. I know they signed a waiver and so on, but it's not really taking care of people."

Trade body Tourism Industry Aotearoa disputes such assessments, saying operators are "working within a world's best regulatory framework", but could not eliminate risk completely.   "Operators put safety first, but adventure activity inherently carries some risk and it's critical that 'adventure' remains in adventure tourism," TIA chief executive Chris Roberts told AFP.   "Operators take all practical actions to minimise the risks and the safety culture of individual operators remains the key factor in preventing accidents."

Roberts said the issue was not tourism operators, but the alert system they relied on at volcanic destinations such as White Island, which attracts about 17,000 visitors a year.   The GeoNet monitoring agency raised White Island's threat level in the week before the eruption but also advised current activity "does not pose a direct hazard to visitors".   "The reviews need to look at the science and specifically the guidance provided about volcanic activity, and whether the operating practices followed for the past 30 years need to change," Roberts said.

- 'Understand the risks' -
Travel companies such as White Island Tours brief customers before setting off and require them to sign a waiver declaring they understand the risk, as well as supplying equipment such as hard-hats and gas masks.   However, some relatives of those affected by the eruption have expressed scepticism that their loved ones truly appreciated the potential danger they faced.   Options for legal redress are limited under New Zealand's Accident Compensation Commission scheme, which covers victims' medical bills and provides modest compensation but does not allow civil suits for damages.

Neither Roberts nor Lueck expected the White Island eruption to hit international arrivals in New Zealand, which have continued to climb despite major earthquakes in 2011 and 2016.   The nature of any review arising from White Island remains uncertain, but Lueck said at the very least tourists needed to be better informed about any risks.   "Operators and tourism boards should have tourists understand what these risks are, and not brush over quickly signing a waiver," he said.   "Only then can tourists make an informed decision and decide whether or not they want to take that particular risk."
More ...

Philippines

Philippines US Consular Information Sheet
June 17, 2008
COUNTRY DESCRIPTION:
The Philippines is an emerging economy with a democratic system of government, located in Southeast Asia.
The archipelago consists of more than 7,000 islands
of which over 800 are inhabited.
The major island groupings are Luzon in the north, the Visayas in the center and Mindanao in the south.
Tourist facilities are available within population centers and the main tourist areas.
English is widely spoken in the Philippines, and most signs are in English.
Read the Department of State Background Notes on the Philippines for additional information.

ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS:
U.S. citizens may enter the Philippines without a visa upon presentation of their U.S. passport, valid for at least six months after the date of entry into the Philippines, and a return ticket to the United States or an onward ticket to another country.
Upon arrival immigration authorities will annotate your passport with an entry visa valid for 21 days.
If you plan to stay longer than 21 days you must apply for an extension at the Philippine Bureau of Immigration and Deportation's main office at Magallanes Drive; Intramuros, Manila, Philippines or at any of its provincial offices at http://www.immigration.gov.ph.

Persons who overstay their visas are subject to fines and detention by Philippine immigration authorities.
American citizens are urged to remain aware of their visa status while in the Philippines and to strictly follow immigration laws and regulations.
Travelers departing the country from international airports must pay a Passenger Service Charge in Philippine Pesos.
Visit the Embassy of the Philippines web site at http://www.philippineembassy-usa.org for the most current visa information.

Special requirements exist for the entry of unaccompanied minors.
In an effort to prevent international child abduction, the Philippine government requires that a waiver of exclusion be obtained from a Philippine Embassy or Consulate or from the Bureau of Immigration and Detention in Manila for a child under 15 years of age who plans to enter the Philippines unaccompanied by either a parent or legal guardian prior to the child's entry into the Philippines.

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:
U.S. citizens contemplating travel to the Philippines should carefully consider the risks to their safety and security while there, including those due to terrorism.
While travelers may encounter such threats anywhere in the Philippines, the southern island of Mindanao and the Sulu Archipelago are of particular concern.
Travelers should exercise extreme caution in both central and western Mindanao as well as in the Sulu Archipelago.

Kidnap for ransom gangs operate in the Philippines.
In October 2007, one such gang abducted a visiting U.S. citizen whose whereabouts are unknown at this time.
Several other foreigners were also kidnapped for ransom in 2007.
The New People’s Army (NPA), a terrorist organization, operates in many rural areas of the Philippines, including in the northern island of Luzon.
While it has not targeted foreigners in several years, the NPA could threaten U.S. citizens engaged in business or property management activities, and it often demands “revolutionary taxes.”

Terrorist groups, such as the Abu Sayyaf Group, the Jema’ah Islamiyah and groups that have broken away from the more mainstream Moro Islamic Liberation Front or Moro National Liberation Front, have carried out bombings resulting in deaths, injuries and property damage.
In November 2007, a bombing outside the House of Representatives in Metro Manila resulted in a number of deaths and injuries to bystanders.
On January 3, 2008, a bomb exploded at a Cotabato City disco pub, killing one and injuring eight.
The central and western areas of Mindanao have also experienced bombings targeting bus terminals and public buildings.
While those responsible do not appear to have targeted foreigners, travelers should remain vigilant and avoid congregating in public areas; U.S. Government employees must seek special permission for travel to Mindanao or the Sulu Archipelago.
When traveling in Mindanao, U.S. official travelers attempt to lower their profile, limit their length of stay and exercise extreme caution.
Some foreigners who reside in or visit western and central Mindanao hire their own private security personnel.

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, 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 United States and Canada, or for callers outside the United States 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:
As in many of the major metropolitan areas in the United States, crime is a significant concern in Metro Manila.
As a rule of thumb, Americans should exercise good judgment and remain aware of their surroundings.
Reports of confidence games, pick pocketing, internet scams and credit card fraud are common.
Be wary of unknown individuals who attempt to befriend you, especially just after you arrive in country.
A number of robberies and assaults involving the “date rape drug” (known locally as Ativan) have occurred; the drug is generally administered to unwitting male or female victims via food or drink.
It is best not to accept food, drink, or rides in private vehicles from strangers, even if they appear legitimate.
While Americans are not typically targeted for kidnapping, kidnappings and violent assaults do occur in the Metro Manila area.

Taxis are the recommended form of public transportation.
However, the following safeguards are important: do not enter a taxi if it has already accepted another passenger; and request that the meter be used.
If the driver is unwilling to comply with your requests, it is best to wait for another cab.
It is also a good idea to make a mental note of the license plate number should there be a problem.
When driving in the city, make certain that the doors are locked and the windows rolled up.
All other forms of public transportation, such as the light rail system, buses and “jeepneys” should be avoided for both safety and security reasons.

Visitors should also be vigilant when using credit cards.
One common form of credit card fraud involves the illicit use of an electronic device to retrieve and record information, including the PIN, from the card's magnetic strip.
The information is then used to make unauthorized purchases.
To limit your vulnerability to this scam, never let your card out of your sight.

A continuing problem is the commercial scam or sting that attempts to sell or to seek negotiation of fraudulent U.S. securities.
Visitors and residents should be wary when presented with supposed Federal Reserve Notes or U.S. securities for sale or negotiation.
For further information, consult the Federal Reserve System's web site at http://www.federalreserve.gov/.

In many countries around the world, counterfeit and pirated goods are widely available.
Transactions involving such products may be illegal under local law.
In addition, bringing them back to the United States may result in forfeitures and/or fines.
More information on this serious problem is available at http://www.cybercrime.gov/18usc2320.htm.

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 Philippines has a victim compensation program to provide financial compensation to victims of violent or personal crime and of unjust imprisonment.
Information may be obtained from the Philippine Department of Justice at 011-632-536-0447 or via the Internet at http://www.doj.gov.ph/.

The local equivalent to the “911” emergency line in the Philippines is: 117.

See our information on Victims of Crime.

MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION:
Adequate medical care is available in major cities in the Philippines, but even the best hospitals may not meet the standards of medical care, sanitation, and facilities provided by hospitals and doctors in the United States.
Medical care is limited in rural and more remote areas.

Serious medical problems requiring hospitalization and/or medical evacuation to the United States can cost several or even tens of thousands of dollars.
Most hospitals will require a down payment of estimated fees in cash at the time of admission.
In some cases, public and private hospitals have withheld lifesaving medicines and treatments for non-payment of bills.
Hospitals also frequently refuse to discharge patients or release important medical documents until the bill has been paid in full.
A list of doctors and medical facilities in the Philippines is available on the web page of the U.S. Embassy in Manila at http://manila.usembassy.gov/.

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 the Philippines is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.

Travel within the Philippine archipelago is possible by boat, plane, bus or car.
Few tourists rent cars to drive, as the road system is crowded and drivers are undisciplined.
Driving off the national highways and paved roads is particularly dangerous, especially at night, and should be avoided.
To avoid overcrowded or unsafe transport, exercise caution in planning travel by older, inter-island ferryboats, or other public conveyances.

For specific information concerning Philippine driver's permits, vehicle inspection, road tax and mandatory insurance, please contact the Philippine Embassy in Washington, D.C. at tel. (202) 467-9300 or one of the Philippine consulates in the United State (Chicago, Honolulu, Los Angeles, New York, and San Francisco) or via the Internet at http://www.philippineembassy-usa.org/home.htm.
Please see also related information from the Philippine Department of Tourism at http://www.tourism.gov.ph and http://www.dotpcvc.gov.ph.

Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information.
Visit the web site of the country’s national tourist office and national authority responsible for road safety at http://www.lto.gov.ph/.

AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT:
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the Government of the Philippines’ Civil Aviation Authority as not being in compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards for the oversight of the Philippines’ 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: Marriage in the Philippines:
The Philippine Government requires foreigners who wish to marry in the Philippines to obtain from the U.S. Embassy a “Certificate of Legal Capacity to Contract Marriage” before filing an application for a marriage license.
Because there is no national register of marriages in the United States, the U.S. Embassy cannot provide such a certification.
As a result, the Philippine Government will accept an “Affidavit in Lieu of a Certificate of Legal Capacity to Contract Marriage” in its place.
Americans may execute this affidavit at the U.S. Embassy in Manila Monday-Friday, between 8:00 a.m. and 10:00 a.m., except for Philippine or American holidays.
The American must present his/her U.S. passport.
There is a fee of $30.00 or its peso equivalent for the affidavit.
Philippine authorities will not accept any substitute document issued in the United States.
Before traveling to the Philippines to be married, U.S. military personnel should contact their personnel office regarding Department of Defense joint service regulations.

Execution of the affidavit by a U.S. consular officer is a notarial act, and the consular officer is authorized by U.S. law to refuse to perform the service if the document will be used for a purpose patently unlawful, improper, or inimical to the best interests of the United States (see 22 C.F.R. section 92.9b).
Entering into a marriage contract for the principal purpose of facilitating immigration to the United States for an alien is an unlawful act, and the U.S. Code provides penalties for individuals who commit perjury in an affidavit taken by a consular officer.
Relationship fraud is a persistent problem in the Philippines, and it is not uncommon for Filipinos to enter into marriages with Americans solely for immigration purposes.
Relationships developed via correspondence, particularly those begun on the Internet, are particularly susceptible to manipulation.

The Marriage Application Process:
Once an American citizen has obtained from the U.S. Embassy an “Affidavit in Lieu of a Certificate of Legal Capacity to Contract Marriage,” he/she may file an application for a marriage license at the office of the Philippine Civil Registrar in the town or city where one of the parties is a resident.
The U.S. citizen applicant must present: (a) the affidavit; (b) divorce decree(s) or death certificate(s), if applicable (required to verify civil status and legal capacity to contract marriage); (c) his/her U.S. passport; and (d) documentation regarding parental consent or advice, if applicable.
(Persons aged 18 to 21 must have written parental consent to marry in the Philippines; those aged 22 to 24 must have received parental advice.
Philippine law prohibits marriage for persons under the age of 18.)
A judge, a minister, or other person authorized by the Philippine Government can perform the marriage.

Marriage to a U.S. citizen confers neither citizenship nor an automatic eligibility for entry to the United States.
A foreign spouse requires an immigrant visa to live in the United States.
Questions about filing a petition to bring a foreign spouse to the United States may be directed to the nearest U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service office, to the U.S. Department of State’s Visa Office (telephone: (202) 663-1225) or, while in the Philippines, to the U.S. Embassy’s Immigrant Visa Unit at http://manila.usembassy.gov/.

Disaster Preparedness:
The Philippines is a volcano-, typhoon- and earthquake-prone country.
>From May to December, typhoons and flash floods often occur.
Flooding can cause road delays and cut off bridges.
Typhoons in the vicinity of the Philippines can interrupt air and sea links within the country.
Updated information on typhoons is available at http://www.pagasa.dost.gov.ph. Volcanic activity is frequent, and periodically the Philippine Government announces alerts for specific volcanoes.
Updated information on volcanoes in the Philippines is available at http://volcanoes.usgs.gov.
Earthquakes can also occur throughout the country.
General information about natural disaster preparedness is available via the Internet from the Philippines National Disaster Coordinating Council (NDCC) at http://ndcc.gov.ph/home/ and from the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) at http://www.fema.gov.

Customs: Philippine customs authorities enforce strict regulations concerning temporary importation into or export from the Philippines of items such as firearms and currency.
It is advisable to contact the Embassy of the Philippines in Washington, DC or one of the Philippine consulates in the United States (Chicago, Honolulu, Los Angeles, New York and San Francisco) for specific information regarding customs requirements.
Counterfeit and pirated goods are widely available in the Philippines; transactions involving such products are illegal and bringing them back to the United States may result in forfeitures and/or fines.

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 the Philippines’ laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned.
Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in the Philippines 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 the Philippines 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 the Philippines.
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: 1201 Roxas Boulevard, Manila, Philippines, tel. (63) (2) 301-2000.
The American Citizen Services (ACS) section's fax number is (63) (2) 301-2017 and the ACS web page is at http://manila.usembassy.gov/.
*

*

*
This replaces the Country Specific Information for the Philippines dated January 17, 2008 to update sections on “Country Description,” “Safety and Security,” “Crime” and “Medical Facilities and Health Information.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Wed 5 Feb 2020
Source: 7News [abridged, edited]

Two new measles cases have been diagnosed, and warnings have been issued for Melbourne Airport. On Wednesday [5 Feb 2020], Victoria's chief health officer, Dr Brett Sutton, confirmed a baby boy and a man in his 20s were recently diagnosed. Those diagnosed had travelled to Melbourne Airport from Nepal and the Philippines. The cases are unrelated, and both patients are recovering at home.

Research has found that having measles can have long-term effects on people's immune systems, putting them more at risk after they recover.  [byline: Lucy Mae Beers]
Date: Tue, 14 Jan 2020 09:00:02 +0100 (MET)
By Ron Lopez with Mikhail Flores in Manila

Tanauan, Philippines, Jan 14, 2020 (AFP) - Taal volcano in the Philippines could spew lava and ash for weeks, authorities warned Tuesday, leaving tens of thousands in limbo after they fled their homes fearing a massive eruption.   The crater of the volcano exploded to life with towering clouds of ash and jets of red-hot lava on Sunday, forcing those living around the mountain south of Manila to rush to safety.

Many people abandoned livestock and pets as well as homes full of belongings after authorities sounded an alert warning that an "explosive eruption" could come imminently.   "We left everything apart from what we're wearing," said Robert Cadiz, a 47-year-old fisherman among some 30,000 who took refuge in shelters. "We were terrified."

Gerald Aseoche, 30, who left with his four young children and a few possessions, has missed work to stay with them as the volcano belches out lava and earthquakes tied to the eruption rattle the region.   "I am hoping this won't go on too long because I will lose my job if I can't report to work immediately," Aseoche, a house painter, told AFP at an evacuation centre.   "I can't leave them... family first," he said as he cradled one of his children.

Taal is one of the most active volcanoes in a nation hit periodically by eruptions and earthquakes due to its location on the Pacific "Ring of Fire" -- a zone of intense seismic activity.   The Taal eruption has been putting on a stunning and terrifying display, with lightning crackling through its ash cloud in a poorly understood phenomenon that has been attributed to static electricity.

- Eruptions have lasted months -
Renato Solidum, head of the Philippines' seismological agency, said Taal's previous eruptions have lasted months so it was impossible to predict an end to the current activity.   However, he said the alert warning of a potentially catastrophic "explosive eruption" may remain in place for weeks, depending on developments.   "We have a protocol of waiting for several days, sometimes two weeks, to make sure that indeed... volcano activity has essentially stopped," he told AFP.

The volcano dramatically burst with activity on Sunday, shooting a massive column of ash 15 kilometres (nine miles) into the sky that then rained down on the region.   Falling ash pushed aviation officials to temporarily shut down Manila's main international airport, forcing the cancellation of hundreds of flights and stranding tens of thousands of travellers.

Ninoy Aquino International Airport resumed reduced operations on Monday and was gradually recovering on Tuesday, but a backlog of cancelled flights resulted in ongoing pain for travellers.    Taal's last eruption was in 1977, but it has a long history of activity. In 1965 the volcano, which is a popular tourist attraction set in a picturesque lake, killed some 200 people.   The country's most powerful explosion in recent years was the 1991 eruption of Mount Pinatubo, about 100 kilometres northwest of Manila, which killed more than 800 people.
Date: Mon, 13 Jan 2020 07:40:19 +0100 (MET)
By Ron Lopez with Mikhail Flores in Manila

Talisay City, Philippines, Jan 13, 2020 (AFP) - Lava and broad columns of ash illuminated by lightning spewed from a volcano south of the Philippine capital on Monday, grounding hundreds of flights as authorities warned of a possible "explosive eruption".

Fine grit coated homes and streets across the region surrounding the Taal volcano, which burst to life on Sunday accompanied by a series of earthquakes, forcing at least 10,000 people to seek refuge in evacuation centres.   "You could not sleep anymore, because every time you closed your eyes the house would shake," restaurant owner Lia Monteverde told AFP, saying the quakes came minutes apart.   "All of us didn't sleep at all. We just prepared to leave."    Taal sits in a picturesque lake and is one of the most active volcanoes in a nation where earthquakes and eruptions are a frightening and destructive part of life.

The Philippines sits on the Pacific "Ring of Fire", where tectonic plates collide deep below the Earth's surface.   Schools in the region around Taal, some government offices in Manila and the Philippine Stock Exchange were closed as a precaution on Monday.   Dust masks sold out in stores as authorities warned locals that the ash could cause respiratory problems especially in the very young and those with pre-existing lung conditions.
 
Limited flight operations resumed mid-Monday at Manila's main international airport, nearly a day after authorities halted them due to the safety risk volcanic ash poses to planes.   However, travellers booked on over 240 cancelled flights still faced delays at Ninoy Aquino International Airport.    "I'm disappointed because this (delay) means additional expense for me and it's tiring to wait," said stranded traveller Joan Diocaras, a 28-year-old Filipino who works in Taiwan.   "But there's nothing we can do."

- Alert level raised -
The eruption began with an explosion of superheated steam and rock, but by early Monday "fountains" of lava had been spotted on Taal, the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) said.   Stunning lightning shows have periodically played out above the volcano in a little-understood phenomenon that is attributed to static electricity.      Authorities raised the volcano alert level to its second-highest on Sunday, saying an "explosive eruption" could happen in "hours to days".

Phivolcs chief Renato Solidum told AFP the lava was evidence of fresh movement in the volcano, but said it was unclear if Taal would "sustain its activity".   Government seismologists recorded magma moving towards the crater of Taal, which is located 65 kilometres (40 miles) south of Manila.   Apart from the ash, some particles up to 6.4 centimetres (2.5 inches) in diameter, larger than a golf ball, had reportedly fallen in areas around the lake, Phivolcs said.

Taal's last eruption was in 1977, Solidum said.   Two years ago, Mount Mayon displaced tens of thousands of people after spewing millions of tonnes of ash, rocks and lava in the central Bicol region.   The most powerful explosion in recent years was the 1991 eruption of Mount Pinatubo, about 100 kilometres northwest of Manila, which killed more than 800 people.
Date: Thu, 26 Dec 2019 10:24:36 +0100 (MET)

Manila, Dec 26, 2019 (AFP) - A typhoon that swept across remote villages and popular tourist areas of the central Philippines on Christmas day claimed at least 16 lives, authorities said on Thursday.   Typhoon Phanfone, with gusts reaching 200 kilometres (125 miles) an hour, tore roofs off houses and toppled electric posts as it ripped through the central Philippines on Wednesday.   Videos from the typhoon's path showed fallen trees and strong winds pummelling flimsy houses. Local disaster officials cut felled trees to clear blocked roads.   At least 16 people were killed in villages and towns in the Visayas, the central third of the Philippines, according to disaster agency officials.   Phanfone also hit Boracay, Coron and other holiday destinations that are famed for their white-sand beaches and popular with foreign tourists.

Mobile phone and internet access on Boracay was cut during the storm and the networks remained down on Thursday, making assessment of the damage there difficult.   "Still, communication lines are down. Electricity is still down," Jonathan Pablito, police chief of Malay town in Alkan province, which is on an island neighbouring Boracay, told AFP.   Pablito said ferry services between Boracay and Aklan -- the main way to travel to and from the holiday island -- were still not operating on Thursday, even though the storm had passed.   "We have no news from coast guard if ships were allowed to sail. Since the 24th... all those going to the island and coming from the island weren't able to cross."

The airport at Kalibo town in Aklan, which services Boracay, was badly damaged, according to a Korean tourist who was stranded there and provided images to AFP.   "Roads remain blocked, but some efforts have been made to clear away the damage. It's pretty bad," Jung Byung-joon said via Instagram messenger.   "Everything within 100 meters of the airport looks broken. There are a lot of frustrated people at the airport as flights have been cancelled.   "Taxis are still running but it's windy and still raining so no one wants to leave the airport, including me."   Another Korean tourist stuck at the damaged airport said she had been unable to make contact with her friend on Borocay on Thursday.   "I tried to call my friend in Boracay today and wasn't able to get through. Maybe something isn't working," Dahae Gong told AFP via Instagram.
   "I don't know when I will be able to go home."

- Memories of monster storm -
Still, there was no indication of any major damage or otherwise on Boracay.   Though much weaker, Phanfone tracked a similar path as Super Typhoon Haiyan -- the country's deadliest storm on record which left more than 7,300 people dead or missing in 2013.   "It's like the younger sibling of Haiyan. It's less destructive, but it followed a similar path," Cindy Ferrer, an information officer at the Western Visayas region's disaster bureau, told AFP.   In San Jose town in Occidental Mindoro, a video uploaded by the local government showed overturned fishing vessels and ruined shanties on the coast due to the storm.

Tens of thousands of people in the mostly Catholic nation were forced to evacuate their homes on Wednesday, ruining Christmas celebrations.   Many others were not able to return to their families, with ferries and plane services suspended.   Among those killed was a police officer electrocuted by a toppled post while patrolling.   The Philippines is the first major landmass facing the Pacific typhoon belt, and is hit by an average of about 20 major storms a year.   Many of the storms are deadly, and they typically wipe out harvests, homes and infrastructure, keeping millions of people perennially poor.
Date: Sun 22 Dec 2019
Source: CNN Philippines [edited]

At least 9 people are confirmed dead Sunday [22 Dec 2019] from suspected poisoning after reportedly consuming lambanog, or palm wine. Eight of the victims were from Rizal, Laguna.

According to Rizal mayor Vener Munoz, the victims were drinking a generic brand of lambanog. Munoz added it was unclear when the victims drank the beverage. He also said over 100 other people complained of pain after drinking lambanog but were not critical. They are currently being treated at the Philippine General Hospital in Manila.

In a post on Facebook, Laguna governor Ramil Hernandez said he has banned the sale of lambanog in the province so authorities can investigate the cases of poisoning in Rizal.

Meanwhile, another person from Quezon died from alleged poisoning, also after drinking lambanog.

A report from police in Candelaria said several people were drinking the beverage, which they bought from a store in barangay Santa Catalina Sur on Saturday [21 Dec 2019]. At around 11 a.m. the following day [Sun 22 Dec 2019], police said they received a call from barangay chairwoman Myla Escamilla saying the victims were brought to the hospital for alleged poisoning.

The police report said 2 were comatose, while 4 others were discharged after being treated.

Authorities in Candelaria are now investigating the case.
=================
[Lambanog (Philippines coconut wine) is wine made from coconut. It is well known for its strength, ordinarily carrying 80-90-proof alternatives. It is mostly produced in the Quezon province, Philippines; the process has been passed down through generations of coconut plantation farmers. The procedure includes collecting the sap from the coconut flower, comparable to rubber-tree tapping. The sap is then prepared and fermented to turn into tuba, a popular coconut toddy. The tuba is then distilled to make lambanog.

The method for making lambanog is cost effective, and coconut trees are plentiful in the Philippines. As such, the beverage has been coined a "poor man's beverage." Aside from economics, the process of making lambanog is an artistic expression distinct to the Filipino culture. It has been a part of Filipino tradition for centuries.

In Quezon, consuming lambanog wine is normally a public thing. Men relax in a circle and "tagayan" will ensue. The men take turns drinking shots from a cup put in the middle of the group. Normally, there is also a person singing and playing the guitar as part of the festivities; he takes his turn at drinking, too, so the music and songs get even more interesting as the consuming goes on. Lambanog wine was made an export product in 2001 and has definitely brought in foreign markets. To attract the youth and expand its advertising possibilities, lambanog is now industried and sold in different flavors such as cherry, jack fruit, apple, orange, four periods [?], strawberry, bubble gum, mint, etc. <http://lambanog.org/>

While there are no details regarding the signs and symptoms of the individuals affected, one has to wonder if methanol was either used in the process or added as an adulterant to produce an extra intoxicating effect.

From <http://lambanog.org/>, arrack, additionally spelled arak, is a distilled alcoholic drink typically generated in South and Southeast Asia and made from either the fermented sap of coconut flowers, sugarcane, grain (e.g., red rice), or fruit from the country of origin. The clear distillate may be blended, grown old [aged] in wooden barrels, or repeatedly distilled and filtered, depending upon the taste and color objectives of the supplier. Arrack is not to be [confused with] having arak, an anise-flavored alcoholic beverage traditionally consumed in Eastern Mediterranean and North African nations.

It is possible someone added methanol to the lambanog in an attempt to produce a bigger buzz or kick from the alcohol without realizing its toxicities.

Methanol is a toxic alcohol that is used industrially as a solvent, pesticide, and alternative fuel source. It also occurs naturally in humans, animals, and plants. Foods such as fresh fruits and vegetables, fruit juices, fermented beverages, and diet soft drinks containing aspartame are the primary sources of methanol in the human body. Most methanol poisonings occur as a result of drinking beverages contaminated with methanol or from drinking methanol-containing products. In the industrial setting, inhalation of high concentrations of methanol vapor and absorption of methanol through the skin are as effective as the oral route in producing toxic effects. The characteristic pungent (alcohol) odor of methanol does not provide sufficient warning of low levels of exposure.  <https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/ershdb/emergencyresponsecard_29750029.html>

Also known as wood alcohol, methanol is a commonly used organic solvent that, because of its toxicity, can cause metabolic acidosis, neurologic sequelae, and even death when ingested. It is a constituent of many commercially available industrial solvents and of poorly adulterated alcoholic beverages. Methanol toxicity remains a common problem in many parts of the developing world, especially among members of lower socioeconomic classes. <https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/ershdb/emergencyresponsecard_29750029.html>

Methanol poisoning (MP) results from accidental or voluntary ingestion of methyl alcohol, a compound used in the chemical industry and as fuel. Methanol is in no case suitable for consumption.

Methanol causes inebriation similar to ethanol, and patients may merely appear drunk, lose their inhibitions, and become ataxic. At the same time, gastrointestinal symptoms manifest. MP patients typically suffer from nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal pain. If examined that early, tachypnea, tachycardia, and hypertension, results of metabolic acidosis, may already be detected. In severe cases, fatal respiratory or cardiac failure may occur.

The stage described above is usually followed by a latency period of several hours, generally 12-24 hours. Only then can neurological symptoms be observed. The greater the amount of methanol ingested, the earlier the additional symptoms set in. Simultaneous consumption of ethanol delays onset of further deficits since both alcohols are competitive substrates for alcohol dehydrogenase.

Progressive vision loss is characteristic for MP, and patients may claim blurred vision, scotomas, scintillations, visual field restriction, and, eventually, complete blindness. Seizures may be registered. Patients show increasingly reduced levels of awareness and may fall into a coma.  <https://www.symptoma.com/en/info/methanol-poisoning>

More information from knowledgeable sources on this situation would be appreciated; please inform ProMED-mail at <promed@promedmail.org>. - ProMED Mod.TG]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail maps:
Laguna province, Calabarzon, Philippines:
Quezon, Philippines: <http://healthmap.org/promed/p/20269>]
More ...

World Travel News Headlines

Date: Thu, 20 Feb 2020 16:20:39 +0100 (MET)

Damascus, Feb 20, 2020 (AFP) - A bomb explosion wounded two people in Damascus Thursday, the state news agency reported, the latest of several such attacks in the Syrian capital.   "An explosive device planted on a pickup truck went off in the Marjeh area" in central Damascus, SANA said, adding that two civilians were wounded by the blast.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights war monitor said the device was a "sticky bomb" planted on a military vehicle, although it was not immediately clear what the target was.   There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the blast, nor for a similar explosion that wounded five people in another neighbourhood of Damascus on Tuesday. The Syrian capital was routinely targeted by major car bomb attacks in the course of the nine-year-old conflict but blasts have been less frequent since regime forces reclaimed full control of the Damascus region in 2018.
Date: Thu, 20 Feb 2020 15:40:35 +0100 (MET)
By Laurent Thomet, with Miwa Suzuki in Tokyo

Beijing, Feb 20, 2020 (AFP) - China on Thursday touted a big drop in new virus infections as proof its epidemic control efforts are working, but the toll grew abroad with deaths in Japan and South Korea.   Fatalities in China hit 2,118 as 114 more people died, but health officials reported the lowest number of new cases in nearly a month, including in hardest-hit Hubei province.

More than 74,000 people have been infected by the new coronavirus in China, and hundreds more in over 25 countries.   The number of deaths outside mainland China climbed to 11.   Japan's toll rose to three as a man and a woman in their 80s who had been aboard a quarantined cruise ship died, while fears there mounted about other passengers who disembarked the Diamond Princess after testing negative.

South Korea reported its first death, and the number of infections in the country nearly doubled Thursday to 104 -- including 15 at a hospital in Cheongdo county.   The mayor of Daegu -- South Korea's fourth-largest, with 2.5 million people -- advised residents to stay indoors, while commanders at a major US military base in the area restricted access.   Iran reported two deaths on Wednesday, the first in the Middle East. Deaths have previously been confirmed in France, the Philippines, Taiwan and Hong Kong.

Chinese officials say their drastic containment efforts, including quarantining tens of millions of people in Hubei and restricting movements in cities nationwide, have started to pay off.   "Results show that our control efforts are working," Foreign Minister Wang Yi said at a special meeting on the virus with Southeast Asian counterparts in Laos, citing the latest data.   Wang said the situation was "significantly improving" in Hubei and Wuhan, but an official in a central government team dealing with the epidemic said it was still "very severe".

- 'Not turning point' -
Although more than 600 new infections were reported in Hubei's capital Wuhan, it was the lowest daily tally since late January and well down from the 1,749 new cases the day before.   The national figure has now fallen for three straight days.   Chinese authorities placed the city of 11 million under quarantine on January 23 and quickly locked down the rest of the province in the days that followed.

Wuhan authorities this week carried out a three-day, door-to-door check on residents, with the local Communist Party chief warning that officials would be "held accountable" if any infections were missed.   Cities far from the epicentre have limited the number of people who can leave their homes for groceries, while rural villages have sealed off access to outsiders.   Richard Brennan, a World Health Organization official, said in Cairo that China was making "tremendous progress" and "trends are very encouraging, but we are not at a turning point yet".

- 'Chaotic' cruise quarantine -
While China has boasted progress in its fight against the COVID-19 epidemic, Japan's government has been criticised for the quarantine measures it placed on the Diamond Princess.   The huge vessel moored in Yokohama is easily the biggest coronavirus cluster outside the Chinese epicentre, with 634 cases confirmed among passengers and crew.   Another 13 people on board the ship were diagnosed with the virus Thursday, Japan's health ministry said.   Still, passengers were disembarking after negative tests and having completed a 14-day quarantine period -- packing into yellow buses and leaving for stations and airports.

Questions were asked over the wisdom of allowing them to mingle in Japan's crowded cities.   "Is it really safe to get off?" screamed a headline in the Nikkan Sports tabloid.   The paper quoted one passenger who said he was tested on February 15, but only left four days later.   "I thought I could be infected during the four days. I thought 'Is it really OK'?"

A specialist in infectious diseases at Kobe University slammed as "completely chaotic" the quarantine procedures on board in rare criticism from a Japanese academic.   "The cruise ship was completely inadequate in terms of infection control," said Kentaro Iwata in videos he has since deleted.

South Korea, meanwhile, announced 51 new cases, with more than 40 in a cluster centred on the Shincheonji Church of Jesus, an entity often accused of being a cult.  The infections apparently came from a 61-year-old woman who first developed a fever on February 10 and attended at least four services before being diagnosed.   Local media said she had twice refused to be tested for the coronavirus on the grounds she had not recently travelled abroad.   Authorities were investigating whether she might have visited the hospital where a long-term patient contracted the virus and later died.

Some 15 other patients have now been found to have the virus.   Shincheonji claims its founder, Lee Man-hee, has donned the mantle of Jesus Christ and will take 144,000 people with him to heaven on the day of judgement.   A man in his 60s tested positive for the coronavirus after dying Wednesday following symptoms of pneumonia, South Korean authorities said.
Date: Thu, 20 Feb 2020 10:28:16 +0100 (MET)

Lagos, Feb 20, 2020 (AFP) - An outbreak of Lassa in Nigeria has killed 103 people this year, health authorities said, as the first confirmed case was reported in the economic hub Lagos.    "Cumulatively from week 1 to week 07, 2020, 103 deaths have been reported with a case fatality rate of 17.6%," said the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) in its latest statistics on the virus released on Wednesday.    The overall number of confirmed cases rose by 115 last week to a total of 586 across the country.

Separately, health authorities in Lagos, Nigeria's most populous city with 20 million inhabitants, said an infected person was diagnosed there on February 17 and being treated in isolation in hospital.    "Sixty-three people that may have been in contact with the patient and who may have been infected in the process have been identified and are being monitored," the state government wrote on Twitter on Thursday.

Endemic to Nigeria, Lassa fever belongs to the same family as the Ebola and Marburg viruses, but is much less deadly.   The disease is spread by contact with rat faeces or urine or the bodily fluids of an infected person.    The majority of those infected do not show symptoms but the disease can go on to cause severe bleeding and organ failure in about 20 percent of cases.

An outbreak of Lassa fever killed some 170 people around Nigeria last year.     The number of cases usually climbs around the start of the year linked to the dry season.   While the overall number of confirmed cases and deaths is up this year on the same period in 2019, the mortality rate is lower.    Twenty health workers across the country have been confirmed as contracting the disease so far in 2020.    The virus takes its name from the town of Lassa in northern Nigeria, where it was first identified in 1969.
Date: Thu, 20 Feb 2020 09:58:17 +0100 (MET)
By Nicolas DELAUNAY

Les Mamelles, Seychelles, Feb 20, 2020 (AFP) - On a plain suburban street in Seychelles, far from the idyllic coastline and luxury resorts pampering honeymooners and paradise-seekers, heroin addicts queue anxiously for their daily dose of methadone.   It is a scene few outsiders would associate with the tropical nirvana adrift in the Indian Ocean, and one rarely, if ever, glimpsed by tourists as they shuttle from the airport to five-star luxury on white-sand beaches.

But life for many Seychellois is far from picture perfect: the tiny archipelago nation is battling what officials say are the world's highest rates of heroin addiction.   Nearly 5,000 people are hooked, government figures show, equivalent to nearly 0 percent of the national workforce -- a statistic that has startled the government into action.

In comparison, 0.4 percent of the global population consumed opioids in 2016, half of them in Asia, according to a United Nations report that puts Seychelles among the top consumers alongside producing countries such as Afghanistan.   The Seychelles' heroin boom, which took off over the past decade, gripped young and old alike and cut across class lines.   Among those queueing in the town of Les Mamelles for methadone -- a substitute narcotic used to wean users off heroin -- are parents with young children, an old man leaning on a cane and a taxi driver between shifts.

Graham Moustache, a 29-year-old father of two, described how the arrival of affordable and high-quality heroin in Seychelles swept up his entire family.   "I have four brothers and two sisters, and we have all been heroin addicts at one point," he told AFP, tracing his fingers over the needle scars on his arms.   "I've been to prison twice," he said, adding his mother had turned him in as "she didn't know what to do any more".   "Sometimes, I didn't have enough to eat and I had to choose between eating and buying heroin. I chose heroin."

- Soaring addiction -
The rise of new trafficking routes through East Africa in the late 2000s, coupled with porous borders and relatively high purchasing power among Seychellois, flooded the paradisal islands with heroin.   The average salary in the archipelago is $420 (390) -- high compared to other African nations.   The World Bank considers the Seychelles the only high-income country on the continent, thanks to the growing tourism industry.    But around 40 percent of the population still lives in poverty.

By 2011, around 1,200 people were addicted, prompting a punitive crackdown.   "We did not make a difference between the victim and the trafficker," said Patrick Herminie, director of the state-run Agency for Drug Abuse Prevention and Rehabilitation (APDAR).   By 2017, addiction had risen four-fold, placing Seychelles among the world's most drug-dependent nations.   The government, realising its war on drugs had failed, changed tack and declared a public health emergency.   "The magnitude of the problem is simply because we reacted a bit late," Herminie said.

Money has poured into combating the scourge, with state funds for drug prevention and rehabilitation programmes soaring to 75 million Seychelles rupees ($5.5 million) in 2020 -- almost 10 times the 2016 budget.    APDAR, a specialist drug agency created in 2017 to tackle the problem, employs four times as many staff as the body that preceded it.   A state-run methadone programme has reached 2,500 people, with medical follow-ups helping to track their progress.    But the free availability of methadone has also prompted drug dealers to lower their prices.

Mobile clinics drive around offering methadone to addicts and providing free health checks and advice.    "I've been clean for more than a year. I found a job as a fisherman, and I can see my two kids," said Moustache proudly, as he queued at the white methadone van staffed with healthcare workers.   Others have struggled to stay the course.   "Methadone helps me a lot, but it's difficult not to take heroin at all," said Gisele Moumou, an emaciated 32-year-old addict, drawing ragged breaths and sweating as she waits for her small cup of methadone.

- Stopping the scourge  -
Schoolchildren are being taught about the damage done by drugs through awareness campaigns and billboards in classrooms.    But there is much work to be done, especially among children from families affected by drug use, says Noellie Gonthier from CARE, a local harm-reduction charity.   "Sometimes, four- or five-year-olds at school mimic injecting heroin," she said.   "Our challenge is to make them understand that what they consider normal -- because of their family context -- actually isn't at all."   On Mahe, a small, mountainous island with lush vegetation, most of the population lives near the water. Life is quiet here, without traffic, and the streets are mostly clean.

Poverty is largely hidden, concentrated in a few neighbourhoods behind faded walls or in the hills.   So why do so many Seychellois take drugs? The authorities admit they haven't quite figured it out, but say it appears that while poverty does not quite allow people to live well, it allows them enough money to buy drugs to forget their woes.   "The root of the cause, we're still working on it," said Herminie.   Early studies show that health and social problems associated with heroin use have declined since the government switched its response from punishment to prevention, officials say.

Crime has nearly halved and annual cases of new hepatitis C infections have fallen 60 percent.    Youth unemployment, meanwhile, has shrunk from 6.5 percent to 2.1 percent in recent years.   One recovering addict, a taxi driver who did not want to be named, offered a bleak assessment as he waited for his daily methadone in an empty car park in Les Mamelles.    "We're a small island in the middle of the ocean. What else is there to do here?" he said.
Date: Wed, 19 Feb 2020 16:12:54 +0100 (MET)
By Michael O'HAGAN

Otuke, Uganda, Feb 19, 2020 (AFP) - Under a warm morning sun scores of weary soldiers stare as millions of yellow locusts rise into the northern Ugandan sky, despite hours spent spraying vegetation with chemicals in an attempt to kill them.   From the tops of shea trees, fields of pea plants and tall grass savanna, the insects rise in a hypnotic murmuration, disappearing quickly to wreak devastation elsewhere.   The soldiers and agricultural officers will now have to hunt the elusive fast-moving swarms -- a sign of the challenge facing nine east African countries now battling huge swarms of hungry desert locusts.

They arrived in conflict-torn South Sudan this week, with concerns already high of a humanitarian crisis in a region where 12 million are going hungry, according to the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).    "One swarm of 40 to 80 million can consume food" for over 35,000 people in a day, Priya Gujadhur, a senior FAO official in Uganda, told AFP.

In Atira -- a remote village of grass-thatched huts in northern Uganda -- some 160 soldiers wearing protective plastic overalls, masks and goggles sprayed trees and plants with pesticide from before dawn in a bid to kill the resting insects.   But even after hours of work they were mostly able to reach only lower parts of the vegetation.   Major General Kavuma sits in the shade of a Neem Tree alongside civilian officials as locusts sprayed with pesticide earlier that morning fall around them, convulsing as they die.   An intense chemical smell hangs in the air.

- 'They surrounded me' -
Zakaria Sagal, a 73-year-old subsistence farmer was weeding his field in Lopei village some 120 kilometres (75 miles) away, preparing to plant maize and sorghum, when without warning a swarm of locusts descended around him.   "From this side and this side and this side, they surrounded me," Sagal said, waving his arms in every direction.    "We have not yet planted our crops but if they return at harvest time they will destroy everything. We are not at all prepared."

East Africa's regional expert group, the Climate Prediction and Applications Centre (ICPAC), warned Tuesday that eggs laid across the migratory path will hatch in the next two months, and will continue breeding as the rainy season arrives in the region.   This will coincide with the main cropping season and could cause "significant crop losses... and could potentially worsen the food security situation", ICPAC said in a statement.

- 'Panic mode' -
Since 2018 a long period of dry weather followed by a series of cyclones that dumped water on the region created "excessively ideal conditions" for locusts to breed, says Gujadhur.    Nevertheless, governments in East Africa have been caught off guard and are currently in "panic mode" Gujadhur said.   The locusts arrived in South Sudan this week after hitting Ethiopia, Somalia, Kenya, Djibouti, Eritrea, Tanzania, Sudan and Uganda.   Desert locusts take over on a dizzying scale.

One swarm in Kenya reached around 2,400 square kilometres (about 930 square miles) -- an area almost the size of Moscow -- meaning it could contain up to 200 billion locusts.   "A swarm that size can consume food for 85 million people per day," said Gujadhur.   Ugandan authorities are aware that subsequent waves of locusts may pose problems in the weeks to come, but in the meantime they are attempting to control the current generation.

Gujadhur is quick to praise the "quite strong and very quick" response from the Ugandan government but is concerned that while the army can provide valuable personnel, a military-led response may not be as effective as is necessary.    "It needs to be the scientists and (agriculture officials) who take the lead about where the control operations need to be and how and when and what time," she said.

- 'They eat anything green' -
The soldiers have been working non-stop for two days, criss-crossing the plains on the few navigable roads, trying to keep up with the unpredictable swarms.    Major General Kavuma recognises that the biggest threat is from the eggs which are yet to hatch but is confident the army will be able to control this enemy.   "We have the chemicals to spray them, all we need is to map the places they have been landing and sleeping," he said.   "In two weeks time we will come back and by that time they will have hatched and that will be the time to destroy them by praying."

Back in Lopei village, Elizabeth Namoe, 40, a shopkeeper in nearby Moroto had been visiting family when the swarm arrived.   "When the locusts settle they eat anything green, the animals will die because they have nothing to feed on, then even the people (will suffer)," she said.   "The children will be affected by hunger and famine since all life comes from all that is green. I fear so much."
Date: Wed, 19 Feb 2020 12:55:06 +0100 (MET)

Beijing, Feb 19, 2020 (AFP) - China's President Xi Jinping called Wednesday for greater protection of medical staff fighting the new coronavirus after the deaths of prominent doctors sparked national anger at the government's handling of the outbreak.   At least seven medical workers have died from the virus, while 1,716 have been confirmed as infected, most at the epicentre of the epidemic in central Hubei province where hospitals have dealt with a huge influx of patients.

Staff have faced shortages of masks and protective bodysuits, with some even wearing makeshift suits and continuing to work despite showing respiratory symptoms, health workers have told AFP.   Xi said China must "strengthen efforts to relieve the stress of medical workers, provide them with daily necessities, arrange time for their rest and give them encouragement", the official Xinhua news agency reported.   Liu Zhiming, the director of Wuchang Hospital in Hubei's capital Wuhan, died Tuesday, more than a week after the death of whistleblowing ophthalmologist Li Wenliang in the same city prompted nationwide mourning and calls for political reforms.

- 'Majestic spirit' -
A paper published by China's Center for Disease Control and Prevention said an additional 1,300 health workers may have been infected but have yet to receive a diagnosis.   Xi said China must ensure medical teams in Hubei and Wuhan "carry out work in a safe, orderly, coordinated, effective and swift manner", Xinhua reported.   The deaths of frontline medical workers "reflected doctors' humane and majestic spirit", Xi said.   The death toll from the virus jumped past 2,000 on Wednesday, while 74,185 cases of infection have been confirmed in mainland China.
Date: Wed, 19 Feb 2020 12:19:59 +0100 (MET)

Tehran, Feb 19, 2020 (AFP) - Two people in Iran tested positive Wednesday for the deadly new coronavirus, the health ministry said, in the Islamic republic's first cases of the disease.   Kianoush Jahanpour, a ministry spokesman, said the cases were detected in the holy city of Qom, south of the Iranian capital.   "In the past two days, some suspect cases of the new coronavirus were observed in Qom city," he said, quoted by state news agency IRNA.

"Teams were dispatched after receiving the reports, and based on the existing protocols the suspect cases were isolated and tested," said Jahanpour.   "Out of the samples sent, a laboratory tested two of them as positive for coronavirus just minutes ago and some of the other samples were type B influenza."

The health ministry spokesman said additional tests were being done on the two cases and final results would be announced "as soon as possible".   The new coronavirus epidemic has killed more than 2,000 people in China and infected more than 74,000. It has spread to at least two dozen countries.   The United Arab Emirates was the first country in the Middle East to report cases of coronavirus last month.
Date: Tue 18 Feb 2020
Source: CIDRAP (Center for Infectious Disease Research & Policy) News [edited]

The WHO's African regional office said that both Chad and the Central African Republic (CAR) are in the midst of measles outbreaks, with both countries reporting increasing case counts since [1 Jan 2020].

In Chad, 1276 cases, including 14 deaths have been reported since 1 Jan 2020, with 352 suspected measles cases and 4 deaths reported in the week ending on 9 Feb 2020.  "Most, 78%, of the investigated cases never received any vaccination against measles," the WHO said. "60% of the investigated cases were under 5 years of age while 19% were between 5 and 14 years and 14% were 15 years and above."

In CAR, a total of 1498 suspected measles cases, including 15 deaths, have been recorded since [1 Jan 2020]. The outbreak has been ongoing since early 2019. From 1 Jan 2019, through 9 Feb 2020, a total of 5724 suspected measles cases, including 83 deaths (case fatality rate, 1.45%) have been reported in 13 health districts.  Almost 3/4 of the cases (72%) are in children under the age of 5.
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[HealthMap/ProMED-mail maps
Central African Republic: <http://healthmap.org/promed/p/6>]
Date: Wed 19 Feb 2020
Source: Circular/News, Veterinary Services, Israel's Ministry of Agriculture [in Hebrew, trans. Mod.AS, edited]

Rabies, Case No. 6 for 2020, dog, Ramot Naftali, Upper Galilee. Reference: Kimron Vet Institute [KVI] Laboratory Test No. A00373420, dated 19 Feb 2020
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On 17 Feb 2020, a dead dog was brought for examination to the KVI [at Beit-Dagan]. The dog died while being transported to a rabies observation kennel since, as reported, it had attacked grazing cattle and attempted to attack people.  It was also reported that the dog had bitten itself. The tested animal has been diagnosed rabies positive.  [Byline: Dr. Avi Wasserman Head, Field Veterinary Services (acting)]
====================
[The above and 5 earlier rabies cases in Israel since 1 Jan 2020 are located within a small region along the Lebanese border, facing Lebanon's governorate A-Nabatieh. See the rabies map (2020) at <https://moag.maps.arcgis.com/apps/webappviewer/index.html?id=a6d8aae5cbc04c958d5efefd2724318f>.

The 2019 map, presenting a total of 17 cases, is available at

The 6 cases during 2020 are: 3 jackals, 2 dogs, 1 cow. Most likely, rabies is currently circulating within the Lebanese side of the border.

It would be interesting to note whether the rabid dog was owned and, in case affirmative, whether and when this dog was last vaccinated against rabies, as prescribed by law. Israel's owned dogs are included in the national dog registry, currently counting more than 400,000 dogs. - ProMED Mod.AS]
Date: Tue 18 Feb 2020
Source: Qatari Ministry of Public Health [edited]

The Ministry of Public Health (MOPH) declared that a case of Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) has been confirmed. The case is a male citizen aged 65 years who has been suffering from several chronic diseases. The patient has been admitted to the hospital to receive the necessary medical care in accordance with the national protocol to deal with confirmed or suspected cases of the disease.

The Ministry of Public Health, in cooperation with the Ministry of Municipality and Environment, is taking all necessary preventive and precautionary measures to control the disease and prevent it from spreading.

MERS is a viral respiratory disease that is caused by one of the coronaviruses (MERS-CoV), but it differs from the novel coronavirus, known as COVID-19, which has recently spread in several countries. Both viruses differ in terms of the source of infection, mode of transmission, and the disease severity. The Ministry of Public Health confirms that no cases of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) have been diagnosed in Qatar so far.

Only 3 cases of MERS-CoV were registered in Qatar during the past 2 years. The Ministry of Public Health calls on all members of public, and especially people with chronic diseases or those with immunodeficiency disorders, to adhere to public hygiene measures. This includes washing the hands regularly with water and soap, using hand sanitizers, as well as avoiding close contact with camels and seeking medical advice when experiencing symptoms of fever, cough, sore throat, or shortness of breath.

The Rapid Response Team of the Health Protection and Communicable Disease Control is available round-the-clock to receive notifications or inquiries related to communicable diseases on its hotline numbers 66740948 or 66740951.
======================
[In early December 2019, Qatar reported 3 cases of MERS-CoV infection, a fatal case and 2 asymptomatic contacts of the fatal case. The fatal case denied a history of contact with camels or recent travel. She did have a history of underlying medical conditions (which may have led to contact with the health sector in the 2 weeks prior to onset of illness). Prior to these cases, the most recent report of a case of MERS-CoV infection in Qatar was in 2017 when there were 3 cases reported (see prior ProMED-mail posts listed below.)

The location of residence of this patient was not available, nor were other epidemiological variables, including possible high risk exposures.

The HealthMap/ProMED-mail map of Qatar is available at