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Date: Wed, 22 Nov 2017 14:01:02 +0100
By Beatrice DEBUT

Jamestown, Nov 22, 2017 (AFP) - Cut off from the rest of the world for centuries, St. Helena, which lies isolated in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, is now reachable by plane for the first time.   The aviation breakthrough promises to lift the British-run territory from obscurity and bring it within reach of international tourists.   The arrival of the first commercial flight was also a relief for islanders frustrated by a delay to the opening because of high winds.

After years of procrastination, London gave the green light in 2011 a full runway on the island.    The ambition was to bring it within six hours of mainland Africa instead of the five days previously needed to make the ocean voyage from Cape Town.   British officials hoped that 30,000 tourists a year would visit the island, which is home to just 4,500 residents -- known as "Saints".   Just don't expect white sandy beaches and palm trees.

Rather, the island is known as a paradise for hikers and divers with dramatic scenery and its volcanic origins, and boasts history as rich as its flora and fauna.   The British have detained various opposition forces on the island over the centuries, including the defeated Napoleon after the Battle of Waterloo who died in exile on St. Helena in 1821.   It was also temporarily home to 25,000 former slaves after they were released in the 19th century on the island, which lay on the slave-trading route from Africa to America and the Caribbean.

- 'We had already invested' -
Encouraged by London's upbeat estimates, islanders began investing in tourism, sensing an opportunity in an economy where the average annual salary is just £7,280 (8,150 euros, $9,600).   Local businessman Johnny Herne runs a pleasure boat that he imported from Scotland 8,000 kilometres (5,000 miles) away on which guests can spot humpback whales and dolphins along the craggy coastline.   He has so far invested £182,000 in his business but now is drowning in debt as a result of the airport delay, which he says contributed to his divorce.   "It ruined my life," he said.

Entrepreneur Paul Hickling produces a cactus liqueur and a local coffee and has invested more than £100,000.   "The government said: 'Invest because the airport is coming... all these people are going to come'," he said.   "Unfortunately the airport got delayed -- but we had already invested the money."   In April 2016, just three weeks before the £285-million airport's grand opening, disaster struck.   Unforeseen winds meant that takeoffs and landings were ruled too dangerous, leaving islanders dismayed.

- 'Big relief' -
Hazel Wilmot, a hotelier in the capital Jamestown, had had large quantities of food and drink shipped to St. Helena and her property was fully booked.   But with the delay, tourists cancelled their trips.   "I had four containers at sea full of food, full of booze that I could not use," she said. In 2016 she says she lost at least £200,000.    Local officials set up a scheme to help businesses affected by the delay -- but no one has yet claimed, according to the island's trade board.

But overly strict criteria and a complex claiming process have deterred claimants, locals say.   After the 18-month delay, the first commercial flight finally touched down on October 14 this year.   A sense of euphoria swept through the cabin as champagne was served and the island edged into view. On the ground, islanders celebrated the long-awaited arrival.   "It was a big relief when the airport finally opened. It has not been easy," said Craig Yon, a manager of a hotel that opened in 2012.

- 'Not going to stop' -
But the island may never experience a tourism boom on the scale that was promised.   For safety reasons, the passenger capacity of the aircraft serving the island is far smaller than planned.   And the single weekly flight from Johannesburg will serve the island at a cost of about £800 return.   "South Africans would prefer to go for three weeks in Thailand than to go to St. Helena," said one South African travel agent, who organises trips to the island.   For this Christmas, Wilmot has just five bookings so far.    "Where are all these tourists we were told were going to swamp the island?" she said.   Tourism chief Helena Bennett now thinks the goal of 30,000 visitors was "unrealistic" -- indeed the small plane can bring less than 4,000 people, including residents, to the island each year.

Even today, the island has just 121 guest beds including a new hotel funded by the local government.   None of the properties have a website, while roads are so small that often only one car can pass.    But with the air link, the flow of tourists will at least be more constant.    "During the two-week period when the Royal Mail Ship is away, the island is dead," said Bennett, referring to the passenger and cargo vessel that calls at the island.   "With the plane, we are going to have visitors every week. The island is not going to stop anymore."
Date: Sat, 14 Oct 2017 22:35:34 +0200
By Beatrice DEBUT

Jamestown, Oct 14, 2017 (AFP) - The first regular commercial flight landed at St. Helena Saturday, opening the small British island in the South Atlantic to the world after centuries of isolation.   Around 100 islanders came out to the airport to watch the historic landing of the Embraer 190 jet which came from Johannesburg.   On the tarmac, some 60 incoming passengers were welcomed by the island's smiling governor, Lisa Phillips.   "It is connecting us to the world and it is opening us to the world," said Niall O'Keeffe, in charge of economic development on the island.

St. Helena, with just over 4,000 residents known as "Saints", is best known as the rocky outcrop where French emperor Napoleon Bonaparte saw out his final days.   After five years of construction, controversy and embarrassing delays due to high winds, the airport built at a cost of £285 million (318 million euros) finally opened for business.   "It will bring in tourists and we will be able to get a better standard of living," said Phillips.

The volcanic tropical island itself measures just 122 square kilometres (47 square miles) and is located almost exactly halfway between Africa and South America.   Its isolated location meant it was chosen as a place of exile for those who suffered defeat at the hands of the British,  with Napoleon held there from 1815 until his death in 1821.

Several thousand Boer prisoners of war were also detained there at the start of the 20th century.   Until Saturday, St. Helena was one of the world's most inaccessible locations.   It has been only reachable by sea, a five-day voyage from Cape Town aboard a Royal Mail vessel that chugs along at a speed of just 15 knots (28 kilometres an hour).   Every three weeks, the RMS St. Helena has been the islanders' link to the outside world, bringing a cargo of food, post, visitors and vehicles.

- Major engineering challenge -
The new flight route, via Windhoek in Namibia, makes the island reachable by air from South Africa in just six hours.   The airport has been a colossal civil engineering challenge.   The island had no suitable flat surface to construct the necessary 1,950 metre-long airstrip.   Engineers were forced to chip away a mountain peak and fill in a valley to create enough of an even surface.   The runway is located on a breathtaking mountain just 300 metres from the sea.   Because of high winds, Comair abandoned plans to operate the route with a Boeing 737, paving the way for AirLink's smaller Embraer 190 jet.

- High winds setback  -
The winds meant that the airport could not be opened in 2016 as originally planned with a ribbon-cutting by Prince Edward, Queen Elizabeth II's youngest son.   The conditions made take-offs and landings much more difficult than expected and just weeks before the scheduled ceremony, it was cancelled and the airport became practically unused.   After more than a year of test flights and studies, the decision was taken to use the Embraer 190.   The island will be served by a weekly service from Johannesburg costing about £800 return ($1,060). The average salary on St. Helena is just £7,280.   "It's more expensive that a flight to London" from South Africa, said
Jacqui Wilson, who saved up to take the "historic" flight.

But on the personal side people are just so glad there is an airport.   "Now we will be able to go home more often. Our family and friends will be able to visit, which is very great," said Catherine Man, the only veterinarian on the island.:   It is also hoped that the air link will help reduce the island's dependence on aid from London which cost the British taxpayer £53.5 million in 2015 alone.   When the RMS St. Helena is retired from service next year, the island will become almost completely dependent on its airport.   But with its Napoleonic heritage, rare birds and exotic plant life, hopes are high that the island will become a nirvana for curious travellers.
Date: Mon 19 Sep 2016, 9:23 AM
Source: Today [edited]

There has been a noticeable increase in cases of hand foot and mouth disease, the Collective Prevention Services (CPS) says in a press release and urges parents and guardians, day care centres and play schools to be on alert for an increase in clusters of the disease amongst the school population. CPS advises to take extra measures to prevent outbreaks by washing of hands often with soap and water.

Hand foot and mouth disease is a common viral illness that usually affects infants and children who are 10-years of age or younger. It can sometimes occur in adults. There is no vaccine to protect against the viruses that cause it.

People with symptoms should consult their family physician and take measures to mitigate an increase in the number of cases.

Symptoms include cold-like conditions, fever, mouth sores, loss of appetite, cough, and a skin rash; a non-itchy red rash that develops on the hand and the feet, and sometimes the rash can develop into painful blisters; painful mouth ulcers.
=====================
[The causative agent for hand foot and mouth disease (HFMD) is an enterovirus. It is not the same as other diseases that have similar names: foot-and-mouth disease (sometimes called hoof-and-mouth disease). See previous ProMED post Hand, foot & mouth disease - USA (04): (CA) http://promedmail.org/post/20160505.4204778 for a discussion of HFMD.

[A map of St. Maarten in the Caribbean can be accessed at
Date: Fri, 15 Jul 2016 16:14:56 +0200

Johannesburg, July 15, 2016 (AFP) - The mail boat that is the only link to St Helena, one of the world's most remote islands, has had its retirement delayed after a new airport failed to open due to dangerous winds.   The airport, constructed between soaring mountains and the South Atlantic Ocean, was designed to boost tourism and revive the community on the British territory where Napoleon was exiled and died in 1821.

But the 250-million-pound ($330 million) facility has been closed indefinitely for more data to be gathered after the first test flights in April measured severe air turbulence.   The RMS St Helena mail boat, which was due to be decommissioned this year after the airport's scheduled opening, takes about five days to reach the island from Cape Town.

The St Helena government said Friday that the boat would be kept in service until at least July 2017.   "Intensive work continues to mitigate wind conditions experienced at St Helena Airport," it added in a statement. "Getting this right will take some time."   Located nearly 2,000 kilometres (1,200 miles) from the African coast, St Helena has about 4,200 residents, one bank, and no cash machines.   A mountain ridge had to be lowered and a small valley filled in during the construction of the airport.
Date: Thu, 28 Apr 2016 14:25:36 +0200

Johannesburg, April 28, 2016 (AFP) - The opening of an airport on St Helena, one of the world's most remote islands, has been postponed indefinitely after test flights revealed dangerous wind conditions, officials said Thursday.   The airport, constructed between soaring mountains and the South Atlantic Ocean, was designed to boost tourism and revive the community on the British territory where Napoleon was exiled and died in 1821.   An opening ceremony to be attended by Prince Edward, the Earl of Wessex, had been scheduled for next month to mark the start of weekly commercial flights from Johannesburg, four and half hours away.   But the 250-million-pound ($360 million) airport will remain closed after a test flight last week measured severe turbulence and wind data.

The only way to reach the island is a five-day journey by sea from Cape Town by a mail boat that is due to be decommissioned this year.   "It is quite a disappointment, but when you are talking about airports, everything revolves around safety," Ian Jones, the St Helena government spokesman, told AFP, speaking from the island's capital Jamestown.   "There are some side winds and wind shear that we knew about, but it is not until you land a full-size aircraft that you fully understand the conditions.   "We did not realise how serious it was."   Jones said the airport had no new opening date, but analysis of wind data, new observational equipment and adjustments to the approach route would be considered to enable the runway to open.

An amateur video on the Internet showed the Boeing 737 test flight aborting its first landing attempt seconds before touchdown and climbing steeply back into the air.   "Difficult wind conditions, including turbulence and windshear, are encountered and safely managed at many airports around the world," the island's government said in a statement.   "Everyone involved remains committed to commencing commercial flights to and from St Helena at the earliest possible opportunity."   A mountain ridge had to be lowered and a small valley filled in during the construction of the airport, which has a 1,950-metre long runway.   It was first due to open in February, but building work was not yet completed.   Located nearly 2,000 kilometres (1,200 miles) from the African coast, St Helena has about 4,200 residents, one bank, and no cash machines.
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Date: Mon, 18 Nov 2019 08:37:15 +0100 (MET)

Jakarta, Nov 18, 2019 (AFP) - An endangered Sumatran Tiger has mauled to death an Indonesian farmer and seriously injured a domestic tourist, a conservation official said Monday.   The fatal attack happened Sunday at the farmer's coffee plantation on Sumatra island where the 57-year-old wrestled with the big cat before it killed him, according to Genman Hasibuan, head of the South Sumatra conservation agency.   "The farmer was attacked while he was cutting a tree at his plantation," he told AFP on Monday.   The mauling came a day after the same tiger attacked a group of Indonesian tourists who were camping at a local tea plantation in South Sumatra's Mount Dempo region.

One of the tourists was rushed to hospital for wounds to his back after the cat stormed into his tent, Hasibuan said.   The animal, which remains loose in the protected-forest area, is believed to be one of just 15 critically endangered tigers in South Sumatra, which has seen five tiger attacks this year, including two fatal incidents, Hasibuan said.

Human-animal conflicts are common in the vast Southeast Asian archipelago, especially in areas where the clearing of rainforest to make way for palm oil plantations is destroying animals' habitats and bringing them into closer contact with people.   In March last year, a man was killed by a tiger in Sumatra's Riau province while several months earlier a tiger also killed a plantation worker in the area.   Sumatran tigers are considered critically endangered by protection group the International Union for Conservation of Nature, with 400 to 500 remaining in the wild.
Date: Fri, 15 Nov 2019 17:12:24 +0100 (MET)

Karachi, Nov 15, 2019 (AFP) - Pakistan has become the first country in the world to introduce a new typhoid vaccine, officials said Friday, as the country grapples with an ongoing outbreak of a drug-resistant strain of the potentially fatal disease.   The vaccine, approved by the World Health Organization (WHO), will be used during a two-week immunisation campaign in southern Sindh province.

Sindh is where most of Pakistan's 10,000 cases of typhoid have been documented since 2017.    "The two-week campaign beginning from today would target over 10 million children of nine months to 15 years of age," Azra Pechuho, the health minister in Sindh province, said in Karachi on Friday.   The new vaccines have been provided by Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, to the Pakistani government free of cost.

After the two-week campaign, it will be introduced into routine immunisations in Sindh, and in other areas of Pakistan in the coming years.   Pakistan spends a meagre amount of its national resources on public health and a majority of its population remains vulnerable to contagious diseases such as typhoid.   In 2017, 63 percent of the typhoid cases documented and 70 percent of the fatalities were children, according to a joint press release from the Pakistani government, WHO and Gavi.
Date: Sat, 16 Nov 2019 05:50:25 +0100 (MET)
By Abhaya SRIVASTAVA

New Delhi, Nov 16, 2019 (AFP) - A thick grey smog choked New Delhi for the fifth day Saturday, adding to a mounting pollution health crisis, but retired naval commander Anil Charan is one of the vast majority of the city's 20 million inhabitants who do not wear a mask.   Indian media is packed with warnings about the risk of premature death, lung cancer and particular danger to children from PM2.5 -- tiny particles that get into the bloodstream and vital organs -- carried in the smog.   But the smartly-dressed Charan was among shoppers in Delhi's upmarket Khan Market district browsing the luxury clothes and jewellery stores without a mask, seemingly oblivious to the risk.   Many are too poor to afford protection but others simply do not like the way a pollution mask looks.

Charan, wearing aviator sunglasses, said it did not fit his "rough and tough" image.   "I have been brought up in this kind of atmosphere, the smog and all, so I am kind of used to it. And being a naval officer I think if I wear a mask I will think I am a sissy," he said.   Doctors say face masks must be worn and air purifiers used at home and in offices.   There are a variety of masks to choose from. A basic cloth version can cost as little as 50 rupees (70 US cents) but the protection they offer is debatable.    More reputable types start from 2,500 rupees ($34) while some Khan Market stores charge more than 5,500 rupees ($75) for top of the range imported models.

- Bare-faced bravado -
The mask-look worried a lot of the Khan Market shoppers and diners however. Some said the danger had been overblown.   "I know I am risking my health but I am not very comfortable wearing them (masks)," said Ritancia Cardoz, who works for a private company.   "I don't find it appealing," she told AFP.   Lopa Diwan, on a visit to the capital from the provinces, said the Delhi air was "not as bad as it is being made out to be."   "So many people advised me not to go to Delhi because of the pollution but I don't think it's that bad. I don't see people dying," she said.

Pollution -- blamed on industrial and car emissions mixed with stubble fires on thousands of farms surrounding the city -- has been building up each winter for the past decade. The past five years have been particularly bad.   The toxic air cuts short the lives of one million people in India every year, according to government research published earlier this year.    Concentrations of the most harmful airborne pollutants in Delhi are regularly about 20 times the World Health Organisation safe limit. That rams home the city's reputation as the world's most polluted capital.   Some foreign companies and embassies now do not let families move to Delhi, or at least give strong warnings about the pollution.

The Delhi government has given out hundreds of thousands of masks to children and closed schools for four of the past five days. Construction is banned and cars can only go on the roads on alternate days.   But still only a tiny number of inhabitants follow medical advice when outside. Rickshaw drivers who earn about $7 a day on an average say they cannot afford masks.   Chand Babu, a car park attendant at Khan Market, said he could buy one of the cheaper masks but it was too much of a hassle to wear.   "I have to blow the whistle all the time so it's inconvenient."   Babu does worry, however, about his three children who also do not have masks. "They go outside to play. The problem is real, but what do we do, tell me?"
Date: Sun, 17 Nov 2019 14:28:44 +0100 (MET)
By Filippo MONTEFORTE with Charles ONIANS in Rome

Venice, Nov 17, 2019 (AFP) - Venice's St Mark's Square was closed on Sunday as the historic city suffered its  third major flooding in less than a week, while rain lashing the rest of Italy prompted warnings in Florence and Pisa.   Venice's latest "acqua alta", or high water, hit 150 centimetres (just under five feet) on Sunday, lower than Tuesday's 187 centimetres -- the highest level in half a century -- but still dangerous.   "The water has stopped rising," tweeted mayor Luigi Brugnaro, who has estimated damage so far from the invading salt water at over one billion euros (dollars).   "High of 150 centimetres... Venice is working to restart," Brugnaro said after the sea water swamped the already devastated city where authorities have declared a state of emergency.   To the south, Tuscany president Enrico Rossi tweeted a warning of a "flood wave" on the Arno and said boards were being installed on the swollen river's banks in Pisa "as a precautionary measure".

The Italian army tweeted photos of paratroopers helping to bolster river defences in Pisa, with authorities monitoring the same river in Florence after heavy rain made it rise dramatically overnight.   Arno flooding devastated Renaissance jewel Florence in 1966, killing around 100 people and destroying thousands of priceless works of art. Civil protection units in Florence advised citizens "not to stand near the Arno's riverbanks".   Firefighters tweeted footage of a hovercraft being deployed to rescue stranded citizens in southern Tuscany's Grossetano province.

- Brief respite -
The renewed threat from exceptionally high tides in Venice came after a brief respite on Saturday.   Emergency workers removed temporary walkways from St Mark's Square as the water started to rise on Sunday, with only police and soldiers visible at around midday.   The top tourist site had already been shut for several hours on Friday as strong storms and winds battered the region, leaving it submerged by sea surges.

Churches, shops and homes have also been inundated in the Renaissance city, a UNESCO World Heritage site.   A massive infrastructure project called MOSE has been under way since 2003 to protect the city, but the multi-billion euro project has been plagued by cost overruns, corruption scandals and delays.   "We weren't expecting the high waters to be so exceptionally high," said Guido Fulgenzi, who had planned to open his cafe on St Mark's square this week.   "We're paying the price" for the MOSE project not being completed, he said, sloshing around in his flooded kitchen and pointing to Tuesday's high water mark on the wall.   The crisis has prompted the government to release 20 million euros ($22 million) in funds to tackle the devastation.   Culture Minister Dario Franceschini has warned that the task of repairing the city, where more than 50 churches have suffered damage, will be huge.

- Hotel reservations cancelled -
Residents whose houses have been hit are eligible for up to 5,000 euros in immediate government aid, while restaurant and shop owners can receive up to 20,000 euros and apply for more later.   Most of the city's cash machines were no longer working, making life even more difficult for tourists and Venetians.   "We didn't expect there to be so much water, now we're soaked," said French tourist Magali Mariolou, visiting Venice for her wedding anniversary.   "We'll come back another year when it's a bit drier. The boots are heavy, they're full of water!"

Older residents who remember the infamous "acqua alta" of 1966, when the water rose to 1.94 metres, say they have not seen such frequent flooding before.   Hotels reported cancelled reservations, some as far ahead as December, following the widespread diffusion of images of Venice underwater.   Tuesday's high waters submerged around 80 percent of the city, officials said.   Many, including Venice's mayor, have blamed the disaster on global warming and warned that the country prone to natural disasters must wake up to the risks posed by ever more volatile seasons.   The Serenissima, as the floating city is called, is home to 50,000 residents but receives 36 million visitors each year.
Date: Mon, 18 Nov 2019 06:41:11 +0100 (MET)

Wellington, Nov 18, 2019 (AFP) - Samoa finalised plans for a compulsory measles vaccination programme Monday, after declaring a state of emergency as a deadly epidemic sweeps the Pacific nation.   At least six fatalities, including five children, have been linked to the outbreak of the virus, which has also hit other island states such as Tonga and Fiji.   Samoa is the worst affected with more than 700 cases reported from across all areas of the country, prompting the government on Friday to invoke emergency powers.

Declaring a state of emergency, the government said plans for compulsory measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) immunisations would be published on Monday.   "MMR vaccinations for members of the public who have not yet received a vaccination injection is now a mandatory legal requirement for all of Samoa," it said.   A national emergency operations centre to coordinate the measles response in the nation of 200,000 people was opened on Monday, with children aged six months to 19 years and non-pregnant females aged 20-35 given priority.

However, no information was immediately available on how the vaccinations would be administered or whether those who were not immunised would face sanctions.   Children are the most vulnerable to measles, which typically causes a rash and fever but can also lead to brain damage and death.   Samoa has closed all schools, kindergartens and the country's only university in a bid to halt the spread of the virus.   New Zealand, which is experiencing its own measles outbreak in the Auckland region, will this week send 30 nurses, 10 doctors and 3,000 MMR doses to Samoa.

University of Auckland immunologist Helen Petousis-Harris said even though measles was already widespread, the mass rollout of vaccinations could help limit the number of cases and reduce the death count.   She said it was also important to boost Samoa's low levels of immunisation and help prevent future outbreaks.   "In Samoa, the proportion of people who are immune to measles is very, very low, one of the lowest in the world," she told AFP.   "So if they aren't able to improve that, this is going to happen again."   The country's vaccination programme was briefly suspended last year when two babies died shortly after being given the MMR vaccine.   Subsequent investigations found the problem was not the widely used vaccine but the fact that nurses had prepared it incorrectly.

Neighbouring Tonga last week announced government primary schools and kindergartens would be closed until later this month as the number of measles cases in the kingdom approaches 200.   Fiji has reported four cases but says they are contained to a township west of the capital Suva.
Date: Sun, 17 Nov 2019 18:10:23 +0100 (MET)

Johannesburg, Nov 17, 2019 (AFP) - South African unions on Sunday called on all aviation workers to join striking South African Airways (SAA) staff after the cash-strapped airline failed to meet their demands.   The country's embattled flag carrier has been losing 52 million rand ($3.5 million) per day since more than 3,000 workers started an open-ended strike on Friday -- forcing the airline to cancel hundreds of flights.   Talks with the two unions representing the striking workers ended without resolution on Saturday, prompting threats of further action.   "In response to this deliberate provocation by the SAA board and its executive management, (the) NUMSA (metalworkers' union) is in the process of consulting workers for a secondary strike in aviation," NUMSA spokeswoman Phakamile Hlubi-Majola told reporters outside the SAA headquarters in Johannesburg.

NUMSA and the South African Cabin Crew Association (SACCA) first threatened to strike after SAA announced this week that almost 1,000 employees could lose their jobs as part of a restructuring process.   Initial talks with management deadlocked after they failed to agree on wage hikes, prompting the unions to press on with their threats.   SAA is offering a 5.9 percent pay rise, while unions are demanding an eight percent across-the-board hike and a three-year guaranteeof job security.   They are also asking the airline to in-source more jobs.    "We are fighting against retrenchment, corruption and privatisation," Hlubi-Majola told journalists.   She said discussions with SAA subsidiaries, South Africa's airport management company and airline service providers were under way.   Two transport unions have also been called on to join the action.   "This secondary strike will have the impact of shutting down the entire aviation sector," NUMSA and SACCA said in a joint statement.   SAA CEO Zuks Ramasia voiced "concern" about the unions' intentions and urged them to "reconsider".   "The intent of a secondary strike is to cause disruption, bring all airport operations to a halt and create huge damage to the South African economy," Ramasia said in a statement on Sunday.

- Embattled airline -
The CEO added that SAA could not "afford to pay any salary increases" and reiterated the 5.9 percent rise offer.   "The company has repeatedly communicated the precarious financial position of the company," Ramasia said.      More than 300 SAA flights have been grounded as a result of the open-ended strike.   International flights started slowly resuming on Sunday, while regional and domestic flights remain grounded.   "We hope all our customers understand that the cancellations have been beyond our control," Ramasia said.   South Africa is struggling to get its state-owned companies back on track after nine years of corruption and mismanagement under former president Jacob Zuma.   SAA -- one of Africa's biggest airlines -- is deep in debt and has not posted a profit since 2011, despite several government bailouts.   Finance Minister Tito boweni announced in February that the government would reimburse the company's 9.2 billion rand ($620 million) debt over the next three years.   Ramasia said discussions with unions would resume once the airline had considered "options on the way forward".
Date: Tue, 12 Nov 2019 13:10:01 +0100 (MET)
By Holly ROBERTSON, Andrew BEATTY, with Daniel De Cartert in Hillville

Sydney, Nov 12, 2019 (AFP) - Bushfires raging across eastern Australia singed Sydney's suburbs on Tuesday, with firefighters scrambling planes and helicopters to douse a built-up neighbourhood with water and red retardant.   Experts have described the conditions as the worst on record, as spring temperatures climbed toward 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit) and winds topped 80 kilometres (50 miles) per hour across a zone which has been plagued by persistent drought.   Although the bushfire season is in its infancy, scientists predict it to be one of Australia's toughest ever, with climate change and unfavourable weather cycles helping created a tinderbox of strong winds, low humidity and high temperatures.

Twin blazes in the north shore suburb of Turramurra -- around 15 kilometres (nine miles) from the centre of Australia's largest city -- tore through a eucalypt forest park and sparked spot fires in homes, before eventually being brought under control.   As night fell, authorities said they were bringing another "clearly suspicious" blaze in a national park in the city's southern suburbs under control.    Throughout the day, more than 300 bushfires burned up and down Australia's east coast, fanned by gale-force winds, scorching temperatures and tinder-dry bushland that has brought some of the most dangerous conditions the country has seen.

In Turramurra, gardens smouldered, thick smoke hung heavy in the air and cars, houses and roads were caked in raspberry-red retardant as if hit by a giant paintball.   "It was the embers that floated up that actually went across and set off spot fires in the front yards" resident Nigel Lush told AFP, adding that one roof had been set alight.   Another resident, Julia Gretton-Roberts, said the blaze spread shockingly quickly.   "Next thing I know the fire was opposite our house and it was massive and the police came and grabbed our kids and took them away," she said.   "My daughter is pretty freaked out."   Firefighter Andrew Connon told AFP "a number of homes were threatened but it was contained by the aerial bombing".

- 'Catastrophic conditions' -
From early morning thousands of firefighters spread out across New South Wales in anticipation of what they called "off the scale" fire risk and "catastrophic" conditions.   They were unable to prevent several bushfires from breaching containment lines and trapping residents who had not already evacuated.   New South Wales Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said so far only a dozen buildings had been damaged Tuesday and a handful non-life-threatening injuries were reported, but the crisis was far from over.

Firefighters will be "working on these fires for days and weeks given the enormity of the firegrounds," he said.    Even before unfavourable weather hit, days of fires had killed three people and destroyed at least 150 homes.   "The conditions are expected to get worse," Fitzsimmons said, warning residents in adjacent areas to stay alert.   "Complacency kills," he added.   Up to 600 schools were closed, as well as many national parks, a total fire ban was introduced for the affected area and Rally Australia -- due to be held in Coffs Harbour at the weekend -- was cancelled.   The military pitched in, helping firefighters with logistics and water-dropping sorties using more than 100 aircraft.

- 'We'll fight it first' -
In the town of Hillville a fire that has ripped through an area the size of 25,000 soccer fields approached the home of Daniel Stevens.   Like many, his family -- including his mother nursing a broken leg -- have packed their bags, but have resisted leaving their house and everything they own.    "We'll fight it first," he told AFP, "but if it jumps the fence line into the paddock, we'll go."

In the nearby town of Taree, dozens of people have already moved to a showground that has become a makeshift evacuation centre.   Fifty-nine-year-old Caroline Watson arrived last night with her husband and their dog.    "The fires are just rife. They are absolutely everywhere" she told AFP. "They didn't ask us to get out, but we figured it was coming."

Further south in the Blue Mountains on the outskirts of Sydney, veteran Winmalee firefighter Alan Gardiner said locals were "terrified and on edge".    The town still bears the scars of a 2013 blaze that destroyed 200 homes, and residents are acutely aware that with few roads in and out of the mountains, a decision to leave late can be fatal.   Efforts to burn fuel in a controlled way have been limited by months of drought-like conditions that made it too dangerous.
Date: Tue, 12 Nov 2019 10:03:07 +0100 (MET)

Denpasar, Indonesia, Nov 12, 2019 (AFP) - An Australian tourist who fly-kicked a motorcyclist and assaulted a man in his own home during a drunken rampage was jailed for four months on Tuesday.   The ruling comes after Nicholas Carr's antics were caught in a viral video that saw him carry out a campaign of destruction in Seminyak, a popular tourist area on the Indonesian holiday island.   "The defendant Nicholas Carr is found guilty and is sentenced to four months" in jail, presiding judge Soebandi, who goes by one name, told the Denpasar District Court.    A lawyer for Carr, charged with assault and property damage, said the 26-year-old would not appeal the ruling.    He is expected to be released next month because of time already served.   In August, Carr ran barefoot on to a street and shouted expletives before the apprentice builder slammed into the bonnet of a moving car and then fly-kicked an unsuspecting motorcycle rider.

The biker, who was thrown from the moving scooter, sustained minor injuries -- later the pair embraced during a court hearing as Carr apologised to the victim.   Carr also shattered a convenience store's glass door before stealing a motorcycle.   Later, he broke into a house where he assaulted the sleeping homeowner, leaving him with injuries, police said earlier.    He was eventually caught by locals and police and taken to hospital.    Pictures that circulated on social media showed at the time showed Carr bloodied and bruised, and trussed with hosepipe and rope.   Shortly after his arrest, Carr apologised and admitted drinking more than 10 small bottles of vodka as well as other alcohol.

After a string of embarrassing incidents by tourists, Bali officials recently warned that boorish visitors may be kicked off the island, which attracts millions annually to its palm-fringed beaches, colourful nightlife and ancient temples.   Australian professional rugby league player David Fifita returned home this week after he was briefly arrested in Bali for assaulting a nightclub security guard.   Several days after Carr's arrest, a Czech couple who were slammed for disrespecting a Balinese temple took part in a ritual purification ceremony.
Date: Mon, 11 Nov 2019 16:19:54 +0100 (MET)

Lyon, Nov 11, 2019 (AFP) - An unusually strong earthquake hit south-eastern France on Monday, injuring four people, one of them seriously, authorities said.   A physicist at a geophysics institute the IPGP said that quakes of this strength are rare in that region, but warned of possible aftershocks and said people should leave fragile buildings.   The quake, with a magnitude of 5.4, was felt in a vast area between the cities of Lyon and Montelimar which are about 150 kilometres (93 miles) apart, the national seismological office said.   "I was leaning against the oven in my mother's bakery when I felt the tremor," said Victoria Brielle, a resident in Privas, some 25 kilometres from the quake's epicentre.   "A customer said her sideboard had moved and all her crockery was broken,"  she said.

Another resident in the area, Didier Levy, who lives in a 15th century castle, told AFP that "chandeliers were still trembling" several minutes after the quake.   Levy, who said his dog starting barking even before humans felt the tremors, added: "I have never experienced anything like it, I could feel the trembling even though these wall are one metre thick."   One person was seriously hurt when some scaffolding collapsed, the regional prefect's office said.   Three other people in the neighbouring Ardeche region were slightly injured.

Quakes in this region are rarely higher than Magnitude 5, said Mustapha Meghraoui of the IPGP's office in Strasbourg.   "We can say that this is a rare one," he added. But he said there might be an aftershock of around 4.5.   "If people are in a fragile house, they would be better leaving it" for something more robust for a while, he said.   The scale of the damage suggested the quake happened at a depth of between five and 10 kilometres, he added. But they were working on a more accurate reading.
Date: Mon, 11 Nov 2019 13:19:54 +0100 (MET)

Goma, DR Congo, Nov 11, 2019 (AFP) - A local radio station that has been involved in the fight against Ebola in eastern DR Congo said Monday it was closing down after one of its broadcasters was murdered.   Joel Musavuli, head of Lwemba radio in Mambasa in Ituri province, told AFP that the station had been targeted by armed groups hostile to the campaign to roll back the Ebola epidemic.

"Each of us have received threats since last month. We have now decided to stop broadcasting, Musavuli said, adding that he himself had escaped two kidnap attempts.   "We are victims of our commitment to the awareness campaign about the spread of Ebola virus disease. We don't know why the militiamen are targeting us."   Nearly 2,200 people have died since the notorious haemorrhagic disease erupted in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo in August 2018, according to the latest official figures.

The fight against the outbreak has been hampered by local fears and superstititions, exploited by militia groups that are rampant in the remote region.   Several health workers have been killed and media that have supported the campaign have received threats.

Several radio stations in the Mambasa area say they have stopped broadcasting anti-Ebola messages because of intimidation.   On November 2, Lwemba broadcaster Papy Mahamba was killed at his home by unidentified men. His wife was injured and their house set ablaze.    The station said the authorities had failed to take action against the threats. It said it would resume broadcasts after "the state has restored authority in the area".