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South Africa

General Introduction: The Republic of South Africa lies at the Southern tip of the African continent, flanked between the Indian and Atlantic oceans. Although it lies close to the tropic of Capricorn, the inland areas are tempered by the relatively high a
titudes. Summers and winters are opposite to that found in Ireland. In South Africa the summer extents from October to March. Although South Africa is basically a developed country, much of its population, particularly in rural parts, live in poverty. However facilities for tourists in urban areas and game parks are generally excellent. Despite all the well documented reports overall violence against tourists is usually low but obviously care should always be taken. Travelling late at night is usually unwise and take particular care if visiting nightclubs etc.
Climate: There is generally a moderate climate with sunny days and cool nights. The Cape Town region has a mean yearly temperature of 170C while Johannesburg has an annual mean temperature of 160C. This is mainly because Johannesburg is at 5,700 feet altitude. Throughout South Africa, summer extends between October and March and winter is between June and September. In Johannesburg the winter months tend to be dry and cool while the rainy season tends to occur during the warmer summer months.
Health Facilities: In the larger cities of Johannesburg, Cape Town, Durban & Pretoria and many others there will be no difficulty in receiving excellent medical attention. However when travelling throughout the more isolated rural regions the same situation does not occur. Travellers should always ensure that they are up-to-date in their routine travel vaccinations. World Travel Medicine Consultants (WTMC) in South Africa offer excellent medical facilities in many of the main centres. Contact by email their head office at for further information.
Jet Lag: Even though the hour changes from Ireland are not great after flying for approximately 13 hours you will arrive tired. On the plane journey take some exercise by walking around and occasionally stretching your calf muscles to lessen any risk of blood clots. If you are on the contraceptive pill (women only!) this will increase your risk on a long haul flight and you should talk this through with the doctor looking after your health care advice and vaccines. On arrival, try and rest for the first 24 hours to allow your body to catch up with itself. If lying by the pool remember not to fall asleep and wake some hours later with significant sunburn!
Mosquito-Borne Disease: Mosquitoes are most often associated with Malaria, however it is not the only disease which the insect may carry. Insect repellents which contain more than 30% DEET are effective for keeping mosquitoes away but remember to cover your arms and legs when they are biting. This is mainly in the hours between dusk and dawn. The risk of malaria can be reduced by taking malarial prophylaxis on a regular basis if you are planning to visit the risk areas. Anti malaria tablets are advised for those visiting low altitude areas especially areas around the Kruger National Park, north, east and western Transvaal, and the costal lowlands of Natal. Large towns and cities and high altitudes are more likely to be free of mosquitoes.
Effects of Heat: Extreme climate conditions can also lead to gastrointestinal difficulties but don't forget that when you perspire you will loose both water and salt. Replacing the lost water is easy but many travellers forget to replace the salt in their diet. This can lead to muscular cramps, tiredness and lethargy, a dull headache and generally feeling cross and out of sorts. Replacing depleted salt is most easily achieved by sprinkling it on your meals. Salt tablets can be dangerous and are best avoided except in expert hands. If you have any blood pressure difficulties then it will be important to talk this whole issue through with your doctor before leaving Ireland.
Waterborne diseases: Water sources in well developed urban areas of South Africa are generally safe. Outside the main cities caution must always be exercised with regard to drinking water. Safe water should be well chlorinated and so will have a distinct chlorine odour. Sealed bottled water is more preferable especially in less developed areas. Avoid ice in your drinks as its source may be unknown and don't brush your teeth in water you wouldn't want to drink. If unsure be careful and use sealed bottled water from one of the hotels.
Food-Borne Disease: Again, in the larger cities and tourist resorts, the food and its preparation is generally of an excellent standard and you should experience no problems. It is advised however to avoid eating shellfish and cold/rare meats. In particular, Capetown is famous for its various shellfish meals. Personally I would strongly encourage travellers to avoid them even in the best hotels and restaurants. It is just not worth the risk. As in any hot climate it is also wise to choose only the type of fruit you can peel yourself. Above all avoid buying or consuming food from roadside stalls or street vendors.
Rabies in South Africa: Travellers need to be aware that this potentially fatal viral condition occurs throughout Africa. The risk to any tourist or business traveller is very small but common sense needs to be maintained at all times. The disease is mainly transmitted through the bite of an infected warm blooded animal. Usually dogs and cats are involved but also be very careful of monkeys. If bitten by any potentially at risk animal wash out the wound immediately, apply a strong antiseptic and seek medical attention urgently
Yellow Fever: A yellow fever vaccination certificate is only required for travellers coming from endemic zones in Africa and the Americas. Travellers on scheduled airlines whose flights have originated outside the areas regarded as infected (or who are only in transit through these areas) are NOT required to possess a certificate.
If the flight originated from within a Yellow fever endemic area a certificate is then required.

Vaccination Schedule: Apart from Yellow Fever vaccine in certain circumstances, as mentioned above, there are no other vaccinations required for entry into South Africa from Ireland. Nevertheless there are a number of recommended vaccines for most travellers which need to be discussed. For trekking holidays or extended visits Rabies and Hepatitis B may need to be considered. Most travellers should start their vaccines at least 4 to 6 weeks before departure.
Further Information: South Africa is a beautiful destination with much to offer. Further general health information on staying healthy while travelling abroad may be obtained from the Tropical Medical Bureau. www.tmb.ie

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Mon, 28 Oct 2019 17:59:26 +0100 (MET)

Johannesburg, Oct 28, 2019 (AFP) - South Africa's water affairs minister on Monday urged citizens to use water sparingly as water restrictions and the effects of climate change creep in.   Intermittent water shortages have left neighbourhoods in the central and northern regions of South Africa without water over the past week as the country reels from a string of heatwaves.   "We have to immediately begin to disaster proof South Africa and South Africa's security of water," Sisulu told journalists in Johannesburg.   "We are working hard to avoid the much-dreaded Day Zero phenomenon and instead we are announcing restrictions on water usage."    South Africa has imposed water restrictions in major metros, as a cautionary measure.

In the capital Pretoria, taps ran dry last week in the suburb of Laudium as a result of dwindling supplies, infrastructure failure among other issues at the country's largest water utility and supplies, Rand water.   Sisulu, 65, has come under fire for not doing enough to ensure water flows in the urban areas.    But many parts of the country including the Eastern and Northern Cape, have endured drought conditions for months, resulting in livestock deaths and failed crops.   "Climate change is a reality and it is affecting South Africa in this way," Sisulu noted.

Dam levels across the country have dropped by 10 to 60 percent compared to 2018, according to a recent report by the water department.    The company, in charge of water restrictions, said that owing to high demand it would over time have to intensify water restrictions by slowing the output from reservoirs.    Sisulu called for calm saying "there is no need to panic, but there is a need to be prudent in the way that we use water".   The earliest rains were expected in December, "so we are in for a long dry season," that would be "getting longer, more intense and more frequent," she said.   The minister will announce a water plan next month.   South Africa  is a water-scarce country and it recorded the lowest annual rainfall in more than a century in 2015.
Date: Wed 9 Oct 2019
Source: IOL [abridged, edited]

Three cases of measles have been confirmed in Rustenburg, the North West health department said on Wednesday [9 Oct 2019]. Cases of suspected measles were reported at Luka, Seraleng, and Ikemeleng.  "The 1st case is of a 3-year-old from Ikemeleng Kroondal who had [a] history of travel to Mozambique in September [2019]. Case 2 is a one month old from Luka who was admitted at Job Shimankane Tabane Hospital with severe fever and diarrhoea. Case 3 is aged 11-year-old from Seraleng," said spokesperson Tebogo Lekgethwane.  "All the cases have been confirmed by NICD [National Institute for Communicable Diseases] through [a] blood test; 22 other specimens from suspects are also being tested. The outbreak was declared last week."

Nine teams of health officials have been dispatched to execute massive outreach campaigns aimed at immunising children under the age of 15 years as a way to curb the situation.  Measles is a viral infection that can be fatal amongst children. It affects children especially under the age of 5, yet it is preventable by a vaccine. It spreads through the air by respiratory droplets produced from coughing or sneezing. Complications caused by measles include blindness, brain swelling, severe diarrhoea, and related dehydration, ear infections, and pneumonia.  Research has indicated that one out of every 1000 measles cases progresses to permanent brain damage.
Date: Wed, 2 Oct 2019 17:38:55 +0200 (METDST)

Paris, Oct 2, 2019 (AFP) - The number of young people in South Africa receiving treatment for HIV has increased 10-fold within a decade, a major new study has found.   South Africa has the largest number of HIV-positive people in the world, with around 7.2 million carrying the virus, which causes AIDS.    Researchers studied more than 700,000 young people receiving treatment for the infection and found 10 times the number of adolescents aged between 15-19 being treated compared with 2010. 

Authors of the study, published in The Lancet HIV journal attributed the rise partly due to the success of AIDS prevention programmes that result in better detection and treatment rates.    However they found that fewer than 50 percent of young South Africans who present for HIV care go on to initiate antiretroviral therapy, which can prevent transmission and stops a patient developing AIDS.    "Despite the upswing in numbers initiating therapy, barriers persist that prevent many adolescents from starting treatment," said Mhairi Maskew from the University of Witwatersrand and the report's lead author.

These include concerns about stigma, a pervasive sense that clinics cannot guarantee patient confidentiality and increased domestic responsibilities for young people, especially in families where children have lost parents to HIV and AIDS.    The study found that while those diagnosed with HIV were roughly split by gender, nine in 10 people actively receiving treatment were girls.

The authors said this was consistent with far higher rates of sexually-transmitted HIV infection in young women compared to young men.    AIDS deaths have declined globally since the peak of the epidemic in the early 2000s, but an international AIDS commission warned last year of a resurgence if the world's booming adolescent population weren't protected.
Date: Thu, 15 Aug 2019 11:07:44 +0200 (METDST)

Johannesburg, Aug 15, 2019 (AFP) - South Africa on Thursday announced visa waivers for four countries in a bid to boost tourism amid an economic crisis and falling visitor numbers.   Visitors from Qatar, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and New Zealand will no longer require a visa to visit for holiday, conferencing and business purposes, Home Affairs Minister Dr Aaron Motsoaledi said.

The unilateral decision comes as official tourism figures released in May reflected a dip in the overall number of visitors to South Africa from Europe and the Middle East in the first financial quarter of the year, normally one of the most popular times to visit.   Foreign traveller arrivals decreased by more than 10 percent between April and May 2019 alone.   Motsoaledi said the South African government was engaging with Qatar, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and New Zealand about a similar relaxation of entry requirements for SA citizens.   He argued the move by his department would boost tourism "and by extension growing the economy and creating jobs".

South Africa's economy has hit trouble, with gross domestic product (GDP) contracting by 3.2 percent in the first three months of 2019 and unemployment at a record high of 29 percent.   The government estimates there is potential to create 2.1 million jobs in the tourism sector by 2028.   South Africa is in talks to extend the visa waiver to Ghana, Cuba and Principe and Sao Tome.    The country has already waived the visa requirement for 82 of the 193 countries who are UN members.
Date: Thu, 15 Aug 2019 00:22:55 +0200 (METDST)
By Susan NJANJI

Johannesburg, Aug 14, 2019 (AFP) - Four years ago, South African fashion designer Innocent Molefe, 38, was diagnosed with tuberculosis. A year ago, it developed into multi-drug resistant strain requiring painful injections and heaps of pills.   Three months after the first round of treatment, he relapsed and started a second round. At the end of it he still wasn't cured.

Thanks to a new treatment - approved Wednesday by the US Food and Drug Administration - he is now cleared of the disease, has bounced back to work and has even resumed night-clubbing, something he has stopped four years ago.   "I was willing to beat TB and I'm living proof. I can move around... I can still go clubbing till the early hours," said the dreadlocked designer at his home in Soweto township.   The announcement was especially welcomed in South Africa, one of the countries with the highest number of TB cases. Of the more than 1.6 million TB deaths recorded every year, more than 75,000 are in South Africa alone. In 2017, South Africa recorded more than 322,000 active TB cases.   The new treatment which cures highly drug-resistant strains of tuberculosis will drastically shorten the treatment period.

The three-drug regimen consists of bedaquiline, pretomanid and linezolid - collectively known as the BPaL regimen.    Pretomanid is the novel compound developed by the New York-based non-profit organisation TB Alliance and which received the FDA greenlight Wednesday.    The treatment regimen was trialed at three sites in South Africa involving 109 patients and achieved a 90 percent success rate after six months of treatment and six months of post-treatment follow-ups.

- 'Groundbreaking treatment'-
With the treatment involving five pills of the three drugs daily taken over just six months - it makes easier to administer.   This compares to between 30 and 40 drugs that multiple-drug resistant TB patients take each day for up to two years.   "Usually and in many places in the world the treatment for (multiple) ... drug resistant TB would take anything between 18 to 24 months," said Pauline Howell, principal investigator of the clinical trial at Sizwe Tropical Disease Hospital in Johannesburg.   "This still includes daily injections for six months, which are extremely painful," Howell said, adding that taking only five pills would make a huge difference.

The FDA approval represents a victory for those suffering from highly drug-resistant forms of the world's deadliest infectious disease, said Mel Spigelman, president and CEO of TB Alliance.    Last year there were more than half a million drug resistant TB cases in the world.    A chronic lung disease which is preventable and largely treatable if caught in time, tuberculosis is the top infectious killer, causing over 1.6 million deaths each year.   More than 10 million are cases recorded every year. The disease has worsened as it has become increasingly resistant to available medicines.

TB Alliance started designing the trial in 2014.   "This is really groundbreaking result we have here," said Folu Olugbosi, clinical director and head of the South African office of TB Alliance.   Patients are moving from a "truckload of pills" to cure the resistant strain with just three drugs and in just six months, Olugbosi said.   At the Sizwe hospital northeast of Johannesburg, a patient named Nxumalo arrived from Katlehong township for his regular post-treatment check-up to make sure he is still in the clear.   "With the old regimen, I would vomit," said the 23-year-old unemployed man. "But with the one for research, it's easier to take than 24 tablets."
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World Travel News Headlines

Date: Fri, 8 Nov 2019 12:35:08 +0100 (MET)

Tehran, Nov 8, 2019 (AFP) - An earthquake rocked northwestern Iran before dawn on Friday, killing at least five people and injuring more than 300 in crumbling and collapsed buildings.   The 5.9-magnitude quake struck at 1:17 am (2247 GMT Thursday) about 120 kilometres (75 miles) southeast of the city of Tabriz, in East Azerbaijan province, the Iranian Seismological Centre said.

Described as "moderate", the quake was eight kilometres (five miles) deep and was followed by five aftershocks.    The provincial governor, Mohammad-Reza Pourmohammadi, told Iranian media that rescue operations were underway in 41 villages, but the damage was largely concentrated in two, Varnakesh and Varzaghan.   According to the emergency services, nearly 340 people were admitted to hospital for treatment, but all but 17 were discharged by Friday noon.   Some 40 homes were levelled by the quake and over 200 head of cattle killed.

Around 100 injured residents were pulled out of the rubble of their damaged or flattened homes.   Around noon, emergency teams distributed survival kits, stoves, blankets and tents in 78 villages.   In Varnakesh, an emergency shelter was set up.   State television broadcast images of people who had fled their homes warming themselves around a fire lit on a public highway.   But the damage appeared to be less widespread than initially feared.   The United States Geological Survey (USGS) had issued an alert warning that "significant casualties are likely and the disaster is potentially widespread".

In many areas people had returned to their homes by daybreak after the initial panic subsided and the aftershocks petered out.   The gas supply was restored to all but one of the affected villages.   The quake was felt in the provincial capital Tabriz and as far away as the city of Rasht, near the Black Sea coast 200 kilometres (125 miles) from the epicentre.   Tabriz, which has a population of more than a million, is a historic city which served as Iran's capital several times between the 13th and 16th centuries. Its bazaar is a UNESCO world heritage site.   Iran sits where two major tectonic plates meet and experiences frequent seismic activity.

The country has suffered a number of major disasters in recent decades, including at the ancient city of Bam, which was decimated by a catastrophic earthquake in 2003 that killed at least 31,000 people.     In 1990, a 7.4-magnitude quake in northern Iran killed 40,000 people, injured 300,000 and left half a million homeless, reducing dozens of towns and nearly 2,000 villages to rubble.   Iran has experienced at least two other significant quakes in recent years -- one in 2005 that killed more than 600 people and another in 2012 that left some 300 dead.
Date: Fri, 8 Nov 2019 11:03:11 +0100 (MET)

London, Nov 8, 2019 (AFP) - Royal Mail on Friday made a High Court bid to block a postal strike by workers due next month ahead of Christmas and around the time of Britain's general election.   Members of the Communication Workers Union recently voted to strike amid a dispute with management over pay and other employment conditions.   In a statement, Royal Mail pointed to "potential irregularities in the ballot".   It added: "The company is making this High Court application because the integrity and legal soundness of any electoral process is vital," Royal Mail said in relation to the strike ballot.   "This is particularly the case in relation to potential industrial action around the general election on 12 December 2019.    "Royal Mail is also making this application because of the damage industrial action would do to the company and its customers in the run-up to Christmas," the group added.   It expects the hearing to take place next week.
Date: Thu, 7 Nov 2019 17:15:09 +0100 (MET)

Paris, Nov 7, 2019 (AFP) - Top European medical bodies demanded Thursday that Chinese traditional medicines be subject to the same regulatory oversight as conventional Western methods, despite recent WHO recognition of their use.   "Just because the World Health Organisation includes a chapter on Traditional Chinese Medicine in its new International Classification of Diseases, it is not automatically safe to use without robust evidence," Professor Dan Marhala, President of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, said in a statement issued by top European medical and scientific bodies.   The European Academies' Science Advisory Council (EA SAC) and the Federation of European Academies of Medicine (EAM) said European lawmakers must protect the health of European citizens.

Accordingly, the existing European regulatory framework should be revised to make sure Traditional Chinese Medicine (TC) is held to the same standards of proof and evidence as conventional medicine.   "There have been examples where some Traditional Chinese Medicine has undergone thorough pre-clinical investigation and proven in rigorous clinical trials to contribute significant health benefit -- artemisinin therapy for malaria, for example," Marhala said.   "There may be more leads to diagnosis and therapeutic benefit yet to be discovered but this can in no way mean that other claims can be accepted uncritically."   It was not necessarily the Who's intention to promote the use of TC, but its stamp of approval could lead supporters to promote wider application, the statement cautioned.   As a result, patients could be confused over which diagnosis was appropriate and which therapy was effective.   More serious still, said former EASAC president Jos van der Meer, is that some TCMs "can have serious side effects and interactions with other treatments."   "Moreover, patients may be at risk that severe diseases are treated ineffectively and conventional medical procedures delayed," he added.

The WHO included TCMs in an official classification of diseases coming into effect in January 2022.   In 2015, China's Tu Youyou won the Nobel Prize for medicine for discovering artemisinin, giving a huge boost to the credibility of TCM which many in the west deride as lacking scientific foundation and verging on quackery.   In China, traditional medicine has a long, distinguished history and its practitioners are treated with great respect.   EASAC comprises the national science academies of EU Member states, plus Norway and Switzerland.   FEAM groups medical academies which provide advice to the European authorities.
Date: Thu, 7 Nov 2019 17:11:10 +0100 (MET)

Riga, Nov 7, 2019 (AFP) - Thousands of doctors and nurses rallied Thursday in front of the Latvian parliament in Riga calling for better pay in what was the Baltic state's largest protest in over a decade.   Police said more than 5,000 people, including patients, turned out for the protest, which featured coffins and signs with slogans such as "United for health", "I only want to work one job" and "Patients supporting doctors and nurses".   The LVSADA medical labour union organised the rally to condemn lawmakers for planning to increase their own salaries next year while reneging on a promise to boost wages in the chronically underfunded medical profession.   "We won't allow the healthcare system to be starved again," LVSADA chief Valdis Keris said at the rally, which state hospital employees attended by taking a day of unpaid leave.

Some doctors also participated in the protest by only performing emergency surgery and tending to emergency patients on Thursday while rescheduling everything else.    "The average monthly wage for a doctor at a Latvian public hospital is only between 1,000-3,000 euros ($1,100-$3,300)," protester and doctor Roberts Furmanis said in a statement sent to media.    "I work my daily shift at one hospital, at night I also work overtime driving around in an ambulance, plus sometimes I lecture at medical schools on my rare days off," he added.   "I get less than 3,000 euros a month for those jobs combined. How am I supposed to support my family?"   Last year, lawmakers voted to raise wages for almost all employees of the government-run healthcare system, but now say that they are unable to find the necessary funds in the 2020 state budget.    "I express deep regret for last year's promise, which we cannot carry out," speaker of parliament Inara Murniece told the rally.

Those protesting, however, point out that the 2020 state budget exceeds 10 billion euros for the first time ever in the country of just 1.9 million people -- or 700 million more euros than this year.    Medical workers are upset that while there is no room for better healthcare wages in the new budget, the country's lawmakers and ministers plan to increase their own salaries next year and have also earmarked taxpayer money for their respective political parties.    Thursday's rally was Latvia's largest since some 10,000 people attended a January 2009 protest against government cuts, which grew violent and resulted in dozens of arrests.
Date: Thu, 7 Nov 2019 15:13:02 +0100 (MET)
By Michelle FITZPATRICK

Frankfurt am Main, Nov 7, 2019 (AFP) - Tens of thousands of Lufthansa passengers faced disruptions Thursday as cabin crew in Germany staged a "massive" 48-hour walkout in the biggest escalation yet of a bitter row over pay and conditions.   The strike called by Germany's UFO flight attendants' union started at 2300 GMT on Wednesday and was to last until 2300 GMT on Friday.

Lufthansa said it had scrapped 700 flights on Thursday and some 600 the following day, warning that "around 180,000 passengers will be affected" across Germany.   The UFO union argued that the stoppage was necessary because negotiations with Lufthansa bosses were deadlocked.   But it accepted a surprise olive branch offered by Lufthansa CEO Carsten Spohr on Thursday, and agreed to preliminary talks over the weekend.    The current strike would carry on as planned "but would not for now be expanded", UFO said on its website.   Lufthansa said it regretted the inconvenience to passengers and stressed that it was working "to minimise the impact of this massive strike on our customers".

The carrier was running an alternative flight schedule where possible, and said passengers could rebook their journeys for free or swap their flights for train tickets.  Knut Kress, a passenger at a quieter than usual Munich airport, voiced support for the flight attendants.   "It's good that there are still unions defending something," he told AFP. But 48 hours "is a long time", he added.   Fellow traveller Birgit Kellner complained about the lack of notice for passengers.   "They should inform passengers a little earlier, not just two days before."   The walkout is UFO's biggest call to action since a week-long strike in 2015 hit Lufthansa with mass cancellations.   It is also seen as a test of strength for the union, weakened by months of infighting that have left Lufthansa questioning its right to speak for cabin crew.

- Internal disputes -
Lufthansa's finance chief Ulrik Svensson declined to put a price tag on the strike but said such stoppages typically cost "between 10 and 20 million" euros per day.   The union already staged a day-long warning strike last month at four Lufthansa subsidiary airlines, causing several dozen flights to be axed at Eurowings, Germanwings, SunExpress and Lufthansa CityLine.

But the flagship Lufthansa brand was spared the upheaval after management offered an unexpected two-percent pay rise to avert the strike.   Since then, however, UFO vice-president Daniel Flohr said no progress had been made in talks.   As well as higher pay for cabin crew across the Lufthansa group, UFO is demanding more benefits and easier routes into long-term contracts for temporary workers.

Lufthansa, however, has long argued that UFO no longer has the right to represent its staff following an internal leadership tussle, and has challenged the union's legal status in court.   But CEO Spohr hinted at a shift in position when he told reporters Thursday Lufthansa wanted to try to resolve the existing legal issues with UFO in the weekend meeting, hoping to then start formal arbitration talks.

UFO's internal disputes have cost it support among the Lufthansa group's 21,000 flight attendants, with some members switching to rival unions.   Separately on Thursday, Lufthansa reported a jump in third-quarter net profits but said it was slashing over 700 jobs at its Austrian Airlines subsidiary as the group seeks to trim costs in the face of fierce competition.
Date: Thu, 7 Nov 2019 09:57:41 +0100 (MET)

Singapore, Nov 7, 2019 (AFP) - Tourists visiting Singapore can now check in at some hotels using facial recognition technology under a pilot programme that could cut waiting times and help tackle a labour crunch.  The tech-savvy country of 5.7 million people is increasingly turning to automation to speed up services and deal with workforce shortages, with robots deployed for tasks ranging from cleaning to making noodles.

Under the pilot launched Wednesday, visitors will not need to wait to be checked in by hotel staff but can instead use a phone app fitted with facial recognition technology or machines which scan their passports.   The data from the scan is sent to immigration authorities for checks after which the visitor is issued a room key, said the Singapore Tourism Board and Hotel Association, which announced the initiative this week.

The technology, reportedly being trialled at three hotels and is similar to that used in some airports including Singapore's Changi, could reduce check-in times by up to 70 percent, they said.   Singapore welcomed a record high 18.5 million visitors last year, up 6.2 percent from the year before. The city has more than 400 hotels with 67,000 rooms.
Date: Wed, 6 Nov 2019 15:31:58 +0100 (MET)

Amman, Nov 6, 2019 (AFP) - Eight people, including four tourists, were wounded in a knife attack on Wednesday at the famed archeological site of Jerash in northern Jordan, a security spokesman told AFP.   Four tourists -- three Mexicans and a Swiss woman -- were wounded, along with a Jordanian tour guide and a security officer who tried to stop the assailant, public security directorate spokesman Amer Sartawi said.   The attack took place around noon (1000 GMT) at the Roman ruins of Jerash, a popular attraction 50 kilometres (30 miles) from the capital Amman.   The health ministry confirmed that eight people had been wounded, with Sartawi saying earlier that they had "been transported to hospital for treatment".    He said the assailant had been arrested but did not specify his nationality, noting that the motive was as yet unknown.

Jordanian tour guide Zouheir Zreiqat was at the scene and told AFP that the attack happened "just before midday when around 100 foreign tourists" were at the site.    "A bearded man in his twenties wearing black and brandishing a knife started to stab tourists," according to Zreiqat.   He said others started to shout for help and he, along with three other tour guides and three tourists managed to stop the assailant.   "We chased him until we could grab him and get him on the ground," Zreiqat said.    "We took the knife from him. He stayed silent, without saying a word until the police arrived and arrested him."

- Violent attacks -
It was not the first time tourist sites have been targeted by attacks in Jordan.    In December 2016, in Karak, home to one of the region's biggest Crusader castles, 10 people were killed in an attack that also left 30 wounded.    Seven police officers, two Jordanian civilians and a Canadian tourist were killed in the attack.

The attack was claimed by the Islamic State group (IS) and sparked concern over its impact on tourism, a mainstay of the Jordanian economy.    Ten people were convicted of carrying out the attack, with two sentenced to death.   Several violent incidents struck the country the same year, including a suicide attack in June claimed by IS that killed seven Jordanian border guards near the frontier with Syria.    Amman has played a significant role in the United States-led coalition fight against IS in Syria and Iraq, both neighbouring Jordan.

- Economic troubles -
Lacking in natural resources, the country of nearly 10 million depends on tourism and the kingdom has been working to pull the key sector out of a crisis caused by regional unrest in recent years.   Jordan's economy as a whole was hit hard by the combined impact of the international financial crisis, the Arab Spring uprisings that convulsed the Middle East in 2011 and the conflict in Syria.

Tourism accounts for 10 to 12 percent of gross domestic product and the government aims to double this by 2022, former tourism minister Lina Annab told AFP in an interview last year.  The country boasts 21,000 archaeological and historical sites that span millennia, according to the tourism board.   They include the Roman ruins of Jerash, the ancient city of Petra, the Dead Sea and Wadi al-Kharrar, or Bethany Beyond the Jordan, where some believe Jesus was baptised.   Jordan welcomed seven million tourists in 2010, but arrivals plunged to around three million in each of the following two years, tourism board head Abed Al Razzaq Arabiyat said in April.    Numbers have rebounded as spillover from the war in neighbouring Syria has abated, officials have said, with the government working to bring annual tourist arrivals back up to 7 million by 2020.
Date: Tue, 5 Nov 2019 00:54:14 +0100 (MET)

Nuku'alofa, Tonga, Nov 4, 2019 (AFP) - A 6.6 magnitude earthquake struck off the coast of the Pacific island nation of Tonga on Tuesday, but there was no threat of a tsunami, officials said.    The United States Geological Survey (USGS) said the shallow undersea quake hit about 134 kilometres (83 miles) west of Neiafu, the country's second-largest town.    It said the temblor was not expected to have caused significant damage. The quake was not felt in Tonga's capital, Nuku'alofa, according to an AFP reporter.    There was also no threat of a tsunami, the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center said.    A second quake of 5.5 magnitude was recorded a few minutes later, the USGS said.
Date: Mon, 4 Nov 2019 23:47:26 +0100 (MET)

Santiago, Nov 4, 2019 (AFP) - A strong 6.0-magnitude earthquake shook Chile on Monday, rattling buildings in the capital while a big anti-government demonstration was under way.   The quake struck at 6:53 pm (2153 GMT) with its epicentre near the northern town of Illapel, the US Geological Survey said.   A strong and prolonged shaking was felt in the capital.   Chile's National Seismological Center measured the quake at magnitude 6.1, revising down an earlier estimate of 6.3.   There were no immediate reports of damage or casualties.   "There have been no reports of damage to people, disruption of basic services or infrastructure," the National Emergency Office said.   The Army Hydrographic and Oceanographic Service said the quake was unlikely to cause a tsunami on Chile's Pacific coast.

When the quake hit, police in Santiago were dispersing protesters at the start of the third week of anti-austerity protests targeting the conservative government.   Chile is one of the world's most earthquake-prone countries.   The 9.5-magnitude 1960 Valdivia earthquake was the strongest ever recorded on the magnitude scale, according to the USGS.   In 2010 an 8.8-magnitude followed by a tsunami killed more than 500 people.   Chile lies on the Ring of Fire -- an arc of fault lines that circles the Pacific Basin and is prone to frequent earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.
Date: Mon, 4 Nov 2019 20:37:19 +0100 (MET)
By Eugenia LOGIURATTO

Recife, Brazil, Nov 4, 2019 (AFP) - Months after thick oil began turning idyllic beaches in Brazil into "black carpets," workers and volunteers wearing rubber gloves race against time to scrape off the remaining fragments ahead of the country's peak tourism season.   Paiva, Itapuama and Enseada dos Corais in the northeastern state of Pernambuco are among hundreds of beaches fouled by an oil spill that began to appear in early September and has affected more than 2,000 kilometers (1,250 miles) of Atlantic coastline.

As ocean currents brought large globs of crude to shore near the capital Recife in recent weeks, locals rushed to the normally picturesque beaches and used their bare hands to remove the toxic material coating sand, rocks and wildlife.    "I was shocked, there were people entering the water without gloves, without safety equipment, in the middle of the oil," coconut seller Glaucia Dias de Lima, 35, told AFP as she picked up chunks of crude from Itapuama beach.

Thousands of military personnel have been dispatched to help clean up the oil that has killed dozens of animals, including turtles, and reached a humpback whale sanctuary off Bahia state that has some of the country's richest biodiversity.   It is the third major environmental disaster to strike Brazil this year. In recent months fires ravaged the Amazon rainforest and in January a mine dam collapsed in the southeast, spewing millions of tons of toxic waste across the countryside.    Wildfires are still raging across the Pantanal tropical wetlands.

While thousands of tons of crude waste have been recovered so far, the space agency INPE said Friday there might still be oil at sea being pushed by currents. It could reach as far south as Rio de Janeiro state, the agency said.   President Jair Bolsonaro warned Sunday that "the worst is yet to come," saying only a fraction of the spilled crude had been collected so far.    The government on Friday named a Greek-flagged tanker as the prime suspect for being the source of the oil slicks.   The ship Bouboulina took on oil in Venezuela and was headed for Singapore, it said. The tanker's operators have denied the vessel was to blame.

- Fishing paralyzed -
As the southern hemisphere's summer approaches, people dependent on the fishing and tourism industries are nervously waiting for test results to show if the water is safe to swim in and eat from.   Northeastern Brazil is a popular tourist destination all year round, but visitor numbers usually explode in the hotter months. 

Eco-tourism guide Giovana Eulina said the disaster would affect the sector and she called for a campaign to "encourage people to come here."   Fishing in the region also has been largely paralyzed by the oil spill, even in areas where crude has not been detected.   "We still don't have a concrete answer from a scientist who says that (the water) is really contaminated," said Sandra Lima, head of a local fishing association.    Edileuza Nascimento, 63, stands in muddy water near Recife and extracts shellfish that she will sanitize at home, freeze and then sell.   It was already a struggle for fishermen to make a living, she said. But the oil slick has been "too much."    "It has come to finish off the fishing families."