August 13, 2008
Since March 1963, the Syrian Arab Republic has been ruled by an authoritarian regime dominated by the Socialist Ba'ath Party.
While the ruling Ba'ath party
Syria has a developing, centrally-planned economy with large public (30%), agricultural (25%), and industrial (20%) sectors.
Tourist facilities are available, but vary in quality depending on price and location.
Read the Department of State Background Note http://www.state.gov/r/pa/ei/bgn/3580.htm on Syria for additional information.
A passport and a visa are required.
Visas must be obtained prior to arrival in Syria from a Syrian diplomatic mission located in the traveler’s country of residence, although the Syrian visa policy with respect to American diplomats and citizens is currently under review.
Foreigners who wish to stay 15 days or more in Syria must register with Syrian immigration authorities by their 15th day.
Syrian-American men or American men of Syrian origin, even those born in the United States, may be subject to compulsory military service unless they receive a temporary or permanent exemption from a Syrian diplomatic mission abroad prior to their entry into Syria.
(Please see the section on Special Circumstances below.)
Syria charges a departure tax for all visitors except those on diplomatic passports.
As of July 1, 2008, the tax is 1,500 Syrian Pounds if departing from the airport; 500 Syrian Pounds if departing via one of the land borders.
The Syrian government rigidly enforces restrictions on prior travel to Israel, and does not allow persons with passports bearing Israeli visa or entry/exit stamps to enter the country.
Syrian immigration authorities will not admit travelers with Israeli stamps in their passports, Jordanian entry cachets or cachets from other countries that suggest prior travel to Israel.
Likewise, the absence of entry stamps from a country adjacent to Israel, which the traveler has just visited, will cause Syrian immigration officials to refuse admittance.
Entry into Syria via the land border with Israel is not possible.
American-citizen travelers suspected of having traveled to Israel have been detained for questioning.
Syrian security officials are also sensitive about travel to Iraq.
There have been instances in which Americans, especially those of Arab descent, believed to have traveled to Iraq were detained for questioning at ports of entry/exit.
Americans seeking to travel to Iraq through Syria have also on occasion been turned around and/or detained.
On a number of occasions the border between Iraq and Syria has been closed without notice, stranding Americans on either side of the border.
Children under the age of eighteen whose fathers are Syrian or of Syrian descent must have their fathers' permission to leave Syria, even if the parents are separated or divorced and the mother has been granted full custody by a Syrian court.
Women in Syria are often subject to strict family controls.
On occasion, families of Syrian-American women visiting Syria have attempted to prevent them from leaving the country.
This can be a particular problem for young single women of marriageable age.
Although a woman does not need her husband's explicit consent every time she wishes to leave Syria, a Syrian husband may take legal action to prevent his wife from leaving the country, regardless of her nationality.
Once such legal orders are in place, the U.S. Embassy cannot help American citizens leave Syria.
Visit the Embassy of the Syrian Arab Republic, 2215 Wyoming Ave. NW, Washington, DC
20008, telephone (202) 232-6313 or check the Syrian Embassy's home page at http://www.syrianembassy.us 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: Syria is included on the Department of State's List of State Sponsors of Terrorism.
A number of the terrorist groups that have offices in Syria oppose U.S. policies in the Middle East.
On September 12, 2006, the U.S. Embassy in Damascus was attacked by assailants using improvised explosives, gunfire, and two vehicles laden with explosives.
On February 4, 2006, mobs protesting caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed destroyed the Norwegian and Chilean embassies and severely damaged the Danish and Swedish diplomatic missions.
On April 27, 2004 there was a violent clash in which three people died in an area of Damascus where many foreign citizens reside.
It has never been clear whether the shootout with Syrian security forces involved common criminals or terrorists.
In 1998 and 2000, mobs attacked the U.S. Ambassador’s Residence and the U.S. Embassy, respectively.
In 1997, twenty-two people were killed when a public bus was bombed in downtown Damascus.
All of these attacks serve as reminders that Syria is not immune from political or purely criminal violence.
Americans traveling through the area should remain aware that U.S. interests and citizens might be targeted.
Security personnel may at times place foreign visitors under surveillance.
Hotel rooms, telephones, and fax machines may be monitored, and personal possessions in hotel rooms may be searched.
Taking photographs of anything that could be perceived as being of military or security interest may result in problems with authorities.
Additionally, Americans should be aware that conversations on the topics of political, religious and other freedoms are not seen as merely healthy debate in Syria and could lead to arrest.
Note that possession of specific-use electronic devices including GPS, short-wave or handheld radio equipment, or similar devices in Syria is illegal.
For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs’ website at http://travel.state.gov, where the current Travel Warnings, including the Travel Warning for Syria, Travel Alerts, as well as the Worldwide Caution, can be found.
Up-to-date information on safety and security can also be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll free in the U.S. and Canada or, for callers outside the U.S. and Canada, a regular toll-line at 1-202-501-4444.
These numbers are available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays).
The Department of State urges American citizens to take responsibility for their own personal security while traveling overseas.
For general information about appropriate measures travelers can take to protect themselves in an overseas environment, see the Department of State’s pamphlet A Safe Trip Abroad.
While a few cases of theft, burglary and assault have been reported to the Embassy, crime is generally not a serious problem for travelers in Syria.
It is important to note, however, that Syria is not crime free. Specifically, incidents of credit card and ATM fraud, and physical harassment of women, are on the rise.
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 the local police, please contact the U.S. Embassy for assistance.
The Embassy staff can, for example, assist you to find appropriate medical care, to contact family members or friends and explain how funds could be transferred.
Although the investigation and prosecution of the crime is solely the responsibility of local authorities, consular officers can help you to understand the local criminal justice process and to find an attorney if needed.
The local equivalents for the “911” emergency line in Syria are:
110 for ambulance, 113 for fire and 112 for the police.
See our information on Victims of Crime.
MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION:
Basic medical care and medicines are available in Syria's principal cities, but not necessarily in outlying areas.
Serious illnesses and emergencies may require evacuation to a Western medical facility.
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.
Some HIV/AIDS entry restrictions exist for visitors to or foreign residents of Syria.
There are no special immunizations required for entry to Syria.
AIDS tests are mandatory for foreigners’ ages 15 to 60 who wish to reside in Syria.
The AIDS test must be conducted in Syria at a facility approved by the Syrian Ministry of Health.
A residence permit will not be issued until the absence of the HIV virus has been determined.
Foreigners wishing to marry Syrian nationals in Syria must also be tested for HIV.
Syria usually will not give visas or residency permits to students wishing to study religion or Arabic in private religious institutions.
Please verify this information with the Embassy of Syria at http://www.syrianembassy.us/ before you travel.
MEDICAL INSURANCE: The Department of State strongly urges Americans to consult with their medical insurance company prior to traveling abroad to confirm whether their policy applies overseas and whether it will cover emergency expenses such as a medical evacuation.
Please see our information on medical insurance overseas.
TRAFFIC SAFETY AND ROAD CONDITIONS: While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States.
The information below concerning Syria is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.
Driving in Syria is hazardous and requires great caution.
Although drivers generally follow traffic signs and signals, they often maneuver aggressively and show little regard for vehicles traveling behind or to the sides of them.
Lane markings are usually ignored.
Vehicles within Syrian traffic circles must give way to entering traffic, unlike in the United States.
At night, it is very hard to see pedestrians, who often walk into traffic with little warning.
Outside major cities it is common to find pedestrians, animals and vehicles without lights on the roads at night.
Pedestrians must also exercise caution.
Parked cars, deteriorating pavement, and guard posts obstruct sidewalks, often forcing pedestrians to walk in the street.
Vehicles often do not stop for pedestrians, and regularly run red lights or “jump” the green light well before it changes.
Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information.
For specific information concerning Syrian driving permits, vehicle inspection, road tax and mandatory insurance, contact the Syrian Embassy in Washington, D.C. at 2215 Wyoming Avenue NW, Washington, DC
20008, tel. 202-232-6313.
AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT:
Sanctions resulting from the passage of the Syria Accountability Act prohibit aircraft of any air carrier owned or controlled by the Syrian government to take off from or land in the United States.
As there is no direct commercial air service to the United States by carriers registered in Syria, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not assessed Syria's Civil Aviation Authority for compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards.
For more information, travelers may visit the FAA’s web site at http://www.faa.gov/safety/programs_initiatives/oversight/iasa.
The U.S. Embassy in Damascus has advised its employees to avoid travel on Syrian Arab Airlines (Syrian Air or SAA) whenever possible due to concerns regarding the airline's ability to maintain its airplanes.
SAA has, on its own initiative, grounded individual aircraft with significant maintenance or service issues; however, concerns persist that some planes still being flown may lack certain safety equipment or may have undergone repairs that have not been reviewed by the manufacturer.
Syrian customs authorities may enforce strict regulations concerning temporary importation into or export from Syria of items such as weapons, narcotics, alcohol, tobacco, cheese, fruits, pharmaceuticals, modems, cosmetics, and some electrical appliances.
It is advisable to contact the Embassy of Syria in Washington, D.C. for specific information regarding customs requirements.
Please see our Customs Information.
U.S. citizens are encouraged to carry a copy of their U.S. passports with them at all times so that, if questioned by local officials, they will have proof of identity and U.S. citizenship readily available.
Although Syria is a signatory to the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, Syrian officials generally do not notify the American Embassy when American citizens are arrested. When the American Embassy learns of arrests of Americans and requests consular access, individual police officials have, on their own initiative, responded promptly and allowed consular officers to visit the prisoners.
However, security officials have also in the past denied Embassy requests for consular access, especially in the case of dual citizens.
Foreign currencies can be exchanged for Syrian pounds only at government-approved exchange centers and licensed private banks.
Syrian pounds cannot be changed back into foreign currency.
Very few places in Syria accept credit cards.
Foreigners visiting Syria are required to pay hotel bills in US dollars or Euros.
Travelers’ checks are not accepted for payment in Syria, and banks will not cash them unless the traveler has an account at the bank in question.
There are no US-based banks operating in Syria.
There are six private banks operating in Syria, with branches and ATMs in most major cities.
These ATMs usually honor major debit/credit systems.
Funds may be transferred into Syria through Western Union.
Wiring of funds through private banks is possible only if the traveler already holds an account with the bank in Syria;, transferring funds through the Commercial Bank of Syria is not possible due to U.S. sanctions.
Syrian-American and Palestinian-American men who have never served in the Syrian military and who are planning to visit Syria are strongly urged to check with the Syrian Embassy in Washington, D.C. prior to traveling concerning compulsory military service. American men over the age of 18, even those who have never resided in or visited Syria, whose fathers are of Syrian descent, are required to complete military service or pay to be exempted.
Possession of a U.S. passport does not absolve the bearer of this obligation.
The fee for exemption from military service ranges from $5,000 to $15,000 USD, depending upon circumstances, for Syrian-American and Palestinian-American men who live abroad.
In January 2005 the Syrian government reduced mandatory military service from 30 months to 24 months.
It also announced that Syrians born outside of Syria and residing abroad until the age of 18 have the option of being exempted from their service by paying $2,000 USD.
Those born in Syria who left the country before reaching the age of 11, and have resided abroad for more than 15 years can be exempted by paying $5,000 USD.
Contact the Syrian Embassy in Washington, DC, for more information (See Entry/Exit Requirements section above).
President Bush signed an executive order on May 11, 2004, implementing sanctions in accordance with the Syria Accountability Act.
These sanctions prohibit the export to Syria of products of the United States other than food or medicine, and prohibit any commercial aircraft owned or controlled by the Syrian government from taking off from or landing in the United States.
Under the authority provided in Section 5(b) of the Act, the President has determined that it is in the national security interest of the United States to waive the application of these sanctions in certain cases and for certain products, as specified in the Department of Commerce's General Order No. 2.
For additional information about implementation of the Syria Accountability Act, consult the Department of Commerce web site at (http://www.bis.doc.gov/).
Since 1979, the United States has designated Syria a State Sponsor of Terrorism due to its support for groups such as Hizbollah and Palestinian terrorist groups.
The Terrorism List Government Sanctions Regulations prohibit U.S. persons from receiving unlicensed donations from the Syrian government.
Additionally, U.S. persons are prohibited from engaging in financial transactions which a U.S. person knows or has reasonable cause to believe pose a risk of furthering terrorists' acts in the United States.
For additional information about the Terrorism List Government Sanctions Regulations, consult the terrorism brochure on the U.S. Department of the Treasury, Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) home page on the Internet at http://www.treas.gov/offices/enforcement/ofac/ or via OFAC's info-by-fax service at (202) 622-0077.
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 Syrian laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned.
Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Syria are strict and convicted offenders can expect prison sentences and heavy fines.
Penalties for possession of even small amounts of illegal drugs for personal use are severe in Syria.
Persons convicted in Syria for growing, processing, or smuggling drugs face the death penalty, which may be reduced to a minimum of 20 years’ imprisonment.
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.
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 Syria are encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate through the State Department's travel registration web site, and to obtain updated information on travel and security within Syria.
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 2 Al-Mansour St., Abu Roumaneh, Damascus.
The international mailing address is PO Box 29, Damascus.
Mail may also be sent via the U.S. Postal Service to: American Embassy Damascus, Department of State, Washington, DC
Telephone numbers are (963) (11) 3391-4444, fax number is (963)(11) 3391-3999, e-mail: email@example.com.
The government workweek in Syria is Sunday through Thursday; the private sector generally works Saturday through Thursday.
The U.S. Embassy is open Sunday through Thursday.
Additional information may be found on the Embassy web site at http://damascus.usembassy.gov
This replaces the Country Specific Information dated November 20, 2007 to update the sections on Entry/Exit Requirements, Safety and Security, Crime, Information for Victims of Crime, Medical Facilities and Health Information, Special Circumstances, and Registration/Embassy Location.
Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS
Beirut, Dec 2, 2019 (AFP) - Regime air strikes Monday killed 10 civilians in Syria's last major opposition bastion, where deadly clashes between regime forces and armed groups have escalated in the past two days, a monitor said. The raids also wounded 15 civilians in a market in the town of Maaret al-Numan in the jihadist-run province of Idlib, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human rights said.
By Nazeer al-Khatib with Hashem Osseiran in Beirut
Maaret al-Numan, Syria, May 22, 2019 (AFP) - Syrian government air strikes killed 18 civilians, including a dozen people at a busy market, as fierce fighting raged for the jihadist-held northwest, a war monitor said on Wednesday. Regime forces battled to repel a jihadist counteroffensive around the town of Kafr Nabuda that has left 70 combatants dead in 24 hours, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. The Hayat Tahrir al-Sham alliance, led by Syria's former Al-Qaeda affiliate, controls a large part of Idlib province as well as adjacent slivers of Aleppo, Hama and Latakia provinces. The jihadist-dominated region is nominally protected by a buffer zone deal, but the government and its ally Russia have escalated their bombardment in recent weeks, seizing several towns on its southern flank. At least 12 people were killed and another 18 wounded when regime warplanes hit the jihadist-held Idlib province town of Maarat al-Numan around midnight (2100 GMT) on Tuesday, the Observatory said.
The market was crowded with people out and about after breaking the daytime fast observed by Muslims during the holy month of Ramadan. The bombardment blew in the facades of surrounding buildings, and ripped through the flimsy frames and canvas of stalls in the market square, an AFP photographer reported. The bodies of market-goers were torn apart. "Residents are still scared," stallholder Khaled Ahmad told AFP. Three more civilians were killed on Wednesday by air strikes in the nearby town of Saraqib, the Observatory said. Two others were killed in strikes on the town of Maaret Hermeh, it added. Another civilian was killed in air raids on the town of Jisr al-Shughur, the monitor said. The Britain-based Observatory relies on a network of sources inside Syria and says it determines whose planes carried out strikes according to type, location, flight patterns and munitions.
- 'Worst fears'-
The strikes came as heavy clashes raged in neighbouring Hama province after the jihadists launched a counterattack on Tuesday. Fresh fighting on Wednesday took the death toll to 70 -- 36 regime forces and militia and 34 jihadists, the Observatory said. It said the jihadists had recaptured most of Kafr Nabuda from government forces, who had taken control of the town on May 8. State news agency SANA on Wednesday however said the army repelled a jihadist attack in the area, killing dozens of insurgents.
Russia and rebel ally Turkey inked the buffer zone deal in September to avert a government offensive on the region and protect its three million residents. But President Bashar al-Assad's government upped its bombardment of the region after HTS took control in January. Russia too has stepped up its air strikes in recent weeks. The Observatory says nearly 200 civilians have been killed in the flare-up since April 30. The United Nations said Wednesday that Idlib's civilian population once again faced the threat of an all-out offensive. "A full military incursion threatens to trigger a humanitarian catastrophe for over 3 million civilians caught in the crossfire, as well as overwhelm our ability to respond," said David Swanson, a spokesman for the UN humanitarian office. Swanson said more than 200,000 people have been displaced by the upsurge of violence since April 28. A total of 20 health facilities have been hit by the escalation -- 19 of which remain out of service, Swanson said. Collectively they served at least 200,000 people, he added.
- 'Break the status quo' -
The September deal was never fully implemented as jihadists refused to withdraw from a planned buffer zone around the Idlib region. But it ushered in a relative drop in violence until earlier this year, with Turkish troops deploying to observation points around the region. The Syrian government has accused Turkey of failing to secure implementation of the truce deal by the jihadists. But Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar accused the Syrian regime late Tuesday of threatening the ceasefire deal. "The regime is doing all that it can to break the status quo including using barrel bombs, land and air offensives," Akar told reporters. "Turkish armed forces will not take a step back from wherever they may be", he however added. Earlier, the US State Department said it was assessing indications that the government had used chemical weapons on Sunday during its offensive in Idlib. HTS accused government forces of launching a chlorine gas attack on its fighters in the northern mountains of Latakia. But the Observatory said Wednesday it had "no proof at all of the attack".
7 May 2019, Cairo, Egypt: The World Health Organization (WHO) strongly condemns continuing attacks on health facilities in north-western Syria. Since 29 April, in just nine days, twelve health structures have been hit.
On 5 May, three facilities were struck in one day alone, including two major hospitals that provide secondary healthcare in the area. One of the structures, a surgical unit, was supported by WHO. Three health care workers lost their lives as a result of these attacks. There are now no functioning hospitals in northern Hama, and emergency care is provided by only three surgical units supported by WHO. Close to 300,000 civilians are affected.
“These attacks against health facilities and other civilian infrastructure are a grave and totally unacceptable development,” said Dr. Ahmed Al-Mandhari, WHO Regional Director for the Eastern Mediterranean Region. “International humanitarian law safeguards civilians, even in the most violent of conflicts. And according to the Geneva Convention, health facilities and civilians – especially the most vulnerable – must be protected. Parties to the conflict in northern Hama and in Idleb are flagrantly disregarding those rules; and it is women, children, the elderly and other vulnerable groups who are suffering as a result.”
The health facilities that were hit in northern Hama and southern Idleb provided a total of 30,000 consultations, 860 hospital admissions and 700 surgeries per month to a highly vulnerable population.
“We are also deeply concerned about the people who have had to flee their homes and now have no access to basic health services. Over 150,000 people were displaced from northern Hama and southern Idleb in between 29 April and 4 May, doubling the total number of people displaced in the area in the last three months. Saving their lives is our main priority and this requires further strengthening available health services. What is of particular concern is the increasing risk for infectious disease outbreaks due to overcrowding in temporary settlements,” Dr Al-Mandhari added.
WHO continues – with health partners – to ensure the provision of key primary and secondary healthcare and has released emergency health supplies for almost 92,200 treatment courses, including for surgical and trauma care, secondary healthcare, and primary healthcare.
As the conflict in north-western Syria intensifies, WHO reminds all parties to the conflict that attacks on health facilities are a blatant violation of international humanitarian law. Health facilities must never be attacked or damaged, and health workers should be allowed to provide medical treatment and services to all people in need wherever they are.
World Travel News Headlines
Wuhan, China, Jan 27, 2020 (AFP) - China's central government said on Monday that the nationwide total of confirmed infections from a deadly respiratory virus had risen to 2,744, with 769 new cases coming to light. However, it said no new deaths were confirmed outside of Hubei province, which had earlier reported 24 new fatalities to bring the national total to 80 dead.
Beijing, Jan 26, 2020 (AFP) - Chinese authorities have ordered the extension of a public holiday in an effort to contain an epidemic that has killed 56 people and infected nearly 2,000 worldwide, state-run media reported. A working group chaired by Premier Li Keqiang to tackle the outbreak decided on Sunday "to reduce population flows" by extending the Spring Festival holiday which had been scheduled to end on January 30, state news agency Xinhua said. It was not immediately clear how long the extension is.
The group also ordered changes to "the starting dates of schools" and "people to work from home by working online." "The meeting stressed that the country is at a crucial time in the prevention and control of the novel coronavirus outbreak, urging Party committees and governments at all levels to take more 'decisive, powerful and orderly, scientific and well-planned' measures to effective curb the spread," Xinhua reported. In a bid to slow the spread of the respiratory virus, the government had previously locked down hard-hit Hubei, a province in central China that is at the outbreak's epicentre, in an unprecedented operation affecting tens of millions of people.
The previously unknown virus has caused global concern because of its similarity to the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) pathogen, which killed hundreds across mainland China and Hong Kong in 2002-2003. Originating in Hubei's capital of Wuhan, the virus has spread throughout China and across the world -- with cases confirmed in around a dozen countries including as far away as the United States. Several countries were making arrangements to evacuate their citizens from Wuhan, where an eery calm pervades as new restrictions prohibit most road traffic in the metropolis of 11 million.
Washington, Jan 26, 2020 (AFP) - US health authorities said Sunday there are now five confirmed cases of the coronavirus in the United States and more are expected. Nancy Messonnier, head of the respiratory disease section at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said around 100 people in 26 states are being investigated for the virus, which originated in the Chinese city of Wuhan.
Of the confirmed cases, all five people had travelled to Wuhan, Messonier said during a conference call with reporters. "Every case we have had in the United States is someone who has had direct contact in Wuhan," she said. Messonier said there are two cases in California and one each in Arizona, Illinois and Washington state. Until now the toll was three. While Chinese officials have launched an extraordinary emergency response, Messonier insisted that the health risk for Americans in general remains low "at this time."
Lagos, Jan 26, 2020 (AFP) - Nigerian health authorities have announced stepped-up emergency measures to tackle a rise in Lassa fever cases after 29 people died this month. "As at 24th of January 2020, 195 confirmed cases and 29 deaths had been reported in 11 states," the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) said in a statement Saturday. A national emergency operations centre had been activated to coordinate the response "to the increasing number of Lassa fever cases" across the country.
Endemic to Nigeria, Lassa fever belongs to the same family as the Ebola and Marburg viruses, but is much less deadly. The virus is spread by contact with rat faeces or urine. It starts with fever and can, in worst case scenarios, lead to severe bleeding and organ failure. Nigeria declared an outbreak of Lassa fever a year ago and around 170 people died from the virus in 2019.
The number of cases usually climbs in January due to weather conditions during the dry season. Almost 90 percent of the recent confirmed cases have been in Edo, Ondo and Ebonyi states in southern Nigeria, but their have also been deaths in the north.
The NCDC said that compared to the same period last year the fatality rate had dropped from 23.4 percent to 14.8 percent. It encouraged Nigerians to "practise good hygiene and take measures to protect themselves and their families". Nigeria, Africa's most populous nation with a population of some 200 million, has five laboratories with the capability to diagnose Lassa fever.
Beijing, Jan 26, 2020 (AFP) - Two Chinese provinces and three cities have ordered citizens to wear face masks in public, to help control the spread of a deadly virus. The measure is required in the provinces of Guangdong in the south and Jiangxi in the centre, plus the eastern city of Nanjing, Ma'anshan city in Anhui province, and Xinyang city in Henan, according to local authorities. China's industry and information technology ministry has said it would "spare no effort in increasing supply" after demand for masks skyrocketed.
Hong Kong, Jan 26, 2020 (AFP) - Hong Kong's Disneyland announced it was shutting its doors on Sunday until further notice over the deadly virus outbreak in central China, a day after city authorities classified the crisis as an emergency. "As a precautionary measure in line with prevention efforts taking place across Hong Kong, we are temporarily closing Hong Kong Disneyland park out of consideration for the health and safety of our guests and cast members," the park said in a statement.
By Su Xinqi, Jerome TAYLOR
Hong Kong, Jan 25, 2020 (AFP) - Hong Kong on Saturday declared a new coronavirus outbreak as an "emergency" -- the city's highest warning tier -- as authorities ramped up measures to reduce the risk of further infections. The announcement came as city leader Carrie Lam faced criticism in some quarters over her administration's response to the crisis.
Of the five people who have tested positive for the virus in Hong Kong so far, four arrived via a newly built high-speed train terminal which connects with the mainland. That led to calls from some medical experts and politicians to limit, or even halt, arrivals from China, the epicentre of the outbreak with 41 people dead.
Lam held emergency meetings with health officials on Saturday morning after returning from Davos. "Today I declare the lifting of the response level to emergency," she told reporters. Schools and universities, which are currently on a Lunar New Year break, would remain closed until 17 February, Lam said. All mainland arrivals to Hong Kong will now need to sign health declaration forms, she added, while public events including a new year gala and next month's marathon, would also be called off. "We haven't seen serious and widespread infections (in Hong Kong), but we are taking this seriously and we hope to be ahead of the epidemic," Lam said.
- Tragic past -
Hong Kong has a recent experience of deadly viral outbreaks. Nearly 300 people were killed by SARS in 2003, a tragedy that left a profound psychological impact on one of the most densely populated places on earth. The city's ability to combat the crisis was hampered by moves in mainland China to cover up and play down the outbreak, leaving a lasting legacy of distrust among many Hong Kongers. Animosity towards the mainland has intensified in recent years as Beijing tightens political control over the semi-autonomous territory.
The outbreak also comes at a sensitive time for Lam, who currently boasts record low approval ratings after seven months of pro-democracy protests. "We must stand united so that we can prevent and control the disease," she said, in a nod to the political unrest. The often violent protests have battered Hong Kong's reputation for stability and helped tip it into recession, with the recent virus outbreak compounding the city's economic woes.
Hospitals are already struggling with the winter flu season, but officials are isolating anyone with a history of travel to central China and those exhibiting respiratory tract infections that look similar to the virus. So far some 300 people have been tested and monitored for the virus. Quarantine centres have been set up in remote holiday parks for anyone found to have come into close contact with people who tested positive. On Saturday, officials announced a newly built but still-empty public housing block would be used for medical staff on the frontline who did not want to risk returning to their families.
Elazig, Turkey, Jan 25, 2020 (AFP) - A powerful earthquake has killed at least 20 people and injured more than 1,000 in eastern Turkey, as rescue teams searched through the rubble of collapsed buildings for survivors on Saturday. At least 30 people were missing following the magnitude 6.8 quake on Friday night, which had its epicentre in the small lakeside town of Sivrice in the eastern province of Elazig. "It was very scary, furniture fell on top of us. We rushed outside," 47-year-old Melahat Can, who lives in the provincial capital of Elazig, told AFP. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said all steps were being taken to aid people affected by the quake, which caused widespread fear. "We stand by our people," Erdogan said on Twitter.
The Turkish government's disaster and emergency management agency (AFAD) said the quake hit Sivrice at around 8.55 pm (1755 GMT). Turkey lies on major faultlines and is prone to frequent earthquakes. Turkish television showed images of people rushing outside in panic, as well as a fire on the roof of a building. Interior, environment and health ministers, who were in the quake zone, said the casulties were in Elazig province and in the neighbouring province of Malatya, which lies to the southwest.
At least 20 people died and 1,015 others were wounded, according to AFAD. "There is nobody trapped under the rubble in Malatya but in Elazig search and rescue efforts are currently under way to find 30 citizens," Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu said on Friday. Rescue teams were searching for survivors trapped in a five-storey collapsed building in a village some 30 kilometres from Elazig, according to AFP journalists at the scene. One person was pulled alive from the rubble. Emergency staff and people waiting at the scene lit fires in the streets to stay warm in freezing temperatures. Sports centres, schools and guest houses had been opened to accommodate quake victims in Malatya.
- 'Everybody is in the street' -
Sivrice -- a town with a population of about 4,000 people -- is situated south of Elazig city on the shores of Hazar lake -- one of the most popular tourist spots in the region and the source of the Tigris river. The lake is home to a "Sunken City", with archaeological traces dating back 4,000 years in its waters.
The tremor was felt in several parts of eastern Turkey near the Iraqi and Syrian borders, the Turkish broadcaster NTV reported, adding that neighbouring cities had mobilised rescue teams for the quake area. "Everybody is in the street, it was very powerful, very scary," said Zekeriya Gunes, 68, from Elazig city, after the quakes caused a building to collapse on her street. "It lasted quite long, maybe 30 seconds," added Ferda, 39. "I panicked and was undecided whether to go out in this cold or remain inside."
The US Geological Survey assessed the magnitude as 6.7, slightly lower than AFAD, adding that it struck near the East Anatolian Fault in an area that has suffered no documented large ruptures since an earthquake in 1875. "My wholehearted sympathy to President @RTErdogan and the Turkish people following the devastating earthquake that has hit Turkey. Our search and rescue teams stand ready to assist," Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis wrote on Twitter. In Athens, the Greek premier's office said later that Mitsotakis had spoken by phone to Erdogan. "The Turkish president... said Turkish teams had the situation under control for now and that it would be re-evaluated in the morning," his office added.
In 1999, a devastating 7.4 magnitude earthquake hit Izmit in western Turkey, leaving more than 17,000 people dead including about 1,000 in the country's largest city Istanbul. In September last year, a 5.7-magnitude earthquake shook Istanbul, causing residents to flee buildings in the economic capital. Experts have long warned a large quake could devastate the city of 15 million people, which has allowed widespread building without safety precautions.