WORLD NEWS

Getting countries ...
Select countries and read reports below or

Virgin Islands

British Virgin Islands US Consular Information Sheet
April 03, 2006
COUNTRY DESCRIPTION: The British Virgin Islands (BVI) are a British overseas territory, part of the British West Indies, lying about 60 miles east of Puerto Rico. There are abo
t 50 islands in the BVI, many of them uninhabited. Tortola is the main island; other islands include Virgin Gorda, Jost Van Dyke, and Anegada. Tourist facilities are widely available.
ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS: For tourist stays of up to six months, U.S. citizens need a valid U.S. passport or other proof of U.S. citizenship (original or certified birth certificate, Certificate of Naturalization or Certificate of Citizenship as well as photo identification), onward or return tickets, and sufficient funds for their stay. Upon initial entry, no more than 60 days will be granted. At the end of 60 days, visitors must report to the Immigration Department's main office in Road Town for an extension. Extensions of up to 90 days are issued at the discretion of the Immigration Officer subsequent to an interview. For further information on travel to the British Virgin Islands, travelers should contact the BVI Department of Immigration at 1-284-494-3471. Visit the Embassy of the British Government web site at for the most current visa information.
See Entry and Exit Requirements for more information pertaining to dual nationality and the international child abduction . Please refer to our Customs Information to learn more about customs regulations.

SAFETY AND SECURITY For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department's Internet web site, where the current Travel Warnings and Public Announcements , including the Worldwide Caution Public Announcement , 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., 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: Thefts and armed robberies do occur in the BVI. Visitors should take common-sense precautions against petty crime. Avoid carrying large amounts of cash and use hotel safety deposit facilities to safeguard valuables and travel documents. Do not leave valuables unattended on the beach or in cars. Always lock up boats when going ashore.
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.
See our information on Victims of Crime .
MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION: Medical care in the British Virgin Islands consists of a small general hospital with an emergency room staffed 24-hrs/day by physicians, several clinics on Tortola, and one clinic in Virgin Gorda. Ambulances staffed with paramedics serve both islands. There are no medical facilities on the other islands. A volunteer organization, Virgin Islands Search and Rescue (VISAR), responds 24-hrs/day to medical emergencies at sea or on outer islands. VISAR transports casualties to the nearest point for transfer to ambulance. To reach VISAR, dial SOS (767) or call on Marine Channel 16.
There is no hyperbaric chamber in the BVI. Patients requiring treatment for decompression illness are transferred to St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands. Most sensitive medical cases are transferred to San Juan, Puerto Rico.
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 internet site at . For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad consult the World Health Organization's (WHO) website at . Further health information for travelers is available at .
MEDICAL INSURANCE: The Department of State strongly urges Americans to consult with their medical insurance company prior to traveling abroad to confirm whether their policy applies overseas and whether it will cover emergency expenses such as a medical evacuation. Please see our information on medical insurance overseas
TRAFFIC SAFETY AND ROAD CONDITIONS: While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. The information below concerning the British Virgin Islands is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.
Vehicles drive on the left (the British side) with most steering wheels on the left (the "American" side). Road signs are limited and seatbelts are required by law. Drivers often fail to yield the right-of-way to pedestrians, even at painted crosswalks. Speeding and reckless driving are fairly common in the BVI. Drivers can encounter nighttime drag racing on main thoroughfares and livestock on roads. Roads in Tortola's interior can be steep and extremely slippery when wet. Travelers planning to drive across the island should consider requesting four-wheel drive vehicles and should ensure that tires and brakes are in good operating condition on any rental vehicle. Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information, as well as the website of the BVI's national tourist office and national authority responsible for road safety at
.
AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT: The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the Government of the British Virgin Islands as being in compliance with ICAO international aviation safety standards for oversight of BVI's air carrier operations. For more information, travelers may visit the FAA's Internet web site at .
CUSTOMS REGULATIONS: BVI customs authorities may enforce strict regulations concerning temporary importation into or export from the British Virgin Islands of items such as drugs and firearms. Visitors to BVI carrying firearms must declare them upon entry into any port in the territory. Firearms must be bonded and are held by the proper authorities until time of departure. Contact BVI Customs & Immigration at 1-284-494-3475, the Embassy of the United Kingdom in Washington, D.C. or one of the UK's consulates in the United States for specific information regarding customs requirements. Please see our information on 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 British Virgin Island laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned. Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in the BVI 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 .
DISASTER PREPAREDNESS: All Caribbean countries can be affected by hurricanes. The hurricane season normally runs from June to the end of November, but there have been hurricanes in December in recent years. General information about natural disaster preparedness is available via the Internet from the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
CHILDREN'S ISSUES: For information on international adoption of children and international parental child abduction, see the Office of Children's Issues website.
REGISTRATION/EMBASSY AND CONSULATE LOCATIONS: Americans living or traveling in the British Virgin Islands are encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate through the State Department's travel registration website , and to obtain updated information on travel and security within the BVI. 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 nearest U.S. Embassy to the BVI is located in Bridgetown, Barbados. The Consular Section is located in the American Life Insurance Company (ALICO) Building, Cheapside, telephone 1-246-431-0225 or fax 1-246-431-0179, email ConsularBridge2@state.gov , or . The U.S. Consular Agent in Antigua, located at Jasmine court, St. John's, tel. 1-268-463-6531, is closer to the BVI and can also assist in some limited non-emergency cases, by previous appointment only.
****
This replaces the British Virgin Islands Consular Information Sheet dated April 26, 2005 to update all sections.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Thu 19 Sep 2019
Source: Emerg Infect Dis [edited]

Citation:
Guendel I, Ekpo LL, Hinkle MK, Harrison CJ, Blaney DD, et al.: Melioidosis after Hurricanes Irma and Maria, St. Thomas/St. John District, US Virgin Islands, October 2017. Emerg Infect Dis. 2019; 25(10): 1952-1955. doi: 10.3201/eid2510.180959.

Melioidosis is caused by _Burkholderia pseudomallei_, a saprophytic, gram-negative bacillus endemic to tropical regions worldwide (1). Diagnosis is difficult because of wide-ranging clinical manifestations (2), and this bacterium is innately resistant to many antimicrobial drugs, making treatment options limited, complex, and lengthy (3). Infection occurs by percutaneous exposure, inhalation, or ingestion.

Melioidosis is rare in the USA, and cases are usually travel related (4,5). However, regional endemicity has been documented in Puerto Rico (6), and sporadic human cases have been reported in the Caribbean (5,7). In September 2017, the US Virgin Islands were affected by 2 category 5 hurricanes, Irma and Maria; widespread flooding continued for weeks. We describe the clinical manifestations, management, and outcome of post-hurricane melioidosis cases in 2 women in St. Thomas and St. John, US Virgin Islands.

The study
Despite major damage to the 2 hospitals in the territory during the 2 hurricanes, the Virgin Islands Department of Health (VIDOH) maintained surveillance at both emergency departments. Two isolates were recovered from each patient. Local specimen analysis for organism identification was performed by using the MicroScan WalkAway System (Siemens Healthcare Diagnostics, <https://www.siemens-healthineers.com>). All isolates were confirmed as _B. pseudomallei_ at the CDC. Whole-genome sequencing and single-nucleotide polymorphism analysis were performed (National Center for Biotechnology Information, <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov>. Genomes from a given patient were clonal to each other. However, representative genomes from both patients had differences (greater than 5600 single-nucleotide polymorphisms), indicating the presence of different strains in these infections. Genomic comparison with a reference panel indicated that the isolates were within the previously described Western Hemisphere clade and subclade associated with the Caribbean (8).

Patient 1 was an 80-year-old female resident of St. Thomas who had a history of cardiomyopathy and type II diabetes mellitus. She came to the emergency department (ED) at Schneider Regional Medical Center (St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands) because of shortness of breath (symptom onset 28 days after Hurricane Irma and 9 days after Hurricane Maria). Her symptoms were worsened orthopnea, increased abdominal girth, and edema, consistent with her symptoms at previous admissions. The patient was admitted for management of acute decompensated heart failure.

The patient had a temperature of 98.5 deg F [36.9 deg C]; diffuse pulmonary crackles; jugular venous distension; normal heart sounds; and bilateral, lower extremity pitting edema. Examination showed a focal area on the anterior left thigh that had a central, firm, warm, erythematous, tender, subcutaneous nodule about 2 cm [approximately 0.8 in] in diameter with a central fluctuant area and a small pinhole. Incision and drainage was performed, and a swab specimen of purulent drainage was sent for culture.

The patient was given intravenous clindamycin (600 mg every 8 h for 5 d) and was discharged while receiving oral clindamycin, but the treatment course was not completed. Cultured wound showed growth of _B. pseudomallei_ at 5 days. However, culture growth was not yet positive before patient discharge. The isolate was susceptible to trimethoprim/sulfamethoxazole (Table 1 [for Tables and Figure, see original URL - ProMED Mod.LL]).

Patient 1 returned to the ED 2 weeks later because of manifestations similar to those at the 1st visit. She was afebrile and admitted for diuresis. The left thigh lesion had progressed into a 2 cm [about 0.8 in], tender, shallow ulcer productive of purulent material surrounded by erythema and a focal area of induration (Figure). Laboratory data reflected a leukocyte count within reference ranges and mild renal insufficiency with estimated glomerular filtration rate of 40.47 mL/min (Table 2). A 2nd wound culture was collected, and the patient was given intravenous meropenem (1 g every 8 h). Culture was presumptively positive for _B. pseudomallei_ and _Serratia marcescens_ after 48 hours, confirmed after 8 days. Both isolates showed the same resistance pattern and were susceptible to meropenem and trimethoprim/sulfamethoxazole: the MIC for meropenem was <1 microgram/mL (Table 2). Meropenem was continued for 8 days, and ulcer improvement was observed. The patient was discharged while receiving oral trimethoprim/sulfamethoxazole (800 mg/160 mg 2x/d) to complete maintenance therapy. The patient completed a 3-month course of trimethoprim/sulfamethoxazole and achieved resolution.

Patient 2 was a 60-year-old female who had diabetes and was a resident of St. John. She was referred to the ED at Schneider Regional Medical Center by her primary care physician because of hyperglycemia, productive cough, and malaise for one week (symptom onset 46 days after Hurricane Irma and 33 days after Hurricane Maria). The patient was admitted to the intensive care unit because of community-acquired pneumonia.

The patient was lethargic and had a temperature of 101 deg F [38.3 deg C]; heart rate was 99 beats/min, respiratory rate 22 breaths/min, and blood pressure 142/81 mm Hg. Blood gas testing showed pO2 of 47.6 mm Hg with an oxygen saturation of 87.2% on 2-liter nasal cannula. A chest radiograph showed a left-sided mild infiltrate, and her leukocyte count was markedly increased (28 300 cells/mm3) (Table 2).

The patient was given intravenous ceftriaxone (1 g/d) and azithromycin (500 mg/d) after blood and sputum cultures were prepared. She required bilevel positive airway pressure but eventually required mechanical ventilation. The patient then became hypotensive and required norepinephrine to maintain a main arterial pressure greater than 65 mm Hg. Ceftriaxone was discontinued, and she was given intravenous piperacillin/tazobactam (3.375 g every 6 h). Trimethoprim/sulfamethoxazole- and ceftazidime-sensitive _B. pseudomallei_ were identified from sputum culture after 72 hours (Table 1). Methicillin-sensitive _Staphylococcus aureus_ and _Candida glabrata_ were also identified. One of 2 blood cultures was positive for gram-negative rods. Piperacillin/tazobactam was discontinued, and the patient was given meropenem (1 g every 8 h).

The patient remained critically ill and was transferred to a tertiary-care hospital in the continental USA. She died in a long-term care facility during October 2018 without showing signs of neurologic improvement.

Isolates from both patients showed susceptibility to routinely tested antimicrobial drugs (10,11). Isolates from patient 1 showed resistance to ceftazidime during preliminary analysis (Table 1). However, broth microdilution confirmatory testing performed at CDC indicated ceftazidime susceptibility, highlighting the need for additional antimicrobial resistance confirmation.

Both patients were interviewed to determine travel history and possible exposure sources. Patient 1 traveled occasionally to the southeastern USA; her last travel date was 3 months before her illness. This patient reported flooding and water damage to her home from the hurricanes but did not report contact with flood waters. Patient 2 reported no travel history before the hurricanes.

VIDOH has investigated and confirmed a subsequent case-patient with pulmonary melioidosis in St. Thomas during December 2018 (I. Guendel et al., unpub. data). This case-patient reported no recent travel and might have had occupational exposure as a professional gardener. This person had 2 risk factors (type II diabetes mellitus and heavy use of alcohol).

Conclusions
Given regional occurrence, detection of melioidosis in the US Virgin Islands is not surprising. Furthermore, emergence of melioidosis after extreme weather events has been well documented, and cases were likely acquired locally from storm-related exposure to flooded soil, surface water runoff, or generation of coarse aerosols (12,13). Although detection of _B. pseudomallei_ has yet to be confirmed in the environment, it might be endemic to the US Virgin Islands, as in Puerto Rico.

In January 2018, melioidosis was listed as a reportable disease in the US Virgin Islands. Future actions include disease education efforts for physicians and laboratory staff because misdiagnosis is common (14). Awareness campaigns highlighting preventive measures for the public are necessary because risk factors are prevalent in the local population (e.g., diabetes and other chronic disease) and might be exacerbated under disaster settings (e.g., respiratory effects and open wounds). VIDOH has implemented rapid diagnostic testing by using Active Melioidosis Detect (InBios International, <https://inbios.com>) on suspected specimens for prompt on-island case identification while routine ED diagnostic cultures are performed (5). All confirmatory testing is conducted at CDC.

References
-------
On Request
======================
[This infection is found primarily in southeast Asia and the Northern Territory of Australia. Despite this, cases of melioidosis have been acquired in other parts of the world including the Americas. Flooding from the increasing number of severe tropical storms related to climate change is increasing.

Melioidosis is a disease of the rainy season in its endemic areas. It mainly affects people who have direct contact with soil and water. Many have an underlying predisposing condition such as diabetes (most common risk factor), renal disease, cirrhosis, thalassemia, alcohol dependence, immunosuppressive therapy, chronic obstructive lung disease, cystic fibrosis, and excess kava consumption (kava is an herbal member of the pepper family that can be associated with chronic liver disease).

Melioidosis may present at any age but peaks in the 4th and 5th decades of life, affecting men more than women. In addition, although severe fulminating infection can and does occur in healthy individuals, severe disease and fatalities are much less common in those without risk factors.

The most commonly recognized presentation of melioidosis is pneumonia, associated with high fever, significant muscle aches, and chest pain, and -- although the cough can be nonproductive -- respiratory secretions can be purulent, significant in quantity, and associated with on-and-off bright red blood. The lung infection can be rapidly fatal -- with bacteremia and shock -- or somewhat more indolent.

Acute melioidosis septicaemia is the most severe complication of the infection. It presents as a typical sepsis syndrome with hypotension, high cardiac output, and low systemic vascular resistance. In many cases, a primary focus in the soft tissues or lung can be found. The syndrome, usually in patients with risk factor comorbidities, is characteristically associated with multiple abscesses involving the cutaneous tissues, lung, liver, and spleen, and a very high mortality rate of 80-95%. With prompt optimal therapy, the case fatality rate can be decreased to 40-50%.

The melioidosis bacillus is intrinsically insensitive to many antimicrobials, and in fact, bioterrorism strains may be engineered to be even more resistant. _Burkholderia pseudomallei_ is usually inhibited by tetracyclines, chloramphenicol, trimethoprim-sulfamethoxazole (SXT), antipseudomonal penicillins, carbapenems, ceftazidime, and amoxicillin/clavulanate or ampicillin/sulbactam. Ceftriaxone and cefotaxime have good in vitro activity but poor efficacy, and cefepime did not appear, as well, to be equivalent to ceftazidime in a mouse model. The unusual antimicrobial profile of resistance to colistin and polymyxin B and the aminoglycosides but sensitivity to amoxicillin/clavulanate is a useful tool to consider in treatment of infection with the organism.

The randomized and quasi-randomized trials comparing melioidosis treatment have been reviewed, and it was found that the formerly standard therapy of chloramphenicol, doxycycline, and SXT combination had a higher mortality rate than therapy with ceftazidime, imipenem/cilastatin, or amoxicillin/clavulanate (or ampicillin/sulbactam). The betalactam-betalactamase inhibitor therapy, however, seemed to have a higher failure rate.

Source: Tolaney P, Lutwick LI: Melioidosis. In: Lutwick LI, Lutwick SM (eds). Bioterror: the Weaponization of Infectious Diseases. Totowa NJ: Humana Press, 2008. pp 145-58. - ProMED Mod.LL]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map:
US Virgin Islands: <http://healthmap.org/promed/p/479>]
Date: Fri 31 Jan 2014
Source NBC News [edited]

The Explorer of the Seas outbreak was caused by norovirus, one of the worst outbreaks in 20 years, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said. The Explorer of the Seas cruise ship returned to port after hundreds of passengers became ill. Federal health officials confirmed on Friday [31 Jan 2014] that norovirus was the culprit that sickened nearly 700 people on a cruise ship this week, and said it was one of the biggest norovirus outbreaks in 20 years. But the source of the outbreak on the Royal Caribbean ship Explorer of the Seas, which returned early to New Jersey on Wednesday [29 Jan 2014], may never be known, CDC said: "CDC has been investigating the outbreak since last Sunday [26 Jan 2014] but no particular source has been identified and it's quite possible a source won't be identified."

The report comes after passengers streamed off the Caribbean Princess on Friday morning [31 Jan 2014], the 2nd cruise cut short this week amid reports of illness on board. The ship, operated by Princess Cruises, returned to Houston [Texas] a day early with a confirmed outbreak of norovirus. "The ship was forced to return to Houston one day early because we were informed that dense fog was expected to close the port for much of the weekend," the company said in a statement. "The ship did not return early because of the increased incidence of norovirus on board, despite some media reports."

At least 178 people on board became ill during the cruise, according to the cruise line and CDC. Sick patients were quarantined to their rooms, and other passengers said they no longer had access to buffet tongs as crew members handed out hand sanitiser. CDC health officials met the Caribbean Princess at the Bayport Cruise Terminal in Pasadena, Texas. The vessel launched on a 7-day cruise to the western Caribbean on [25 Jan 2014] and had been scheduled to return on Saturday [1 Feb 2014]. Princess Cruises said the outbreak was over by the time the ship returned to Houston. "As a result of our actions, case numbers declined significantly and by the end of the cruise there were no passengers with active symptoms," the company said. "Over the course of the cruise 178 passengers (5.7 per cent) and 11 crew (1 per cent) reported ill to the Medical Center."

CDC officials also helped Royal Caribbean clean up the Explorer of the Seas, and said it had been approved to go back out again with a new batch of passengers Friday afternoon [31 Jan 2014]. Royal Caribbean officials say they cleaned the ship, which carried more than 3000 passengers, 3 times. It's the 3rd cruise ship outbreak to occur this year [2014]. A Norwegian Cruise Line ship, the Norwegian Star, reported that 130 passengers and 12 crew members became ill on 2-week cruise that launched [5 Jan 2014] from Miami.

About 20 million passengers take cruises in the US each year, fuelling a USD 37.8 billion annual industry, according to the American Association of Port Authorities. There were 9 vessel outbreaks in 2013 and 16 in 2012, according to the CDC. Norovirus is a common culprit in outbreaks on cruise ships, in nursing homes, and other confined places. It is a fast-moving gut bug typically spread by infected people or contaminated food or water. Norovirus is the most common cause of acute gastroenteritis in the US, resulting in about 21 million illnesses, between 56 000 and 71 000 hospitalizations and as many as 800 deaths, CDC says.

The virus lingers on surfaces and spreads very easily. Thorough hand washing with hot water and soap and meticulous environmental cleaning can help stop the spread. CDC says it's the season for norovirus. "Norovirus outbreaks wit high attack rates are common during this time of year," the agency said. "Most outbreaks occur between January and April."   [byline: Maggie Fox]
*****
Date: Wed 29 Jan 2014
Source: NBC News [edited]

Beleaguered passengers finally fled a Royal Caribbean cruise ship on Wednesday [29 Jan 2014] after a 10-day vacation cut short by a nasty gut bug that sickened nearly 700 people. One woman aboard the Explorer of the Seas yelled, "We made it!" as the ship docked in Bayonne [New Jersey], 2 days ahead of schedule. Other passengers stood on deck wrapped in blankets to watch the ship pull in. One person was removed from the Explorer of the Seas on a stretcher and taken away by ambulance. Others walked under their own power after the vessel arrived. Several passengers recounted a week full of tension and drama, but also professionalism and care from the cruise line crew.

Still, the ordeal on the 1020-foot ship -- whose relaxing voyage to the US Virgin Islands was thwarted by suspected norovirus -- may linger a little longer for people still showing signs of the fast-moving infection, health officials said. "We have passengers who are still exhibiting active disease," said Burnadette Burden, a spokeswoman for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. People who are still sick may be too ill to travel home -- and too contagious to use public transportation like trains and buses, health experts say. Royal Caribbean officials said Wednesday [29 Jan 2014] that they'd pay for hotels or make sure that ill passengers get additional medical care. "Should a guest feel sick enough that they want to go to the hospital, we will arrange for transportation," Royal Caribbean spokeswoman Cynthia Martinez said in an email. "We will work with the small number of guests that still feel ill to make them as comfortable as possible."

At least 630 of the ship's 3071 passengers and at least 54 of the 1166 crew members came down with diarrhea and vomiting -- classic signs of norovirus. Most of the cases occurred early in the cruise, which left New Jersey on [21 Jan 2014], and many passengers had already recovered. It's hard to say that the outbreak was the worst on record because of inconsistencies in record-keeping. But it's a bad one, Burden said. "It would be fair to say this is one of the largest numbers in the last 20 years or so," she said. One of the closest outbreaks to compare occurred in 2006, when a Carnival Cruise ship, the Carnival Liberty, was hit with an outbreak of norovirus that sickened 679 passengers and crew on a November trip to the US Virgin Islands.

CDC officials have not confirmed that norovirus is the culprit on the Explorer of the Seas, though it's a common cause of illness on cruise ships. Officials said testing was delayed by a treacherous winter snowstorm that closed the agency's Atlanta headquarters and results aren't expected until Friday [31 Jan 2014]. But if it is the germ, it's highly contagious for the one to 2 days when people are actively sick -- and for a few days afterward. The virus actually lingers in people's stool for 2 weeks or more, according to the CDC. That means that anyone who fell ill -- and those who were around them -- should pay extra attention to washing their hands and other kinds of cleanliness, said Dr Ruth Lynfield, outgoing head of the public health committee of the Infectious Diseases Society of America.

Cleanliness will be the key for the cruise line, too. Officials said they plan another scrub, a so-called "barrier sanitation" program to ensure that any remaining traces of illness are removed from the ship. Norovirus is a notoriously difficult bug to eradicate, health experts say. "It will be the 3rd aggressive sanitizing procedure the ship has undertaken since we became aware of the issue, and will additionally provide a window of more than 24 hours where there are no persons aboard the ship," officials said in a statement.   [byline: JoNel Aleccia]
******
Date: Fri 31 Jan 2014
Source: CDC, National Center for Environmental Health, Division of
Emergency and Environmental Health Services, Vessel Sanitation Program (VSP) [edited]

Cruise ship: Explorer of the Seas -- voyage dates: 21-31 Jan 2014
-----------------------------------------------------------------
- number of passengers who reported being ill during the voyage out of total number of passengers onboard: 634 of 3071 (20.6 per cent)
- number of crew who reported being ill during the voyage out of total number of crew onboard: 55 of 1166 (4.7 per cent)
- predominant symptoms: vomiting, diarrhea
- Causative agent: Norovirus

Actions: in response to the outbreak, Royal Caribbean Cruise Line and the crew aboard the ship took the following actions:
- increasing cleaning and disinfection procedures according to their outbreak prevention and response plan;
- making announcements to both notify onboard passengers of the outbreak and encourage case reporting;
- collecting stool specimens from ill passengers and crew for submission to the CDC lab;
- making multiple daily reports of gastrointestinal illness cases to the VSP [Vessel Sanitation Program];
- preparing additional crew members to join the ship mid-voyage to assist with case management and intensified sanitation procedures;
- consulting with CDC on plans for: passenger notification procedures and the planned delayed embarkation schedule in Bayonne, NJ on [31 Jan 2014], and disembarkation plans for active cases, terminal, and transport infection control procedures.

One CDC Vessel Sanitation Program epidemiologist, one contract epidemiologist, and one VSP environmental health officer boarded the ship in St Thomas, [US Virgin Islands] and are sailing on the ship as it travels back to port in New Jersey. This team is conducting an epidemiologic investigation, environmental health assessment, and evaluating the outbreak and response activities on board. One additional CDC Vessel Sanitation Program environmental health officer will board the ship upon arrival on [29 Jan 2014] to assist with the evaluation of the disinfection process. The team will continue the investigation and evaluation on the ship thru the boarding of new passengers for the next voyage. 5 clinical specimens were shipped to the CDC lab for testing on [26 Jan 2014].
**************************
Date: Fri 31 Jan 2014
Source: CDC, National Center for Environmental Health, Division of
Emergency and Environmental Health Services, Vessel Sanitation Program (VSP) [edited]

Cruise ship: Caribbean Princess -- voyage dates: 25 Jan-1 Feb 2014
------------------------------------------------------------------
- number of passengers who reported being ill during the voyage out of total number of passengers onboard: 181 of 3102 (5.8 per cent)
- number of crew who reported being ill during the voyage out of total number of crew onboard: 11 of 1148 (0.96 per cent)
- predominant symptoms: vomiting, diarrhea
- causative agent: Norovirus

Actions: in response to the outbreak, Princess Cruise Lines and the crew aboard the ship took the following actions:
- increasing cleaning and disinfection procedures according to their outbreak prevention and response plan;
- making announcements to both notify onboard passengers of the outbreak and encourage case reporting;
- collecting stool specimens from ill passengers and crew for submission to the CDC lab. Samples tested with the vessel's onboard rapid norovirus test were positive for norovirus. The specimens will be sent to the CDC lab for confirmatory analysis;
- making multiple daily reports of gastrointestinal illness cases to the VSP;
- consulting with CDC on plans for: passenger notification procedures and the planned delayed embarkation schedule in Houston, TX on [1 Feb 2014], and disembarkation plans for active cases, and terminal and transport infection control procedures.

Two CDC Vessel Sanitation Program environmental health officers will board the ship in Houston, TX on [31 Jan and 1 Feb 2014] to conduct an epidemiologic investigation, environmental health assessment, and evaluate the outbreak and response activities. Specimens are being collected and will be sent to the CDC lab for testing.
=====================
[ProMED-mail does not normally report outbreaks of norovirus-related gastroenteritis because of their ubiquity during the winter months. (Hence the alternate designation 'winter vomiting bug'). Norovirus infection is very contagious and can be contracted from an infected person, contaminated food or water, or by touching contaminated surfaces. The virus causes acute gastroenteritis with stomach pain, nausea, and diarrhea and vomiting. Anyone can be infected with norovirus and acquire norovirus illness repeatedly throughout life. Norovirus is the commonest cause of acute gastroenteritis in the United States. Each year, it causes 19-21 million cases and contributes to 56 000-71 000 hospitalizations and 570-800 deaths. Norovirus is also the commonest cause of foodborne disease outbreaks in the United States. There's no vaccine to prevent norovirus infection and no drug to treat it.

Norovirus illness is usually not serious. Most people get better in 1 to 3 days. But norovirus illness can be serious in young children, the elderly, and people with other health conditions. It can lead to severe dehydration, hospitalisation but rarely death. Most outbreaks of norovirus illness happen when infected people spread the virus to others. But, norovirus can also spread by consumption of contaminated food or water and by touching contaminated surfaces.

Health care facilities, including nursing homes and hospitals, are the most commonly reported places for norovirus outbreaks in the United States. Over half of all norovirus outbreaks reported in the United States occur in long-term care facilities. Outbreaks of norovirus illness appear to be occurring more frequently in cruise ships and similar environments. - ProMed Mod.CP]

[A HealthMap/ProMED-mail map can be accessed at:
<http://healthmap.org/r/8vcv>.]
Date: Tue 13 Dec 2011
Source: Virgin Islands Daily News [edited]

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC] has linked 5 past cases of Legionnaires' disease -- reported between March 2010 and August 2011 -- with stays at Marriott's Frenchman's Reef and Morning Star Beach Resort and Marriott's Frenchman's Cove [in Saint Thomas], prompting remediation work to the resorts' water systems. The VI [Virgin Islands] Health Department has been "working closely" with a team of CDC specialists to monitor the remediation efforts at the resorts, after an investigation into the 5 past cases, according to a statement the Health Department released Monday [12 Dec 2012].

The illness was found in stateside residents who had been guests at the resorts, said Health Department spokeswoman Eunice Bedminster. They required hospitalization but have since recovered, she said. There have been no reports of employees affected at either site, according to the Health Department statement.

The statement indicates that Frenchman's Reef and Morningstar Beach Resort has hired a consultant who led a cleaning project of the affected areas and treated the water system. Test results show no existence of _Legionella_ bacteria, although the Health Department statement said the test results have not yet been evaluated independently by the CDC.

The Health [Department] had asked the resorts to notify those who could potentially be affected by the bacteria: guests and employees, Bedminster said. The properties asked for an extension on a deadline that had been set, and it was granted, but the deadlines passed last week [week of 5 Dec 2011] without the notification to guests and employees going out, Bedminster said. She did not know if, after the deadline, the properties had made the requested notifications, she said.

The hotel provided The Daily News with a written statement that did not address guest notification: "Marriott takes hotel hygiene and cleanliness very seriously. As soon as we were notified of the possibility of the presence of _Legionella_ bacteria we immediately began to work with the USVI Department of Health (DOH) to address the situation. The Frenchman's Reef and Morning Star Beach Resorts hired a consultant who led a cleaning project of affected areas and the treatment of the water system. The latest test results taken after the implementation of these measures show no existence of _Legionella_ bacteria in the samples tested. We have complied with the recommendations provided by the DOH, and we have successfully addressed the issue at the resort. The DOH has allowed the hotel to remain fully open for business and welcome our guests."

The Daily News spoke with Marriott Frenchman's Reef and Morning Star Beach Resort General Manager Jose Gonzalez Espinosa by phone and asked for comment on the Health Department's assertion that the resort did not make the notifications it was supposed to make by the deadline. Gonzalez would not answer the questions unless they were in writing. The Daily News has a policy against submitting questions in writing because written Q and A stifles and slows follow-up and response. The resort underwent a major renovation during the summer, closing 3 May 2011 and reopening on 6 Oct 2011.

Legionnaires' disease is a pneumonia caused by the _Legionella_ bacteria, which live in warm water supplies, said Dr Lauri Hicks, a medical epidemiologist with the CDC. The bacteria that cause the disease do not pass from person to person. "It really requires exposure to water aerosol that contains _Legionella_," she said, Exposure may occur from showering or with time spent in a whirlpool or hot tub where the bacteria that lead to Legionnaires' disease are present, Hicks said.

Only a fraction of people -- typically those with certain risk factors, such as compromised immune systems -- exposed to the bacteria become ill, she said.

According to the Health Department statement, from 2000 through 2009, a total of 22 418 cases of legionellosis were reported to CDC from the 50 states and the District of Columbia. The CDC informed the Health Department in October [2011] of the 5 Legionnaires' disease cases among past guests at the resorts, and the Health Department asked for the agency's help in investigating. From 18 to 22 Oct 2011, CDC specialists conducted testing, and the properties were alerted about the possible _Legionella_ contamination, Bedminster said. On 3 Nov 2011, the Health Department notified each property of the CDC's conclusive findings and ordered them to immediately work on their water systems, including cleansing, superheating, chlorinating, and hiring a private consultant experienced in eliminating _Legionella_ from building water systems, according to the release. More than 6 weeks later, the Health Department notified the public with the statement it released Monday [12 Dec 2011].

Bedminster said that there had been no delay -- and that remediation work began immediately. "We have worked in good faith with both the resorts during what I have said was a monitoring process. We had some agreed-upon deadlines that had not been met, so we had to let the public know," she said.

Bedminster said that Health Department officials had discussed the possibility of enforcement actions with the Department of Labor and the Department of Planning and Natural Resources to get those deadlines met, but she did not know the outcome of the discussions. "Safeguarding the public's health, including that of employees and guests, from exposure and threats are of the utmost importance to the Department of Health," acting Health Commissioner Mercedes Dullum said in the prepared statement. "DOH will continue to monitor this situation with assistance from the CDC. People should not be discouraged from traveling to or within the US Virgin Islands."  [Byline: Joy Blackburn]
---------------------------------------------
Communicated by:
Denis Green
denis@gatesit.com.au
=======================
[The following has been extracted from the US CDC document Travel-Associated Legionnaires' Disease (<http://www.cdc.gov/legionella/faq.htm>):

"About 20-25 percent of all Legionnaires' disease reported to CDC is travel-associated. Legionnaires' disease is important to diagnose and to report because its identification implies the presence of an environmental source to which other susceptible individuals are likely to be exposed. Clusters of Legionnaires' disease associated with travel to hotels or aboard cruise ships are rarely detected by individual clinicians or health departments; travelers typically disperse from the source of infection before developing symptoms. Therefore, a travel history should be actively sought from patients with community-acquired pneumonia and _Legionella_ testing should be performed for those who have traveled in the 2 weeks before onset of symptoms.

"_Because of the multi-state nature of travel in the US, national-level surveillance is necessary to detect outbreaks of travel-associated Legionnaires' disease. CDC relies upon state and local health departments to conduct this surveillance. Surveillance through the National Notifiable Diseases Surveillance System (NNDSS) is still important for monitoring national trends; all cases should be reported through NNDSS."

"Because of the public health importance of timely reporting, inform CDC of travel-associated cases by emailing about the patient's movements in the 2-10 days before onset."

"Environmental sampling/testing should only be conducted after careful consideration of the epidemiologic evidence linking a case(s) to a particular location."

The following article is linked to the CDC document: Barbaree JM, et al: Protocol for Sampling Environmental Sites for Legionellae. Applied Environmental Microbiol 1987; 53(7): 1454-8 (<http://www.cdc.gov/legionella/files/sampling_protocol1987.pdf>): "Since legionellae not related to disease may be found in many of the sites sampled, an epidemiologic association with the probable source should be established before intervention methods, such as disinfection, are undertaken."

"Random sampling without an epidemiologic evaluation and comparing isolates from the environment and from patients could lead to false conclusions about sources of epidemic strains."

Potential environmental sampling sites for _Legionella_ spp that the CDC document suggests include: internal surfaces of faucets, aerators, and shower heads; and water from incoming water main, holding tanks and cisterns, water heater tanks, decorative fountains, irrigation equipment, fire sprinkler system (if recently used), whirlpools, and spas. Because _Legionella_ may be found in water supplies without linkage to any cases, the actual causative source should be demonstrated by matching the genotype of the environmental isolates with that of any clinical isolates to assure frequently costly corrective measures are carried out on the actual source (<http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC86783/>; and <http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2730281/>).

The Virgin Islands are located in the Leeward Islands of the Lesser Antilles, which form the border between the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean. Politically, the eastern islands form the British Virgin Islands and the western ones form the United States Virgin Islands. The US Virgin Islands consist of the main islands of Saint Croix, Saint John, and Saint Thomas (<http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_Virgin_Islands >). They can be seen on the HealthMap/ProMED-mail interactive map at <http://healthmap.org/r/1xng>. - ProMed Mod.ML]
Date: Sat 18 Sep 2010
Source: Virgin Islands Daily News [edited]
<http://virginislandsdailynews.com/dengue-outbreak-confirmed-in-1.1018284>

After 19 cases of suspected dengue fever -- and at least one death -- reported in the St Thomas-St John District, the VI Health Department issued a statement Friday [17 Sep 2010] saying that the district is experiencing a dengue fever outbreak. According to the Health Department statement released [Fri 17 Sep 2010], 9 of the 19 suspected cases have been laboratory-confirmed as dengue fever in the St Thomas-St John District since June [2010]. On St Croix, there have been 4 suspected cases with no confirmed cases. There is no requirement in the territory that people with suspected dengue fever undergo testing to confirm whether or not they have the mosquito-borne virus, said Health Department epidemiologist Eugene Tull.

His experience with a 2005 outbreak on St Croix leads him to believe that the number of dengue cases this year [2010] is higher than reported, Tull said, adding that he is now receiving anecdotal information about more cases in the community. According to the release, the strain causing the current outbreak is [dengue virus] type 2, which was responsible for the 2005 outbreak on St Croix.
================
[An interactive HealthMap/ProMED-mail map showing the location of the Virgin Islands in the Caribbean can be accessed at
<http://healthmap.org/r/01tp>. - ProMed Mod.TY]
Date: Fri 27 Aug 2010
Source: Virgin Islands Daily News [edited]
<http://virginislandsdailynews.com/news/dengue-fever-possible-cause-of-death-of-st-john-woman-1.977556>

A St John woman who was transferred last week [week of 16 Aug 2010] to a Miami hospital with possible dengue fever symptoms died there 20 Aug [2010] from complications, her husband said. VI [Virgin Islands] Health Department epidemiologist Eugene Tull said earlier this week [week of 23 Aug 2010] that he had no information about a possible death from dengue fever.

Health Department spokeswoman Eunice Bedminster said Thursday [26 Aug 2010] that the department was not aware of any deaths from the territory's dengue fever cases but had been investigating since receiving inquiries from reporters Monday [23 Aug 2010].

Tull said earlier this week that so far this year [2010], there have been 8 confirmed, laboratory positive cases of dengue fever in the territory, 3 probable cases with lab results pending, and 15 suspected cases. All of those were in the St Thomas/St John District, except for 2 of the suspected cases, which were on St Croix, he said. [Byline: Joy Blackburn]
=====================
[The attribution of the woman's death to dengue virus infection is speculative. ProMED-mail awaits confirmation (or not) as further information becomes available. It is clear, however, that locally acquired dengue virus infections are occurring there.

Maps showing the location of the US Virgin Islands can be accessed at <http://www.worldatlas.com/webimage/countrys/carib.htm>. and the HealthMap/ProMED-mail interactive map at <http://healthmap.org/r/01tp> - ProMed Mod.TY]
More ...

World Travel News Headlines

Date: Thu, 9 Apr 2020 07:30:18 +0200 (METDST)
By Mary Lyn Fonua

Nuku'alofa, Tonga, April 9, 2020 (AFP) - A resurgent Tropical Cyclone Harold flattened tourist resorts in Tonga Thursday, extending a week-long trail of destruction across four South Pacific island nations that has claimed more than two dozen lives.   The cyclone gathered pace as it bore down on the tiny island kingdom, which declared a state of emergency, warning residents to seek shelter from destructive winds and massive sea surges.

By early Thursday it had again become a scale-topping Category Five superstorm -- surprising meteorologists after signs earlier in the week that its intensity was dropping.   Packing winds of up to 260 kilometres per hour (160 miles per hour), it cut power in parts of the country and police said at least three tourist resorts north of the capital Nuku'alofa had been reduced to rubble.

The cyclone killed 27 people in the Solomons late last week before barrelling southeast to directly hit Vanuatu as a Category Five, obliterating entire towns in the northern provinces.   There have been no reports of deaths in Vanuatu, Fiji or Tonga, with emergency workers saying residents in the hardest hit areas took shelter early.   "It appears that many buildings and crops have been destroyed and some people in the most affected areas have lost everything," Red Cross Vanuatu secretary general Jacqueline de Gaillande said.

Harold weakened slightly to a still-formidable Category Four as it lashed Fiji on Wednesday but hopes the storm was dissipating were dashed as it regathered momentum heading towards Tonga.   "It's been a tricky one to predict," meteorologist Bill Singh from New Zealand's Metservice told AFP.   "We knew the track it was going to take but initially everyone thought it was just going to be Cat 3 or 4, but as it progressed over open warm waters it deepened."

- Closed borders -
The storm is expected to head away from Tonga onto the open ocean late Thursday but WeatherWatch.co.nz head forecaster Philip Duncan said there were no certainties.   "It's almost unheard of to see a cyclone tracking south away from the equator, weakening, then suddenly returning back to Cat 5 so far south," he said.

The COVID-19 pandemic has complicated disaster relief efforts, with Vanuatu reluctant to open its international borders as it seeks to remain one of the few countries without any confirmed virus cases.   "No foreign personnel are being brought to Vanuatu for response efforts at the present time, this will be an internally run operation," Vanuatu's National Disaster Management Office said.

Fiji has 15 virus cases and Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama said the virus and cyclone meant "our economy and our people have been dealt two body blows to start the year".   "This storm must not compromise our coronavirus containment efforts, lest we risk damage far more painful than the aftermath of any cyclone," he said.

Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne said an air force plane carrying essential supplies such as tents and water containers was on its way to Vanuatu, while assistance had also been offered to other impacted nations.   "We are acutely conscious that this comes on top of the impact and difficulties created by COVID-19 for those countries," she said.   Vanuatu said any supplies that came into the country would be handled with protective equipment and the air crews delivering them would be isolated in transit areas.
Date: Wed, 8 Apr 2020 18:07:06 +0200 (METDST)

London, April 8, 2020 (AFP) - Britain on Wednesday reported a record 938 new COVID-19 deaths in its daily update, 152 more than its previous highest toll, as the total number of deaths passed 7,000.    "As of 5pm on 7 April, of those hospitalised in the UK who tested positive for coronavirus, 7,097 have sadly died," the health ministry tweeted, up from 6,159 on Tuesday.
Date: Wed, 8 Apr 2020 16:50:53 +0200 (METDST)
By Sofia CHRISTENSEN

Johannesburg, April 8, 2020 (AFP) - A pride of lions flops lazily across a track at a South African game reserve, enjoying newfound tranquility since last month's closure of all national parks to support an anti-coronavirus lockdown.   Rather than the usual Land Rover, a lone elephant rumbles down the road, causing the felines to scatter into the surrounding bush.   A vehicle stands in the background, live streaming the scene for thousands of people watching the animals from the comfort of their homes.   "Since the lockdown occurred we have seen an amazing explosion in our audience," said Graham Wallington, head of a live safari broadcaster called WildEarth.

As the number of viewers tripled over the last days of March, Wallington noted that the audience -- typically American -- was increasingly from South Africa.   "It just happened overnight because all these kids at home with their families are watching these live safaris," he told AFP.   South Africa is almost two weeks into a 21-day lockdown meant to halt the spread of COVID-19.   The country is the worst-affected in Africa, with more than 1,700 infections recorded so far, including 13 deaths.

WildEarth operates from two vehicles in two private game reserves bordering the internationally famous Kruger National Park.   Guides take viewers along for a virtual game drive, finding wildlife and sharing facts about animals encountered along the way.   The cameras are positioned at the back of the vehicles, where passengers would usually be seated, in order to create a real-life experience.   "There it is," guide James Hendry whispered excitedly to the camera after stumbling across a mother hyena and her newborn cubs.   "Tell me, have you ever seen anything that cute in your life before?"   Participants can also send questions to the guides as they go along.

- Rare species emerge -
"You want to know how much water an elephant drinks in a day?" asked ranger Trishala Naidoo, as she drove along a bumpy bush track.   "Around 100 litres if not more," she answered, before pulling over to show viewers a leopard tortoise crossing the road.   Aside from providing entertainment, Wallington believes virtual safaris are an opportunity to observe how wildlife behave in the absence of tourists.   "It's kind of an interesting time where the animals are being left alone," Wallington said, adding that rare species such as the endangered African wild dogs had started venturing into his areas.   "Wild dogs coming in and hunting almost every day... is unheard of," he exclaimed.    "It's because there is no one else there and they've got the run of the place for themselves."
Date: Wed, 8 Apr 2020 16:44:56 +0200 (METDST)

Monrovia, April 8, 2020 (AFP) - Liberian President George Weah declared a state of emergency in the West African country on Wednesday, with the capital Monrovia set to go into lockdown in a bid to curb coronavirus.    In a televised statement, the president said that all movement between Liberia's 15 counties would be banned from 11:59 pm on Friday, and that all non-essential businesses and government offices would close.

Residents of four counties -- including Monrovia's, which is home to about 1 million people -- must also stay at home for two weeks, he said.    Authorities in those counties will allow people to leave their homes only to buy food or for health reasons.     "We have to ask ourselves why we should abide by these measures. The answer is simple: to save lives," Weah said.

Wednesday's announcement escalates earlier health measures which banned large gatherings as well as flights to and from virus-stricken countries.   As with other poor countries in the region, there are fears that Liberia is ill prepared to handle a large outbreak.

The nation of some 4.8 million has recorded 13 coronavirus cases to date, with three deaths.  But Liberia was badly hit during the West Africa's 2014-16 Ebola crisis, which killed more than 4,800 people in the country.    Weah warned that the coronavirus was the greatest threat facing Liberia since Ebola.    "The horrific scenarios that are beginning to emerge should serve as sufficient warning for every one of us to spring into action," he said.   Coronavirus "has already arrived in Liberia, and confirmed cases are now on the rise," Weah added.   Decimated after back-to-back civil wars from 1989 to 2003, Liberia also suffers economic woes including rampant inflation and fuel shortages.
Date: Wed, 8 Apr 2020 16:42:52 +0200 (METDST)

Cairo, April 8, 2020 (AFP) - Egypt will extend a nationwide night-time curfew by a further two weeks in a bid to slow the spread of the coronavirus, Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouli said on Wednesday.   He told a news conference the measure would be enforced from 8:00 pm (1800 GMT) to 6:00 am and run until April 23.   The curfew would start an hour later, he said, to avoid overcrowding in public transport.   Schools and universities, as well as restaurants and cafes would also remain closed until then, while food outlets would be allowed to offer delivery services only.   To stem the spread of the coronavirus, authorities have also halted air traffic until the end of the month and closed tourist and religious sites.

Penalties against violators including fines of up to 4,000 Egyptian pounds (just over $250) and even prison, the prime minister said.  Madbouli also announced that cabinet members will take a 20 percent salary cut for three months, and allocate that sum to underprivileged Egyptians.   Egypt's health ministry has so far declared 94 fatalities out of 1,450 confirmed cases of COVID-19.   Authorities have in recent weeks carried out sweeping disinfection operations at archaeological sites, museums and other sites across the country.   In tandem, strict social distancing measures were imposed to reduce the risk of contagion among the country's 100 million inhabitants.
Date: Wed, 8 Apr 2020 15:46:57 +0200 (METDST)

Beirut, April 8, 2020 (AFP) - Millions in Lebanon risk food insecurity due to a coronavirus lockdown unless the government provides urgent assistance, Human Rights Watch warned Wednesday.   Lebanon in mid-March ordered residents to stay at home and all non-essential businesses to close to halt the spread of COVID-19, which has officially infected 575 people and killed 19 nationwide.   Before the pandemic erupted, Lebanon was struggling with its worst economic crisis in decades, with 45 percent of the population facing poverty according to official estimates.   Lockdown measures to slow the spread of the virus have made matters worse with "millions of Lebanon's residents... at risk of going hungry", HRW said in a statement.

Lebanon is home to 4.5 million people, and also hosts around 1.5 million Syrians who have fled the nine-year war next door, most of whom rely on aid to survive.   "The lockdown... has compounded the poverty and economic hardship rampant in Lebanon before the virus arrived," said HRW senior researcher Lena Simet.    "Many people who had an income have lost it, and if the government does not step in, more than half the population may not be able to afford food and basic necessities."

The economic crisis since last year had already caused many people to lose their jobs or take salary cuts, and stay-at-home measures to counter the virus have now prevented even more from earning a wage.   Media has carried reports of a taxi driver who set his car on fire after security forces fined him for breaking the lockdown rules.   And an unemployed Lebanese construction worker unable to afford rent offered to sell his kidney, in an image widely shared online.   HRW Lebanon researcher Aya Majzoub said many families are struggling due to a lack of savings.

The government has said it will pay out 400,000 Lebanese pounds (less than $150 at the market rate) to the most vulnerable.   HRW said the government should also consider suspending rent and mortgage payments throughout the lockdown.   Majzoub said Syrian refugees were also affected.   "Many of them were seasonal workers -- they worked in agriculture, they worked in the service industry -- and they're not able to do that anymore," she said.   But their ability to cope will depend largely on international aid, as before the pandemic.

The World Bank last week said it had re-allocated $40 million from its support to Lebanon's health sector to fight the virus, including for tests and ventilators.   And it has also been discussing "assistance to help mitigate the impact of the economic and financial crisis on the poor through emergency social safety nets", World Bank spokeswoman Zeina El-Khalil told AFP in March.    On Monday, Lebanon's President Michel Aoun urged the international community to provide financial assistance to back economic reforms.
Date: Wed, 8 Apr 2020 15:13:03 +0200 (METDST)

Dublin, April 8, 2020 (AFP) - Irish police set up nationwide traffic checkpoints on Wednesday, armed with new powers to enforce a lockdown designed to stem the spread of the coronavirus.   Emergency legislation passed in the Irish parliament two weeks ago allows the government to curb non-essential travel during the crisis.

People violating the ban risk a fine of up to 2,500 euros ($2,700) and/or six months in prison.   "The regulations now are in effect," Garda -- Irish police -- commissioner Drew Harris said at a press conference.   "People only should be moving if they have an essential reason to move throughout country. What we'll be doing is making sure that movement is essential."

Over 2,500 officers will be involved in the operation at any one time as it runs from noon Wednesday until midnight on Sunday, with an extension possible.   "It will involve thousands of checkpoints every day," police said in a statement. The roadblocks have been put in place ahead of Easter holidays, traditionally used as an occasion for travel in Ireland.

Harris said nationwide compliance with the ban on movement -- which allows for exercise within two kilometres of home -- had been strong.   But there is a "small minority and perhaps... an increasing number" in breach of the government order.   There have been 210 COVID-19 related deaths and 5,709 confirmed cases of the virus in Ireland according to health department figures released Tuesday.
Date: Wed, 8 Apr 2020 13:24:23 +0200 (METDST)

Tehran, April 8, 2020 (AFP) - Iran on Wednesday reported 121 new deaths from the novel coronavirus, bringing its overall number of fatalities to 3,993.   In the past 24 hours, 1,997 new cases of COVID-19 infection were detected in Iran, state news agency IRNA quoted health ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour as saying.   That put the number of confirmed cases at 64,586, he added.

Iran, which announced its first COVID-19 cases on February 19, is by far the worst hit by the pandemic in the Middle East, according to official tolls.   But there has been speculation abroad that the real number of deaths and infections in the country could be higher.   Jahanpour said that while 3,956 patients were in critical condition, those who recovered had reached 29,812.   The spokesman added that Iran had carried out 220,975 COVID-19 tests to date, according to IRNA.   In a bid to halt COVID-19, Iran has ordered the closure of non-essential businesses and imposed inter-city travel bans, while refraining from a lockdown.

Iran's President Hassan Rouhani said a "second wave" of the fight against the coronavirus would start from Saturday, and that it would be more difficult.   "Low-risk" businesses would be allowed to reopen from Saturday, he said, because "we want to continue economic activities as much as possible while fighting coronavirus at the same time".   The decision to reopen businesses has drawn criticism from health experts and even some government officials.   But Rouhani said "there is no other way".
Date: Wed, 8 Apr 2020 13:14:26 +0200 (METDST)
By Robbie COREY-BOULET

Addis Ababa, April 8, 2020 (AFP) - Ethiopia on Wednesday declared a state of emergency to fight the coronavirus pandemic, which has so far infected 55 people and resulted in two deaths there.    It is the first state of emergency announced under Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who came to power in 2018 and won last year's Nobel Peace Prize in part for expanding political freedoms in the authoritarian nation.    "Because the coronavirus pandemic is getting worse, the Ethiopian government has decided to declare a state of emergency under Article 93 of the constitution," Abiy said in a statement.     "I call upon everybody to stand in line with government bodies and others that are trying to overcome this problem," he added, warning of "grave legal measures" against anyone who undermines the fight against the pandemic.

It was not immediately clear how the state of emergency would affect day-to-day life in Ethiopia.   The government has so far refrained from imposing a lockdown similar to those in effect elsewhere in the region, including in Rwanda, Uganda and Mauritius.

According to the country's constitution, under a state of emergency the Council of Ministers has "all necessary power to protect the country's peace and sovereignty" and can suspend some "political and democratic rights".    The constitution also says lawmakers need to approve a state of emergency, which can last for six months and be extended every four months after that.

Wednesday's decree is likely to "beef up security operations with a greater role for the ederal government, including the military," said William Davison, Ethiopia analyst for the International Crisis Group, a conflict-prevention organisation.    "While this approach is understandable given the situation, it is critical that there is transparency over the government's extra powers and that there is adequate monitoring of implementation," Davison said.

-Opposition challenges move-
Since reporting its first COVID-19 case on March 13, Ethiopia has closed land borders and schools, freed thousands of prisoners to ease overcrowding, sprayed main streets in the capital with disinfectant, and discouraged large gatherings.    But Abiy said over the weekend that a harsher lockdown would be unrealistic given that there are "many citizens who don't have homes" and "even those who have homes have to make ends meet daily."    Jawar Mohammed, a leading opposition politician, said Wednesday this called into question why a state of emergency was necessary.   "Officials have been saying the country is too poor to stop population movement. So why do you need a state of emergency if you are not planning to impose stricter rules?" Jawar told AFP.

During consultations with Abiy earlier this week, the opposition Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) voiced worries that a state of emergency would lead to human rights abuses -- a well-documented problem under previous states of emergency imposed during several years of anti-government protests that swept Abiy to power.    "We explained our concern that the state of emergency has been initiated several times and it has been abused to violate the rights of citizens and other political activists," OLF chairman Dawud Ibsa told AFP.   It's also unclear how the state of emergency might affect planning for hotly-anticipated general elections in Ethiopia.

The country's electoral board announced last week that voting planned for August would need to be postponed because of the pandemic.    It did not provide a timeline for when the elections would ultimately be held, and lawmakers' constitutional mandates expire in October.   Davison, with the International Crisis Group, said the state of emergency could be used "to formally postpone elections" past that deadline, though such a move risks sparking opposition backlash.    "It is therefore essential that the government works with opposition parties on managing this constitutionally sensitive period and making new electoral arrangements," Davison said.
Date: Wed, 8 Apr 2020 13:08:25 +0200 (METDST)

Madrid, April 8, 2020 (AFP) - Spain recorded Wednesday a second successive daily rise in coronavirus-related deaths with 757 fatalities, lifting the total toll in Europe's second-hardest-hit country after Italy by 5.5 percent to 14,555.   The number of new infections rose by 4.4 percent to 146,690, the health ministry said, as Spain has ramped up its testing for the disease.   The number of daily deaths, which peaked on Thursday at 950, rose for the first time on Tuesday after falling for four straight days.

But the rate of increase in both deaths and new infections on Wednesday was largely in line with that recorded the previous day, and half of what was recorded just a week ago.   "We have consolidated the slowdown in the spread of the virus," Health Minister Salvador Illa tweeted after the latest figures were published.   The Spanish government on March 14 imposed one of the toughest lockdowns in Europe to curb the spread of the virus, with people allowed out of their homes only to work, buy food and seek medical care.

The pandemic has stretched the country's public healthcare system close to breaking point, with a shortage of intensive care beds and equipments, but in recent days hospitals have said the situation has improved.   "We have observed a de-escalation at this hospital in particular, and I believe at all hospitals," the spokesman for the Hospital Severo Ochoa in Leganes near Madrid, Jorge Rivera, told AFP.   "We can't let down our guard, emergency services are now working below their full capacity and are working well, they are not saturated and overcrowded but it does not mean that we can relax and go to the emergency ward because you have an ailment."