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Uruguay

Uruguay - US Consular Information Sheet
May 01, 2008
COUNTRY DESCRIPTION:
Uruguay is a constitutional democracy with a large, educated middle class and a robust developing economy.
The capital city is Montevideo .
Tourist facilit
es are generally good with many 5-star accommodations at resort destinations such as Punta del Este and Colonia de Sacramento.
The quality of tourist facilities varies according to price and location.
Travelers are encouraged to seek travel agency assistance in making plans to visit Uruguay .
Read the Department of State Background Notes on Uruguay for additional information.

ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS:
All United States citizens entering Uruguay for business or pleasure must have a valid passport.
U.S. citizens traveling on a regular passport do not need a visa for a visit of less than three months.
U.S. citizens traveling on diplomatic or official passports require a visa.
Air travelers are required to pay an airport tax upon departure.
This fee may be paid in U.S. dollars or in Uruguayan pesos.
For further information on entry requirements, contact the Embassy of Uruguay at 1913 “Eye” Street NW, Washington, DC 20006, tel. (202) 331-4219; e-mail: conuruwashi@uruwashi.org.
Travelers may also contact the Consulate of Uruguay in New York, Miami, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Puerto Rico.
Visit the Embassy of Uruguay web site at http://www.uruwashi.org/ 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:
Regular protests, some with an anti-American flavor, take place outside Congress, City Hall and the “University of the Republic.”
U.S. citizens visiting or residing in Uruguay are advised to take common-sense precautions and avoid any large gatherings or any other event where crowds have congregated to demonstrate or protest.
If travelers encounter a protest they should walk the other way or enter a commercial establishment until the protest passes.
Taking pictures of protesters is not a good idea.

Although there have been no past instances of violence directed at U.S. citizens from cross-border extremist groups, U.S. citizens traveling or residing in the more remote areas of Uruguay near the border with Argentina and Brazil are urged to exercise caution.

For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs’ web site at http://travel.state.gov, where the current Travel Warnings and Travel Alerts, as well as the Worldwide Caution, can be found.

Up to date information on safety and security can also be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll free in the U.S. and Canada, or for 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.

CRIME:
Petty street crime is prevalent in Montevideo .
The criminals tend to be non-violent.
However, criminals often resort to violence if the victims resist.
Travelers should exercise reasonable caution to minimize their exposure to crime.
Criminals prey on the unaware, particularly those carrying cameras, pocketbooks, laptops, or backpacks.
Travelers are advised to lock most valuables in secure hotel safes and to download their wallets of excess credit cards and cash.
If dining at an outdoor restaurant take extra care with pocketbooks or bags.
There are no “off limits” areas of the city and parts of “Ciudad Vieja” are popular tourist attractions.
However the only sections of Ciudad Vieja with continual police patrols are Plaza Independencia, the pedestrian street Sarandi, and the Mercado del Puerto.
Mugging is common in other parts of Ciudad Vieja - particularly for travelers walking alone, or couples walking at night.
A smart alternative is to call for a taxi for evening travel between restaurants, bars, and hotels.

Victims are usually foreign tourists, individuals openly carrying valuable items, and motorists in unlocked vehicles stopped at busy intersections, particularly on Montevideo 's riverfront road known as the Rambla. Drivers should keep all car doors locked, the driver's window open only one inch, and purses, bags, briefcases and other valuables out of sight on the floor or in the trunk. Parked cars, particularly in the Carrasco neighborhood, are also increasingly targeted for break-ins. During the summer months (December-March), beach resort areas such as Punta del Este attract tourists, and petty street crimes and residential burglaries--similar to those that occur in Montevideo --rise significantly. Visitors are advised to exercise common sense in the conduct of their activities around Montevideo and in Uruguayan resort areas. They should be very attentive to personal security and their surroundings in the aforementioned areas.

Those planning to live in Montevideo should note that burglaries and attempted burglaries seem to be on the rise in upscale neighborhoods.
The perpetrators are mostly non-confrontational but determined teenagers.
A combination of preventive measures including rigorous use of locks and alarms, strong grillwork on all windows, guard dogs, keeping a residence occupied as much as possible, and using a security service is highly recommended.

Montevideo continues to experience armed robberies of patrons at crowded restaurants in the Pocitos neighborhood.
Most of these crimes have occurred very late at night.
Restaurant patrons should exercise extreme caution for late night dining.

Uruguayan law enforcement authorities have increased the number of uniformed policemen on foot in areas where criminal activity is concentrated and the number of patrol cars in residential areas. The clearly marked patrol cars are equipped with cellular phones and the phone numbers are conspicuously painted on the vehicles.

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 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.

See our information on Victims of Crime.

MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION:
Facilities for medical care are considered adequate. Serious medical problems requiring hospitalization and/or medical evacuation to the United States can cost tens of thousands of dollars.


Information on vaccinations and other health precautions, such as safe food and water precautions and insect bite protection, may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's hotline for international travelers at 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747) or via the CDC’s web site at http://wwwn.cdc.gov/travel/default.aspx.
For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad consult the World Health Organization's (WHO) web site at http://www.who.int/en. Further health information for travelers is available at http://www.who.int/ith/en.

MEDICAL INSURANCE:
The Department of State strongly urges Americans to consult with their medical insurance company prior to traveling abroad to confirm whether their policy applies overseas and whether it will cover emergency expenses such as a medical evacuation.
Please see our information on medical insurance overseas.

TRAFFIC SAFETY AND ROAD CONDITIONS:
While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States .
The information below concerning Uruguay is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in particular location or circumstance.

The Uruguayan Ministry of Transportation is responsible for maintaining safe road conditions countrywide. The Uruguayan Ministry of Interior highway police (tel. 1954) are responsible for traffic safety on highways and other roads beyond city limits. In urban and suburban areas, transit police and municipal employees share road safety responsibilities.

Driving is on the right-hand side of the road. Wearing seat belts and using headlights on highways and other inter-city roads 24 hours a day are mandatory. Children under 12 must ride in the back seat. Motorcyclists must wear helmets. The use of cellular phones while driving is prohibited. Right turns on red lights and left turns at most intersections marked with a stoplight are not permitted. Drivers approaching an intersection from the right or already in traffic circles have the right of way.
Flashing high beams indicate intent to pass or continue through unmarked intersections.
Many drivers ignore speed limits and traffic signs.
If you plan to drive, use extreme caution and drive defensively.

For driving under the influence, violators are fined and confiscated licenses may be retained for up to six months. In accidents causing injury or death, drivers are brought before a judge who decides if incarceration is warranted.

Inter-city travel is via bus, taxi, car service (remise), car, and motorcycle. Speed limits are posted on highways and some main roads. Most taxis have no seat belts in the back seat. Cycling outside the capital or small towns is hazardous due to a scarcity of bike paths, narrow road shoulders and unsafe driving practices.

Illumination, pavement markings, and road surfaces are sometimes poor. Route 1, which runs between Montevideo and Colonia or Punta del Este, and Route 2, between Rosario and Fray Bentos, are particularly accident-ridden because of heavy tourist traffic. Road accidents rise during the austral summer beach season (December to March), Carnaval (mid-to-late February), and Easter Week.

Within Montevideo , the emergency number to contact the police, fire department, rescue squad, or ambulance service is 911. In the rest of the country, dial 02-911 to connect with the Montevideo central emergency authority, which will then contact the local emergency service. The Automobile Club of Uruguay responds to emergency calls for roadside assistance at 1707, “Car Up” at 0800-1501 and the Automobile Center of Uruguay at 2-408-6131/2091. SEMM (tel. 159) and UCM (tel. 147), Montevideo-based ambulance services manned by doctors, have agreements with emergency medical units in other cities.

Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information.
You may also telephone Uruguay ’s national tourist office and national authority responsible for road safety in Miami at (305) 443-7431.

AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT:
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed Uruguay ’s Civil Aviation Authority as not being in compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards for oversight of Uruguay ’s air carrier operations.
For more information, travelers may visit the FAA’s web site at http://www.faa.gov/safety/programs_initiatives/oversight/iasa.

SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES:
Uruguay 's customs authorities may enforce strict regulations concerning temporary importation into or export from Uruguay of items such as precious jewels, gold, firearms, pornography, subversive literature, inflammable articles, acids, prohibited drugs (medications), plants, seeds, and foodstuffs as well as some antiquities and business equipment. It is advisable to contact the Embassy of Uruguay in Washington, D.C., or one of Uruguay 's consulates in the U.S. for specific information regarding customs requirements. Note: Travelers entering Uruguay with precious jewels or gold worth more than $500.00 ( U.S. ) must declare them to customs officers at the port of entry or face possible detention or seizure of the goods and charges of contraband or evasion of customs controls. Visitors are expected to comply with local law and regulations by approaching a customs officer before routine inspection of all incoming baggage, conducted on standard security equipment.
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 Uruguay ’s laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested, or imprisoned.
Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Uruguay are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines.
Engaging in sexual conduct with children or using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is a crime, prosecutable in the United States .
Please see our information on Criminal Penalties.

The Uruguayan Ministry of Agriculture and Fishing strictly enforces all regulations regarding hunting permits, as well as seasonal and numerical limits on game. Visitors who contravene local law have been detained by the authorities and had valuable personal property (weapons) seized. Under Uruguayan law, seized weapons can only be returned after payment of a sum equivalent to the value of the property seized. Hunters are also subject to stiff fines for practicing the sport without all appropriate permits.

CHILDREN'S ISSUES:
For information see our Office of Children’s Issues web pages onintercountry adoption and international parental child abduction.

REGISTRATION / EMBASSY LOCATION:
Americans living or traveling in Uruguay are encouraged to register with the U.S. Embassy through the State Department's travel registration web site so that they can obtain updated information on travel and security within Uruguay .
Americans without Internet access may register directly with the U.S. Embassy.
By registering, American citizens make it easier for the Embassy to contact them in case of emergency. The U.S. Embassy is located at Lauro Muller 1776; telephone (598) (2) 418-7777; fax (598) (2) 418-4110 or -8611. Internet: http://uruguay.usembassy.gov/, email: MontevideoACS@state.gov. Consular Section hours for American Citizen Services are Monday to Thursday, 9:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. and 2:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m., except U.S. and Uruguayan holidays.
* * *
This replaces the Consular Information Sheet dated August 28, 2007 to update Sections on Entry/Exit Requirements, Safety and Security, Crime, Aviation Safety Oversight, Children’s issues, and Registration/Embassy Location.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

20th June 2019
https://en.mercopress.com/2019/06/20/torrential-rains-in-uruguay-forces-7.400-to-abandon-their-homes
Troops will continue monitoring the situation because “there are many people who do not want to leave their homes due to fear of being looted” Bayardi said.Torrential rains in central and southern Uruguay in the past several days have caused massive floods and forced some 7,400 people to leave their homes, according to the latest update by the country's National Emergency System.  The central city of Durazno is the most affected, with 5,299 evacuees, according to official reports.

Defense Minister Jose Bayardi visited one of the camp sites managed by the military to help the displaced.  ”We have established a high level of experience (in the face of these catastrophes) which we have succeeded in institutionalizing,“ he told the media. Troops will continue monitoring the situation because ”there are many people who do not want to leave their homes due to fear of being robbed and looted” Bayardi said.

The National Highway Police also said that 12 national highways remain cut-off in different directions. Uruguay's National Meteorological Institute said that between June 11 and 16, some southern regions of the country received around 270 mm of rain.  On Wednesday morning, the Yi River, which had been 11.8 meters higher than its normal water level in the Durazno area, was falling at a rate of 11 cm per hour, according to local media reports.

Date: Tue 12 Mar 2019
Source: Carmelo Portal [in Spanish, trans. Mod. TY, edited]

The departmental health director, Dr Jorge Mota, confirmed for Carmelo Portal the death in our city of a young 17 year old girl from [a] hantavirus [infection]. "In Colonia department, there are on average 3 cases per year. The evolution of the disease is in thirds. One-third of the [infected] people do not have notable symptoms; another third have serious symptoms, especially respiratory symptoms and ones in all the systems, but with adequate treatment, [the infected people] survive, sometimes with sequelae. There is another third that die. It is those few with the virus that die with an evolution so drastic, such as is the case of this girl, sadly," Dr Mota stated.

The department health director said that hantaviruses are not contagious person-to-person. "It is transmitted from an intermediate animal, the field mouse. Only 3% of these mice have [a] hantavirus. To become infected, one must be in contact with an [infected] mouse's secretions that have dried, are mixed with dust, and are in a closed space, away from sunlight and ventilation. A spa, a shed, or a wood pile [are examples of such a space]. The person had to have been moving around there and inhaled the dust," he explained.

Dr Mota spoke about the epidemiological surveillance that is carried out. "We tracked places where the person was, even those that could be identified 2 months before contracting the virus; sometimes we found the place, but sometimes not." As a preventive measure, Mota stated that in these cases, ventilate these closed spaces for at least half an hour. Wet down floors and shelves with water [with 10% bleach]. Use masks [and gloves].
==========================
[The report above does not mention the circumstances under which the infection might have been acquired nor which hantavirus was responsible for this or earlier cases in Uruguay. Hantaviruses that cause hantavirus pulmonary syndrome (with rodent hosts found in Uruguay) include Laguna Negra virus (_Calomys laucha_), Maciel virus (_Necromys benefactus_), Central Plata virus, Lechiguanas virus (_Oligoryzomys flavescens_, complex of rodents), and Anajatuba virus and Juquitiba virus (_Ologoryzomys fornesi_).

The rodent reservoir hosts shed the virus in its saliva, urine, and faeces, contaminating the environment in which they live and breed.

A HealthMap/ProMED-mail map showing the location of Uruguay in South America can be accessed at
<http://healthmap.org/promed/p/28995>.

A map of Colonia department in southern Uruguay is available at
<https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Colonia_del_Sacramento>
and <http://healthmap.org/promed/p/27367>. - ProMED Mod.TY]
Date: Thu, 19 Jul 2018 03:23:55 +0200
By Lucia LACURCIA

Montevideo, July 19, 2018 (AFP) - Enrique Curbelo is delighted. Selling cannabis has allowed the affable 76-year-old to keep his privately owned pharmacy in Montevideo open in a market dominated by big chains.   "I had to sell what they didn't sell," he told AFP. "For me it's like selling aspirin."   It's been this way for a year now.   Every Wednesday, Ismael Fernandez receives a WhatsApp message from his local pharmacist telling him a new stock of cannabis has arrived.   After leaving work, he heads there and buys the 10 grams that Uruguayan law permits, costing 400 pesos, around $13.

Fernandez then heads home and rolls a joint "to relax" with his partner Stefania Fabricio.   No longer do they need to surreptitiously contact a dealer and pay more for Paraguayan or Brazilian marijuana that's been "pressed, mixed (and is) sometimes very bad and full of chemicals."   "Now it's much easier than when it started," Fernandez, a 31-year-old who works for a cleaning company, told AFP.   It has been four and a half years since marijuana use became legal in Uruguay and a year since it has been sold in pharmacies -- up to 40 grams a month per person.

Initially, there was insufficient supply, leaving people standing in long queues as stocks sometimes ran out. Pharmacies are better prepared now.   "They send you a message with a number which you use later to go and collect it, and in my pharmacy you can order it online," added Fernandez, the father of a three-year-old.   Hairdresser Fabricio, also 31, says "it's good quality," but not too strong.   "It doesn't send your head spinning, but it's not meant to. You get a hit but you can still do things perfectly."   - 'Privileged' -   She says she feels "privileged" to live in a country that enacted a law to "get tons of people out of the black market."   As a result, she said, the stigma attached to those who smoke pot is changing, "albeit slowly."

The system is simple: to buy cannabis in a pharmacy you must be at least 18, live in Uruguay and sign up as a "buyer" at the post office.   An initial stumbling block arose when banks refused to work with establishments selling cannabis due to international rules against drug-trafficking.   But the country plowed on, and last year it became the first in the world to fully legalize its sale.   But Enrique Curbelo had to get over his own prejudices before deciding to join the select band of pharmacies selling the plant.   There are 14, half of them in the capital, serving the 24,812 registered buyers.

- 'Normal people' -
Users can choose between two brands and two types of cannabis -- sativa and indica -- both provided by an official distributor.   Customers are generally not the stereotypical grubby-looking student or idle waster.    On this day in Curbelo's store they include two young women, a man in his 50s and an older lady -- "normal people," says the pharmacist.   Official statistics say 70 percent of buyers are male and 49 percent are between the ages of 18 and 29.

To keep anyone from exceeding their monthly allowance, a fingerprint machine is used to register every sale.   Along with the ability to purchase cannabis in a pharmacy, Uruguayans have the right to grow their own -- up to a six-plant maximum -- or to join a cannabis club, which can have up to 45 members and 99 plants.   Federico Corbo, a 41-year-old gardener, grows cannabis in his garden on the outskirts of Montevideo. He experiments by crossing species in an attempt to improve quality and optimize the flowering period.   Corbo is not impressed with the quality on offer in pharmacies.   "It's not the worst, but it's low," he said, insisting quality control needs to be improved.   "Marijuana that doesn't reach the minimum standards -- with crushed flowers, no aroma, low quality -- shouldn't be sold in the pharmacy.   "Maybe, as I'm a grower, I'm very demanding, but there is a cost associated to the product and it must be offered to the public in the best way possible."

According to the Institute of Cannabis Regulation and Control (Ircca), an average cultivator or club member supplies cannabis to two other people, while those who buy it in a pharmacy share it with one other.   "Approximately half of marijuana users have access to regulated cannabis," says Ircca.   The rest prefer to continue buying the drug on the black market, put off by the need to register as a user.   "It's wrong -- if they legalize it they have to do so in a way in which the state doesn't keep a paternalistic role in overseeing how much you smoke or stop smoking," one clandestine user, who wished to remain anonymous, told AFP.   This 48-year-old lawyer simply doesn't trust the authorities. He pointed to the danger a change of government could bring, or even the return of dictatorship.   "Right now that seems impossible," he said, "but you can never discount it."
Date: Thu 1 Feb 2018 23:02hs UYT
Source: LaRed 21 [in Spanish, machine trans. edited]

The Ministry of Public Health (MSP) issued a statement through which it reports that it has detected cases of infection by the bacterium _Vibrio vulnificus_ in Montevideo, Canelones, and Maldonado [departments]. The State Secretariat assured that every year there are cases of this bacterium, but so far in 2018, 4 serious cases have been reported, of which 3 died. All of them had underlying illnesses.

"90 percent of these cases, in the world, are associated with the consumption of undercooked or raw seafood. Infrequently, the infection can be acquired when entering the sea with open wounds, especially in elderly people or people with diseases that affect the immune system," explained the MSP. It is an event "extremely rare in our country," said the State Secretariat. It also indicated that fewer than 10 cases per year are registered per year for this bacterium.

It is an infection that "can be serious and in some cases fatal, so it is recommended to avoid the consumption of undercooked or raw sea products (as well as their handling without protection measures) and in the same way, avoid entering the sea with wounds or cuts on the skin." The bacteria can be found in coastal marine waters and estuaries in areas of tropical and subtropical climates that have a moderate degree of salinity and temperatures that usually exceed 18 C [64.4 F].
====================
[The following is extracted from the previous edition of the "Bad Bug Book," Center for Safety and Applied Nutrition, US FDA (Food and Drug Administration). The newest version is available at:  <https://www.fda.gov/downloads/Food/FoodborneIllnessContaminants/UCM297627.pdf>:

"_Vibrio vulnificus_, a lactose-fermenting, halophilic, Gram-negative, opportunistic pathogen, is found in estuarine environments and associated with various marine species such as plankton, shellfish (oysters, clams, and crabs), and finfish. Environmental factors responsible for controlling numbers of _V. vulnificus_ in seafood and in the environment include temperature, pH, salinity, and amounts of dissolved organics. It may be normal flora in salt water, and acquiring this organism from shellfish or water exposure does not imply that the water is contaminated by sewage.

"Wound infections result either from contaminating an open wound with sea water harbouring the organism, or by lacerating part of the body on coral, fish, etc., followed by contamination with the organism. The ingestion of _V. vulnificus_ by healthy individuals can result in gastroenteritis."

The "primary septicaemia" form of the disease follows consumption of raw seafood containing the organism by individuals with underlying chronic disease, particularly liver disease. The organism can also enter through damaged skin. In these individuals, the microorganism enters the blood stream, resulting in septic shock, rapidly followed by death in many cases (about 50 percent). Over 70 percent of infected individuals have distinctive bullous skin lesions (shown at <http://safeoysters.org/medical/diagnosis.html>).

There are 2 points to be emphasized: that vibrios are normal flora in warm saltwater (not indicative of any sewage contamination) and that most of the life-threatening illnesses occur in individuals with underlying medical illnesses, including immunocompromised states, chronic liver disease, and diabetes. So-called normal individuals often just develop gastroenteritis. The range of disease due to _V. vulnificus_ can involve more northern geographical areas as overall global warming takes effect. - ProMED Mod.LL]

Date: Mon 29 Jan 2018
Source: Monte Carlo [in Spanish, trans. ProMED Mod.TY, edited]

Personnel of the Ministry of Public Health are investigating the death of a young --28-years old -- agronomist caused by [a] hantavirus [infection]. After completion of the specific studies, which could take 48 hours, they will be able to determine if the young woman died as a consequence of the virus [infection].

The disease is contracted by the inhalation of excretions or secretions of rodents infected by the hantavirus.

As a preventive measure, personnel of the Department of Epidemiology of the Ministry of Health will go to the rural area in Canelones, where the young woman resided.  [Byline: Enrique Puig]
====================
[No information is given about the symptoms that the young woman experienced prior to her death, nor the date of her illness and death. Presumably, the diagnosis of a suspected hantavirus infection leading to death was hantavirus cardiopulmonary syndrome (HPS).

The report above does not mention which hantavirus was responsible for this or earlier cases in Uruguay. Central Plata hantavirus could be the etiological agent responsible (for this and previous HPS cases). Its rodent host is the yellow pygmy rice rat, _Oligoryzomys flavescens_, complex of rodents. This rodent reservoir host sheds the virus in its saliva, urine and faeces, contaminating the environment in which it lives and breeds.

An image of this rodent can be accessed at

A HealthMap/ProMED-mail map showing the location of Uruguay in South
America can be accessed at: <http://healthmap.org/promed/p/28995> and
Canelones department in southern Uruguay at
More ...

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.