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Trinidad and Tobago

Trinidad and Tobago - US Consular Information Sheet
March 04, 2009
COUNTRY DESCRIPTION:
Trinidad and Tobago is a developing nation in the Caribbean composed of two islands.
The islands gained independence from the British in 1962.
>The country is one of the most prosperous in the Caribbean, largely as a result of petroleum and natural gas industries.
Tourist travel is mostly to the smaller of the two sister islands, Tobago.
Tourist facilities are widely available.
Read the Department of State Background Notes on Trinidad and Tobago for additional information.

ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS:
A valid passport is required of U.S. citizens for entry to Trinidad and Tobago.
U.S. citizens do not need a visa for tourism or business-related visits of 90 days or less.
Work permits are required for compensated and some non-compensated employment, including missionary work.
Visas may be required for travel for purposes other than business or tourism.
For further information concerning entry, employment and customs requirements, travelers may contact the Embassy of Trinidad and Tobago, 1708 Massachusetts Avenue NW, Washington, DC
20036, telephone (202) 467-6490, or the Trinidad and Tobago Consulates in Miami or New York City.
Visit the Embassy of Trinidad and Tobago’s web site.

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:
American citizens traveling to or residing in Trinidad and Tobago should avoid large crowds and demonstrations.
While non-violent demonstrations occur on occasion, widespread civil disorder is not typical.
The downtown area of Port of Spain experienced four bombings in 2005.
While no similar incidents have occurred since that time, the perpetrator(s) have not been arrested and their identities and motive remain unknown.
Americans visiting or residing in Port of Spain are advised to exercise caution, especially in crowded urban areas.
For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs’ web site, where the current Travel Warnings and Travel Alerts, as well as the Worldwide Caution, can be found.
Up-to-date information on safety and security can also be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll free in the U.S. and Canada, or for callers outside the U.S. and Canada, a regular toll-line at 1-202-501-4444.
These numbers are available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays).

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

CRIME:
Incidents of violent crime have been steadily on the rise on both islands.
Visitors to Trinidad and Tobago should exercise caution and good judgment as in any large urban area. Particular caution should be exercised when traveling after dark from Trinidad's Piarco Airport as incidents have been reported involving armed robbers trailing arriving passengers from the airport and accosting them in remote areas of the airport parking lot, on the highway leading from the airport to downtown Port of Spain, and outside the gates of residences.
Areas of metro Port of Spain to avoid include Laventille, Morvant, Sea Lots, South Belmont, scenic rest stops (after dark), walking across the Queen’s Park Savannah, and downtown Port of Spain (after dark), as tourists are particularly vulnerable to pick pocketing and armed assaults in these locations.
Holiday periods, especially Christmas and Carnival, often see an increase in criminal activity.
Violent crimes, including assault, kidnapping for ransom, sexual assault and murder, have involved foreign residents and tourists, including U.S. citizens.
The perpetrators of many these crimes have not been arrested.
Burglaries of private residences are common.
Robbery is a risk, particularly in urban areas and especially near ATMs and shopping malls.
Visitors should avoid wearing expensive jewelry or displaying large amounts of money in public.
One victim was targeted for driving an expensive new car.
In some cases, robberies of Americans have turned violent and resulted in injuries after the victim resisted handing over valuables.
In Tobago, the media have reported an increase in the incidence of violent crimes.
While local authorities have announced increased measures to fight crime, the U.S. Embassy advises that when making reservations at private accommodations, visitors should ensure that 24-hour security is provided.
There have been reports of home invasions in the Mt. Irvine area, and robberies occurring at the waterfalls and on isolated beaches in Tobago where visitors are not in a group.
Visitors to Tobago should ensure that all villas or private homes have adequate security measures.
Visitors to Trinidad and Tobago are also advised to be cautious when visiting isolated beaches or scenic overlooks where robberies can occur.
Visitors should not walk alone or in unfamiliar areas.
Valuables left unattended on beaches and in other public places are vulnerable to theft.
Visitors should avoid neighborhoods known for high crime rates.
When in doubt, consult the establishment where you are staying to identify areas to be avoided.
Taxis available at the major hotels or through pre-arranged pick-ups with reputable companies are generally safe and reliable.
The U.S. Embassy urges caution in the use of the small buses or vans in Trinidad, known as "Maxi Taxis" (full-size inter-city buses are usually safe.)
Unmarked shared taxis authorized to pick up passengers will have the letter 'H' as the first letter on their license plates.
Some shared taxis and maxi taxis have been linked to petty crime and serious traffic accidents.
Valuables including travel documents should not be left unattended in parked cars, especially in parking lots, as several thefts have been reported.

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

The local equivalent to the “911” emergency line in Trinidad and Tobago is:
Police 999 or 555, Fire 990, Ambulance-Trinidad 811, Ambulance-Tobago 639-4444, and Coast Guard (yachting emergencies) 634-4440.

See our information on Victims of Crime.

MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION:
We strongly recommend that you obtain comprehensive travel and medical insurance before traveling.
Medical care is limited compared to that in the United States.
Care at public health facilities is significantly below U.S. standards for treatment of serious injuries and illness, with limited access to supplies and medications.
While care at some private facilities is better than at most public health facilities, patients may be expected to prove their ability to pay before assistance is given, even in emergency situations.
Patients requiring blood transfusions are expected to arrange for at least the same amount to be donated on their behalf.
Physicians and nurses may go on strike, causing serious strain on both public and private medical resources.
Ambulance service is extremely limited both in the quality of emergency care and in the availability of vehicles in many parts of the country.
According to the Trinidad & Tobago Ministry of Health, recent monkey deaths on the island of Trinidad have been laboratory confirmed as due to yellow fever.
Although no human cases have been reported since 1979, the virus appears to be permanently embedded in forested areas of the central/south region of the island of Trinidad.
Evident outbreaks among monkeys may appear every 10-20 years after long periods of epidemiologic silence.
CDC continues to recommend yellow fever vaccine for travel to Trinidad & Tobago.
Dengue fever presents significant risk in urban and rural areas.
Precautions against insect bites are recommended such as wearing long sleeved shorts/trousers, the use of bed nets and insect repellants which contain DEET, picaridin (KBR 3023), Oil of Eucalyptus/PMD, or IR 3535.
Ciguatera poisoning is prevalent and results from eating reef fish such as grouper, snapper, amberjack, and barracuda.
The toxin remains even when fish is well cooked.
Marine hazards include corals, jellyfish, sharks, and sea urchins.
Heed posted warnings at organized beaches, and do not bathe at unmarked, unpatrolled beaches.
The U.S. Department of State is unaware of any HIV/AIDS entry restrictions for visitors to or foreign residents of Trinidad and Tobago.
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.
For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad, consult the World Health Organization’s (WHO) web site.
Further health information for travelers is available from the WHO.
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 Trinidad and Tobago is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.

Traffic moves on the left in Trinidad and Tobago.
Most vehicles are right-hand drive, but left-hand drive vehicles are permitted.
Rental cars are available, and are generally right-hand drive.
A U.S. driver's license and/or an International Driving Permit are valid for up to 90 days after arrival.
Seatbelts are required for drivers and front seat passengers, and cars may be pulled over and drivers fined for not wearing seatbelts.
Trinidad has several good four-lane highways and one controlled-access highway.
However, road quality decreases quickly on secondary roads.
Rural roads are narrow and often have deep drainage ditches on either side.
Some are in poor repair, and are frequently congested.
Night travel should be avoided other than on major highways.
Roadside assistance exists, but is limited and may be subject to lengthy delays.
The Beetham Highway, a main thoroughfare in and out of the city, is dangerous if your vehicle has broken down.
If your vehicle is drivable get out of the area before seeking help.
The Ministry of Works and Transport is responsible for road conditions and safety in the country.
Emergency ambulance services exist but may take prolonged amounts of time to reach the site of an accident and may not provide service in rural areas.
Trinidadian drivers may use hand signals to indicate turning, stopping, or slowing, which do not necessarily correspond to hand signals used in the United States.
Trinidadian drivers are generally courteous, but can be flexible with the rules of the road.
For example, cars traveling north on a two way street may cross into the southbound lane to stop and let passengers out.
Visitors need to be attentive and alert.
Intoxicated drivers on the road are a particular concern on the weekends, especially after dark when many locals are going to or returning from social events.
Drivers should take extra precaution on narrow and winding roads leading in and out of beaches and small towns in Trinidad and Tobago.
As always, defensive driving is strongly encouraged.
The country has an extensive system of taxis, maxi-taxis (vans) and some larger buses.
Although the larger inter-city buses are generally safe, the maxi-taxis have been linked to many road accidents and some instances of crime.
Fares should be agreed upon in advance.
Taxis will often stop at any point along the road to pick up or discharge passengers, often with little or no warning.

Please refer to our Road Safety page, and the Trinidad and Tobago’s Ministry of Tourism home page for more information.

AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT: The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the Government of Trinidad and Tobago’s Civil Aviation Authority as being in compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards for oversight of Trinidad and Tobago’s air carrier operations.
For more information, travelers may visit the FAA web site.

MARINE SAFETY AND OVERSIGHT:
Visitors arriving in Trinidad and Tobago aboard a private vessel must register any firearms with local customs authorities.
Failure to declare firearms or making false customs declarations is a serious offense.
U.S. citizens have been jailed and fined for possession of unlicensed firearms and ammunition, attempting to export ammunition, making false customs declarations and not declaring their firearms.
There is a small community of private boat owners who stay in Trinidad temporarily during the hurricane season.
There have been several incidents within the past few months in which vessels were boarded and the occupants were assaulted and robbed.
Sailors should report any incidents to the Coast Guard and local police, and are encouraged to check with the Trinidad and Tobago Coast Guard and yacht facility managers for current information.

SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES:
Trinidad and Tobago is prone to occasional earthquakes, though no major earthquake has hit in recent history.
Tobago has suffered extensive damage from only two hurricanes since 1963.
In 2004, parts of Tobago were severely affected by flooding and mudslides from Hurricane Ivan and several other major storms that followed soon thereafter.
General information about natural disaster preparedness is available via the Internet from the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) website.

Travelers are cautioned against wearing military or camouflage clothing in public, as it is against local laws to do so, unless they are in Trinidad and Tobago on official military business.

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 Trinidad and Tobago laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned.
Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Trinidad and Tobago 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.

Many of the US citizens incarcerated in Trinidad and Tobago were arrested attempting to transport suitcases or packages containing drugs in or out of the country.
Even if a package or suitcase is being carried for someone else, the traveler is liable for its contents.
Americans should be aware that cursing and use of foul language in public is a criminal offense in Trinidad and Tobago subject to arrest and fines.
Several Americans have been arrested for this offense. While the penalty for public cursing is usually a fine, it can cause considerable disruption in travel plans due to arrest procedures, requirements to appear at hearings, and even incarceration if bail cannot be posted.

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 Trinidad and Tobago 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 Trinidad and Tobago.
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 15 Queen's Park West, telephone 868-622-6371, Consular Section fax 868-822-5555.
American Citizen Services public hours of operation are 8:00 AM – 11:30 AM, and 1:00 PM through 3:00 PM, Monday - Friday, except U.S. and Trinidad and Tobago national holidays.
For additional information, you may send email inquiries.
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This replaces the Country Specific Information for Trinidad and Tobago dated April 13, 2007, to update sections on Medical Facilities and Health Information.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Wed 27 Nov 2019
Source: Jamaica Observer [edited]

At least 16 people have died so far this year [2019] as health authorities embark on a "robust nationwide influenza vaccination drive" to protect the population against the flu virus. The Ministry of Health said that as of last Friday [22 Nov 2019], the number of suspected cases for this flu season had reached 2738 and that there had been 16 confirmed deaths. The ministry said that the cumulative number of vaccines administered to the public so far was 16 301.

"The influenza virus is serious and is generally more severe than the common cold. The flu vaccine is available, at no cost, at all health centres," the Ministry of Health said, adding that children and people with chronic medical conditions should be among those getting the vaccine. It said that the flu season runs until May next year [2020] and that individuals in the healthcare and essential-services sectors should also ensure that they receive the vaccine.
Date: Mon 10 Jun 2019
Source: Saturday Express [edited]

There have been 17 malaria cases thus far in Trinidad and Tobago in 2019, and 13 are Venezuelans. One case is a Trinbagonian, one is from Uganda, one is from Ghana, and one is from Guyana.

This was disclosed by health minister Terrence Deyalsingh as he responded to a question from Oropouche West MP Vidia Gayadeen-Gopeesingh on whether there was truth to social media reports that many Venezuelan nationals seeking medical attention at Port of Spain and San Fernando general hospitals have malaria and are HIV-positive.  [Byline: Ria Taitt]
=========================
[It is noteworthy that 13 of the 17 imported cases are from Venezuela. Over the past few years, malaria has surged in Venezuela and is not endemic and widespread, with no control policy and a lack of basic drugs. This is a clear threat to neighbouring countries, where imported cases can start new local transmission, so-called "introduced malaria."

"Trinbagonian" refers to a native or inhabitant of Trinidad and Tobago. All malaria cases are imported, and Trinidad and Tobago is indeed regarded as a malaria-free country. - ProMED Mod.EP]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail maps:
Date: Thu 29 Mar 2018
Source: Daily Express [edited]

This media source quotes the Health Minister as saying they're imported cases:

"speaking during a news conference at the Ministry of Health in Port of Spain, Deyal Singh, said the cases of malaria in T&T are persons who visited other countries where malaria is present and returned to the country."  [Byline: Camille Hunte]
----------------------------------------
Communicated by
Viki Hansen-Landis
International SOS
=======================
[ProMED thanks Viki Hansen-Landis, International SOS, for informing us about the statement by Deyal Singh that all the 13 cases diagnosed in Trinidad and Tobago are imported cases. However, with a tropical climate and the presence of Anopheles mosquitoes, there is always a risk that malaria may be reintroduced.

A map of Trinidad & Tobago: <http://healthmap.org/promed/p/28>. - ProMED Mod.EP]
Date: Fri 27 Apr 2018
Source: News Day [edited]

With the start of the wet season less than 2 months away, former Health Minister Dr Fuad Khan has described the resurgence of the mosquito-borne disease malaria as "worrying" due to flooding, which occurs in central and south Trinidad every year.

Khan was commenting on World Malaria Day (WMD) 2018 observances themed: "Ready to Beat Malaria."

He observed that while Trinidad and Tobago has been relatively malaria free since 1965, he said the nation was witnessing a "re-emergence of this dreaded disease," as the Ministry of Health has reported 13 cases as of 30 Mar 2018.

He said the number of malaria cases has ranged between 7 and 24 cases over the past 10 years.

"This new development is worrying for a society that has constant issues with flooding, particularly in central and southern areas of Trinidad. Even though malaria was said to be eradicated in 1965, because of our tropical conditions, vast swamplands and thickly forested areas, our environment is still an easy target for the importation of the female anopheles mosquito containing a plasmodium parasite that is then transmitted from one person to another by that infected mosquito," he said. "Therefore, its eradication should not be taken for granted."

Khan said TT was able to begin to get ahead of the malaria problem when in 1944, the New York-based Rockefeller Foundation came to Trinidad to begin testing for the anopheles mosquito utilizing dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane, commonly known as DDT, which is a larvacide for the spraying of the mosquitoes.

"While we acknowledge the dangers malaria poses to the people of Trinidad and Tobago, we must emphasize the need for the population to do its part in preventing the spread of this disease. We can do so by getting rid of pools of stagnant water, clearing bushes from around houses and planting lemon grass, which can all reduce the number of mosquitoes nearby," he said. "Do your part. Be responsible," he said.

According to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, people with malaria often experience fever, chills, and flu-like illness. Left untreated, they may develop severe complications and die.
================
[It is not clearly stated in the text, but we presume that the 13 cases were infected in Trinidad and Tobago and are not imported cases. If that is the case, the previous Minister of Health is indeed right that it is a serious situation because the island thus has sustained local transmission or autochthonous malaria. However, Trinidad and Tobago is not listed as a country with malaria in the 2017 WHO World Malaria Report (<http://www.who.int/malaria/publications/world-malaria-report-2017/wmr2017-regional-profiles.pdf?ua=1>), and thus the 13 cases may indeed be imported cases.

It is also not clear whether it was _Plasmodium falciparum_ or _Plasmodium vivax_. ProMED will be happy for a clarification from the authorities. - ProMED Mod.EP]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map:
Trinidad & Tobago: <http://healthmap.org/promed/p/28>]
Date: Fri 10 Nov 2017
Source: Loop [edited]

Agricultural economist Omardath Maharaj is calling for Government to be more proactive regarding post-flooding food safety policies after a number of leptospirosis cases were reported in South Trinidad. According to media reports, 13 cases of leptospirosis were reported at the San Fernando General Hospital.

It is thought the cases connected to unhygienic conditions due to recent flooding in parts of South Trinidad.

Newsday reported that 2 people have since died from the disease.

Maharaj, who represents the Tableland Pineapple Farmers Association and the Felicity Charlieville Fishing Association, is asking what extra measures are being put in place for testing of local produce, meat and shellfish to ensure that the disease is not being spread.

"There has been minimal, if any, information being distributed to the national community as it relates to flooding, food security, diseases (leptospirosis, cholera, meningitis etc) and bacteria (_Salmonella_, _E. coli_, etc)."

"Certainly, I am not aware of any national lessons learnt post-Tropical Storm Bret and the more recent flooding disaster towards mitigating the unsustainability and vulnerability of the local food system as it relates to preserving national food and nutrition security."

"Research suggests that the lack of important information and active surveillance compounds the fact that the level of awareness of these issues is low in the country."

"Leptospirosis, particularly, is still under-reported, and considered to be of significant public health importance. The recent food poisoning of young Tobagonian students in receipt of meals from the School Nutrition Programme is a living case study of our vulnerability," Maharaj said. Maharaj is asking the Ministry to update the public as to whether that has been an increase in the number of persons seeking medical aid for infections or diseases related to recent flooding, such as leptospirosis.

He is also asking what public awareness messages are being conveyed to the public in order to take extra precautions. He added that vendors and farmers should also be advised as to sanitary and safety protocols to ensure their harvests are not tainted. Maharaj is also asking for an update on the planned National Public Health Laboratory, which was recently announced by Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh.

"There is a vacuum in the national conversation...these issues and inherent discussions are of national importance and every individual, family, and organization should participate in the dialogue contributing to our national development agenda," Maharaj said.
=============
[Leptospirosis is a zoonotic spirochetal infection that occurs worldwide and is transmitted to humans by exposure to soil, fresh water or food contaminated with the urine of wild and domestic animals (including dogs, cattle, swine, and especially rodents) that are chronically infected with pathogenic _Leptospira_. _Leptospira_ may survive in contaminated fresh water or moist soil for weeks to months. Outbreaks of leptospirosis frequently follow heavy rainfall, flooding with fresh water, and increasing rodent numbers.

Though the CDC considers leptospirosis can be a foodborne disease, estimating an actual percentage of cases that can be attributed to food is complicated since this disease has various ways of transmission, such as contact with contaminated flood water following heavy rains that may also be simultaneously operative (<https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/eid/article/17/9/10-1766-techapp1.pdf>). - ProMED Mod.ML]

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

Date: Thu, 5 Dec 2019 09:54:04 +0100 (MET)
By Joseph Schmid

Paris, Dec 5, 2019 (AFP) - A nationwide strike shut down public transport, schools and other services across France on Thursday as unions kicked off an open-ended strike against President Emmanuel Macron's plans for a "universal" pension system they say will force millions of people to work longer.

Parents scrambled to organise daycare as teachers walked off the job or were unable to get to work, and many employees were working from home or forced to take the day off as trains, metros and buses were cancelled.   Union leaders have vowed to keep up their protest unless Macron drops the pension overhaul, the latest move in the centrist president's push to reform wide swathes of the French economy.   "The idea of social concertation that Macron says is so important in fact doesn't exist," the head of the CGT union, Philippe Martinez, said on BFM television Thursday.

Around 90 percent of high-speed TGV trains as well as regional lines were cancelled, and Air France has axed 30 percent of domestic flights and 15 percent of short-haul international routes.   In Paris, 11 of the 16 metro lines were shut down and others had just bare-bones service during the morning rush hour, and the Eiffel Tower turned away tourists because of the strike.   "There are not enough employees to open the monument in secure conditions," the tower's operator said in a statement.

The strike -- which is open-ended and could last several days -- has drawn comparisons with the showdown between government and unions over pensions in November-December 1995, when the country was paralysed for around three weeks.   Unions won that battle, and are banking on widespread support from both public and private-sector workers against Macron's reform.   The government has yet to unveil the details of the project, but officials have conceded that people will have to work longer for the system to remain financial viable.

- Outcome uncertain -
The strikes will be a major test of whether Macron, a former investment banker who came to power on the back of a promise to transform France, has the political strength to push through one of his key campaign pledges.   He has already succeeded in controversial labour and tax reforms aimed at encouraging hiring, as well as an overhaul of the state rail operator SNCF, long seen as an untouchable union bastion.

He has also largely seen off the "yellow vest" protests against declining living standards that erupted a year ago, but that anger could feed into the latest protest.   "The moment of truth for Macron," the Le Monde daily wrote in Thursday's edition. "The next days are a decisive test for the head of state."   The SNCF said international lines including the Eurostar and Thalys services were severely disrupted, and Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer said Wednesday that he expected just three in 10 schools would be able to open.

- 'Special regimes' -
The strike is the latest in a series of protests against Macron this year by the "yellow vests" as well as police, firefighters, teachers, hospital workers and lawyers.   Macron wants to implement a "universal" retirement system that would do away with 42 "special regimes" for sectors ranging from rail and energy workers to lawyers and Paris Opera employees, which often grant workers higher pensions or early retirement.

But unions say the changes would effectively require millions of private-sector workers to work beyond the legal retirement age of 62 if they want to receive the full pension they have been promised.   Prime Minister Edouard Philippe, who has acknowledged French workers will gradually have to work longer, is set to unveil details of the reform on December 12.

Interior Minister Christophe Castaner said Wednesday that some 250 demonstrations are expected nationwide, warning that a radical fringe of protesters could cause trouble.   Paris police chief Didier Lallement said around 6,000 members of the security forces would be deployed in the capital alone, with 180 motorbikes used to respond fast to any rioting.   Two major demonstrations are planned for Paris that will converge on the Place de la Nation, with officials ordering Paris businesses along the routes to close on Thursday.   British low-cost carrier EasyJet has cancelled 223 domestic and short-haul international flights and warned others risk being delayed.
Date: Thu, 5 Dec 2019 08:13:04 +0100 (MET)
By Sofia CHRISTENSEN

Johannesburg, Dec 5, 2019 (AFP) - South African Airways was placed under a state-led rescue plan on Thursday as part of a massive restructuring following a costly week-long strike last month.   Thousands of South African Airways (SAA) staff walked out on November 15 after the cash-strapped airline failed to meet a string of demands, including higher wages and job in-sourcing.   The strike was called off the following week after SAA management and unions eventually clinched a deal.

But the walkout dealt a severe blow to the debt-ridden airline, which has failed to make a profit since 2011 and survives on government bailouts.   "The Board of SAA has adopted a resolution to place the company into business rescue," said a statement by South Africa's Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan, adding that the decision was also supported by the government.   "It must be clear that this is not a bailout," said Gordhan. "This is the provision of financial assistance in order to facilitate a radical restructure of the airline."   South Africa is struggling to get state-owned companies back on track after nine years of corruption and mismanagement under former president Jacob Zuma.

- Costly strike -
Its national airline -- which employs more than 5,000 workers and is Africa's second largest airline after Ethiopian Airlines -- had been losing 52 million rand ($3.5 million) a day during the strike.   SAA's board said the business rescue, scheduled to start immediately, was decided after consultations with shareholders and the public enterprises department "to find a solution to our company's well-documented financial challenges".   "The considered and unanimous conclusion has been to place the company into business rescue in order to create a better return for the company's creditors and shareholders," said the SAA board of directors in a statement.

Business practitioners were set to be appointed "in the near future" to oversee the process, they added.   Unions did not immediately respond to AFP's requests for comment.   They have agreed to a 5.9-percent wage increase backdated to April, but which would only start to be paid out next March depending on funding.   SAA had initially refused any pay rise.    The cash-strapped airline needs two billion rand ($136 million) to fund operations through the end of March.   "SAA understand that this decision presents many challenges and uncertainties for its staff," said the board.   "The company will engage in targeted communication and support for all its employee groups at this difficult time."
Date: Thu, 5 Dec 2019 07:01:49 +0100 (MET)

Manila, Dec 5, 2019 (AFP) - The number of people killed by Typhoon Kammuri's pounding of the Philippines this week has hit 13, officials said Thursday, as authorities confirmed reports of storm-related deaths.   Kammuri's fierce winds toppled trees and flattened flimsy homes across a swathe of the nation's north on Tuesday, and forced a rare 12-hour shutdown of Manila's international airport.   Authorities said on Wednesday one person had drowned while three died after being hit by trees and flying objects.

Disaster officials did not offer details on how the other victims died, but local police reports indicated some may have drowned or been crushed by trees.   Mark Timbal, spokesman for the national disaster agency, said no new bodies have been found but the death toll could rise as reports on the ground are verified.    "There is the possibility of an increase in the number, but we are hoping against it," Timbal told AFP.    Hundreds of thousands of people living in exposed or low-lying areas were evacuated from their homes before Kammuri made landfall late Monday, which authorities said had saved lives.

Still the storm damaged 135 schools and destroyed nearly 1,200 homes, with crop damage in the hardest hit areas estimated to reach nearly $16 million.   The Philippines is hit by an average of 20 storms and typhoons each year, killing hundreds and putting people in disaster-prone areas in a state of constant poverty.    President Rodrigo Duterte is scheduled to visit on Thursday the Bicol region, a peninsula south of Manila which was hit hard by the typhoon.     Ninoy Aquino International Airport was closed half of Tuesday as a precaution, affecting over 500 flights, while roughly half the day's programme at the Southeast Asian Games, hosted by Manila and nearby cities, had to be postponed.
Date: Thu, 5 Dec 2019 05:14:37 +0100 (MET)

Bogota, Dec 5, 2019 (AFP) - Thousands of protesters took part in anti-government demonstrations in Colombia's capital Bogota and other cities Wednesday during the country's third general strike in two weeks.   Strike leaders say they intend to maintain pressure on right-wing President Ivan Duque's government, after brushing aside his appeals to cancel the strike on the grounds its effects were crippling the economy.   But crowds were smaller than previous demonstrations as protests took place for a 14th consecutive day.   Some roads were blocked in the capital and in the northeastern city of Cali, but many businesses remained open.   Around 250,000 people took part in the first demonstration against Duque's 15-month-old government on November 21, when the initial general strike brought the country to a standstill.

Interior Minister Nancy Patricia Gutierrez estimated that 40,000 people took part in demonstrations across the country on Wednesday, but organizers said the number of participants was much higher.   "The Colombian people have woken up!" shouted Paola Jiminez, a 41-year-old lawyer taking part in a pot-banging "cacerolazo" demonstration in Bogota.   "Colombians are finding it more and more difficult financially," she said.   A student taking part in one of several peaceful protests in Bogota, who gave his name as Nicolas, held up a banner saying: "The state lies more than my ex."

Police were deployed in nearby streets, but there were no confrontations of the kind that have marred some protests over the last two weeks, during which four people died. Some 500 have been injured.   On Tuesday, the Colombian National Strike Committee -- comprising unions, students and teacher organizations, indigenous groups and the opposition -- met directly with Duque's advisors for the first time, but reached no agreement.    Another meeting was scheduled for Thursday.

Under fire for his economic policies and corruption in the country, Duque launched a national dialogue with mayors and other officials 10 days ago.   The strike committee has presented Duque with a list of 13 demands, including the withdrawal of his proposed tax reforms, and full compliance with the 2016 peace deal with FARC guerrillas.   Among them is a call to dismantle the feared ESMAD riot police, widely criticized for its heavy handed response to protesters.   Duque has yielded to some of the demands on tax reform, announcing the return of Value Added Tax to the poorest 20 percent of the population and benefits for companies that hire young people.
Date: Thu, 5 Dec 2019 00:51:07 +0100 (MET)
By Neil SANDS

Wellington, Dec 4, 2019 (AFP) - Samoa entered a two-day lockdown Thursday as authorities launched an unprecedented mass vaccination campaign to contain a deadly measles outbreak that has devastated the Pacific island nation.   Officials ordered all businesses and non-essential government services to close, shut down inter-island ferry services and told private cars to keep off the roads.

Residents were advised to stay in their homes and display a red flag if they were not yet immunised as hundreds of vaccination teams fanned out across the nation of 200,000 in the early hours of the morning.   The operation, carried out under emergency powers invoked as the epidemic took hold last month, is a desperate bid to halt an inexorably rising death toll that reached 62 on Thursday, most of them young children.   "I've seen mass mobilisation campaigns before, but not over an entire country like this," UNICEF's Pacific island chief Sheldon Yett told AFP.   "That's what we're doing right now. This entire country is being vaccinated."

Immunisation rates in Samoa were about 30 percent before the outbreak and have risen to more than 55 percent since a compulsory mass vaccination campaign began a fortnight ago.   Yett said the aim of this week's two-day drive was to push the rate above 90 percent, which should help curb the current outbreak and stop future epidemics.   He said the normally busy streets of the capital Apia were almost deserted early Thursday.   "It's very, very quiet out here. I can just hear a few barking dogs. The streets are empty. There are no cars," he said.   "People are staying at home waiting for the vaccination campaign. The teams are getting their supplies together and getting ready to go out."   Even Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi's residence had a red flag fluttering outside it, with the leader saying his nephew had recently arrived from Australia and needed a measles shot.

Malielegaoi said he was angered by anecdotal reports that some parents were encouraging their children to hide from the vaccination teams to avoid the mandatory immunisation injection.    "The message is that we have vaccinated a lot of people and they are OK," he told reporters.   "The only cure for this is vaccination... having your children vaccinated is the only way."   Children are the most vulnerable to measles, which typically causes a rash and fever but can also lead to brain damage and death.

The latest figures show that 54 of the 62 dead were aged four or less and infants account for most of the 4,217 cases recorded since the outbreak began in mid-October.   There have also been measles epidemics in neighbouring Fiji and Tonga, but higher immunisation rates mean they have been more easily contained, with no fatalities.
Date: Wed, 4 Dec 2019 22:05:06 +0100 (MET)

Goma, DR Congo, Dec 4, 2019 (AFP) - Doctors Without Borders (MSF) said Wednesday it was pulling its non-local staff from an eastern region of Democratic Republic of Congo after it said an armed group tried to enter its compound.    The NGO becomes the latest aid agency to withdraw its staff from the Biakato region after an unclaimed attack last week saw three Ebola workers killed at an accommodation camp in Biakato Mines in Ituri province, causing the World Health Organization to withdraw its staff from the area.     MSF and an Ebola Treatment Centre (ETC), which is treating two people with confirmed cases of Ebola and nine suspected cases, decided to stay in the Biakato region despite last week's incident.

The NGO said that on Tuesday night a group wielding machetes and sticks broke into the Biakato Health Centre, which houses the ETC, but did not cause any casualties and did not enter the Ebola facility.   A separate group with the same weapons then tried but failed to enter the MSF facility in Biakato Mines. The NGO said they threw stones but did not do any damage.   "Due to a deterioration in the security situation, MSF made the difficult decision to withdraw all non-local staff from the Biakato region," MSF said in a statement.    According to local authorities, the attackers from last week's incident are likely to be members of the Mayi-Mayi militia group.

The Democratic Republic of Congo is undergoing its 10th Ebola epidemic, which is the second deadliest on record.    An outbreak of the much-feared haemorrhagic virus has killed 2,206 people mainly in North Kivu and neighbouring Ituri, according to the latest official figures.   Insecurity has complicated the epidemic from the outset, compounding resistance within communities to preventive measures, care facilities and safe burials.   On November 4, the authorities said more than 300 attacks on Ebola health workers had been recorded since the start of the year, leaving six dead and 70 wounded, some of them patients.
Date: Wed, 4 Dec 2019 15:50:07 +0100 (MET)
By Ish MAFUNDIKWA, with Zinyange AUNTONY in Bulawayo

Harare, Dec 4, 2019 (AFP) - The floor is dusty, the walls filthy and the furniture decrepit, but for two weeks last month a tiny flat in a Harare township was transformed into a maternity clinic where scores of babies were born.   Its owner, 69-year-old Esther Gwena, says she helped to deliver 250 infants as Zimbabwe's health sector tottered -- a feat that earned comparisons to Florence Nightingale, the pioneer of modern nursing.

Hundreds of junior medics at state hospitals began a strike three months ago because their salaries -- less than $200 a month -- are not enough to live on in a country gripped by 500 percent inflation.   Nurses are only working two days a week.   Those who can't afford private care -- the majority of the 14 million people reeling under an economic crisis compounded by acute food shortages -- suffer at home or seek help from people like Gwena.   Senior doctors, in a letter last week, said state hospitals had become a "death trap" and warned of a "slow genocide".   Gwena, a widow and member of the local Apostolic Faith sect, is a self-taught midwife.   When the health services strike peaked last month, she came to the rescue.

- 'I had to do something' -
"A man came to me and said there were two women in advanced labour at (a nearby clinic) but the place was closed because the nurses were on strike," she told AFP in her two-room flat in Mbare township.   She rushed there and found that one of the women had a baby which had died.   "I took the other one to my place, where I helped her. The baby survived. From that time, I knew I had to do something," she said.   Word that she was helping deliver babies for free spread quickly.

The state-owned television ZBC described her as "a modern Zimbabwean version of Florence Nightingale" and First Lady Auxillia Mnangagwa visited Gwena and donated food, detergents and blankets.   A funeral services company chipped in with a mobile water tank and pitched a tent outside to serve as a waiting room for women before they went into advanced labour.   "I helped to deliver 250 babies ... (they) are alive and kicking and at home with their mothers," Gwena said.   Two weeks later, the government asked her to stop after a nearby maternity clinic reopened.   Winnie Denhere, 35, cradled her two-day-old baby boy outside the clinic, where she had taken him for an immunisation injection.   "Everything went very well, she didn't ask us for money," she said, speaking of Gwena, who brought her child into the world.

- 'People dying' -
But while some laud Gwena as a selfless do-gooder, doctors worry that she exposed herself, the mothers, the babies to infection.   "We need to do something about our facilities so no one goes to her," Harare's director of medical services Prosper Chonzi, said.   Medicines have been in short supply and broken machines go unrepaired.   The government has fired 448 junior octors for striking.    Senior doctors last week also stopped work in protest over the sacking of junior colleagues. Dozens marched in Harare on Monday.   "People dying has become the order of the day in our hospitals," said the vice-president of the Senior Hospital Doctors Association Raphael Magota.

He told AFP machines were breaking down and that intensive care units were only able to treat two or three people "due to lack of equipment".     A senior doctor, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the situation has become untenable.   "There is no public health in Zimbabwe at the moment; everything has come to a standstill," he said.   Even the scarce equipment is often not right.   "One needs gloves that fit just right when performing delicate operations, but we get old gloves that are too big," said another doctor.   A UN special rapporteur on food security, Hilal Elver, last week spoke of "disturbing information" that public hospitals had exhausted food stocks, forcing them to seek humanitarian aid and that medical equipment in some cases was "no longer operational".

In the second largest city of Bulawayo, Zimbabweans living abroad are helping in a small way by crowdfunding and sending money back home to offer health care for the vulnerable.   One such initiative is Citizwean Clinic, which opened its doors last month and attended to hundreds of patients in the first five days -- providing free consultation and drugs.   "We go to the hospital these days it's bad, there are no doctors. We heard that there were doctors here," said hypertensive patient Elina Dzingire, 63.    "We've really been helped here," she told AFP from the clinic in the city's Cowdray Park township.    Health Minister Obadiah Moyo admitted the situation in hospitals is constrained but says the government will soon advertise the posts left vacant by the sacked doctors.
Date: Tue, 3 Dec 2019 13:55:04 +0100 (MET)
By Ron LOPEZ

Manila, Dec 3, 2019 (AFP) - Typhoon Kammuri killed at least two people in the Philippines on Tuesday as it tore roofs off houses and forced the international airport in Manila to shut down.   The storm roared ashore late Monday and passed south of Manila -- home to 13 million people -- and thousands of athletes at the regional Southeast Asian Games.   Just before it exited into the South China Sea, the typhoon killed two people in the central island of Mindoro, where one man was crushed by a falling tree and another killed by a flying piece of lumber, police said.    Ahead of the storm's arrival a 33-year-old man was electrocuted on Monday while securing a roof against the winds, which by late Tuesday weakened to a maximum of 130 kilometres (81 miles) per hour.

Authorities were still assessing the storm's impact, but a small local airport was seriously damaged, many power poles toppled and homes were battered.   "A lot of trees fell... There were a lot of roofs flying during the typhoon too," said Junie Castillo, a disaster officer in one of the areas first hit.   Manila's Ninoy Aquino International Airport was "closed for operations" due to high winds, leaving nearly 500 flights cancelled, general manager Ed Monreal told AFP.   Flights would resume at 11:00 pm (1500 GMT), Monreal later told a news conference.   One of the terminals AFP visited, which would normally be bustling with morning departures, was occupied by a handful of staff and stranded passengers.

One traveller, 23-year-old Canadian Constance Benoit, was hit with a nearly day-long delay to her flight back home.   She had arrived in Manila on a typhoon-buffeted flight Monday morning from the central island of Cebu.   "It was the most turbulent flight I ever took in my life," she told AFP. "I just discovered what airsickness is."   About 340,000 people had been evacuated from their homes in the central Bicol region, disaster officials said.   The Philippines is hit by an average of 20 storms and typhoons each year, killing hundreds and putting people in disaster-prone areas in a state of constant poverty.   The country's deadliest cyclone on record was Super Typhoon Haiyan, which left more than 7,300 people dead or missing in 2013.

- Games rescheduled -
Kammuri had already snarled some plans for the SEA Games, which opened Saturday and are set to run through December 11 in and around Manila.   The typhoon forced organisers to reschedule about half of the events set for Tuesday, but they pledged the competition would finish on time.   Kammuri wrought particular havoc on water-based and outdoor competitions, causing more than a dozen events to be postponed.   The storm is another difficulty for the Games, which suffered from a string of logistical glitches and a rush of last-minute construction in the run-up to Saturday's opening.    The competition, which is spread across three main sites that are hours' drive apart, includes a Games-record 56 sports and dozens of venues.   Around 8,750 athletes and team officials are expected at this year's 30th edition -- the biggest ever -- along with another 12,000 volunteers.
Date: Tue, 3 Dec 2019 06:24:08 +0100 (MET)

Sydney, Dec 3, 2019 (AFP) - A man and woman have been rescued after surviving two weeks in Australia's arid outback on little more than vodka, groundwater and biscuits, but a third person is still missing, police said Tuesday.   The three friends set out to explore the country's vast sun-baked interior near Alice Springs on November 19 when their car became bogged down in a river bed.   After three days staying put and waiting for a rescue, the group feared supplies were dwindling and two of them decided to walk along a property fence line in the hope of finding help.   Police said Tuesday that a local rancher had found the man, 40-year-old Phu Tran, "slightly disorientated" but in a "good condition" a two-day walk from the vehicle.

His discovery came after Tamra McBeath-Riley, 52, was found on Sunday less than two kilometres from the same vehicle suffering from dehydration.   McBeath-Riley told public broadcaster ABC that the trio -- accompanied by their blue Staffordshire terrier Raya -- had survived by drinking pre-mixed vodka drinks and water from a hole dug for cattle, eating biscuits and sheltering in a hole dug under her car.   But the third person, 46-year-old Claire Hockridge, has not been seen since splitting from Phu two days ago.   "She was still fine when he left but we obviously are now focusing our search to identify where she is," police superintendent Pauline Vicary said.   Police were "hopeful that she's still in that condition," Vicary added, as her colleagues resumed an aerial search.   McBeath-Riley and Hockridge live in Alice Springs, while Phu was visiting from elsewhere in Australia.
Date: Tue, 3 Dec 2019 06:07:45 +0100 (MET)

Wellington, Dec 3, 2019 (AFP) - The World Health Organisation warned of a "slide back" in global efforts to eliminate measles Tuesday, as the death toll from an outbreak that has killed dozens of children in Samoa continued to climb.   A total of 55 people have died since the epidemic began in mid-October, 50 of them children aged four or under, officials in the Pacific nation said Tuesday.   Another 18 infants are critically ill in hospital and the crisis shows no sign of slowing, with 153 new cases in the past 24 hours, taking the national total to 3,881 in a population of 200,000.   Emergency measures including compulsory mass immunisations and school closures have so far done little to stop the virus spreading in a country that was particularly vulnerable to measles due to low vaccination rates of about 31 percent.

World Health Organisation (WHO) medical officer for the western Pacific, Jose Hagan, said it was a grim reminder of the danger posed by "probably the most infectious disease that we know of".   "Unfortunately the case (to) fatality rate of measles is much higher than people realise," he told Radio New Zealand.   "This is quite a severe disease and we just aren't used to seeing it, so it comes as quite a surprise when we see how fatal it can be."   He said the fatality rate in Samoa was less than two percent but had been known to reach five percent in developing countries.

Hagen said increased access to measles vaccines was estimated to have saved 21 million lives over the past 20 years.   "But we are starting to have a slide back and there are outbreaks happening all over the world in all WHO regions and it's leading to the virus being exported through international travel," he said.   Cases have skyrocketed in Europe, leading to Britain, Greece, the Czech Republic and Albania all losing their measles-free status in August.   The United States narrowly maintained its "measles eliminated" status a few months later, despite experiencing its worst outbreak since 1992.   The WHO has pointed to various reasons for declining immunisation rates including lack of access to healthcare and complacency about the need to vaccinate.

Another major factor, which has been cited by the WHO as a reason for the severity of the Samoa outbreak, is misinformation about immunisation from anti-vaccine campaigners.   Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi this week said vaccination was the only answer to the epidemic.   He has ordered the government to cease non-essential operations on Thursday and Friday so public servants can help a mandatory vaccination campaign that aims to give anti-measles jabs to everyone aged below 60.