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Ebola outbreak still a global emergency despite significant drop in cases – WHO

INTERNATIONAL – A meeting convened by the United Nations World Health Organization (WHO) has confirmed that the Ebola outbreak in West Africa still poses a threat to international peace and security, despite a major fall-off in in case incidence and geographic distribution in the most-affected countries Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea.

During the fifth meeting of the WHO’s International Health Regulations (IHR) Emergency Committee yesterday, the bodydeterminedthat Ebola continued to constitute a ‘Public Health Emergency of International Concern’ and recommended the extension of all previous temporary recommendations.

Deliberating on whether or not Ebola constituted a public health emergency, the Committee reviewed developments since its last meeting on 20 January, it noted further improvements in prevention and control activities across West Africa, including in contact tracing. Observing declines in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, the virus appeared to have reduced its spread.

“These three IHR States Parties provided updates and assessment of the Ebola outbreak, in terms of the epidemiological situation and the status and performance of exit screening and contact tracing,” said a statement by the Emergency Committee.

While recognizing the progress achieved by all three countries, the Committee emphasized that there is no place for complacency, and reinforced the importance of community engagement in the UN-backed goal of “getting to zero.”

The rapid interruption of transmission remained the primary goal of the Committee, which expressed continued concern over recent health care worker infections and reaffirmed the importance of rigorously applying appropriate prevention and control measures.

A recent case of possible infection after sexual contact with an Ebola survivor months after recovery became the focus of a discussion on sexual transmission with the Committee welcoming ongoing research in this area and urging its acceleration.

The statement also voiced concern over additional health measures – such as quarantining returning travellers, refusing entry, cancelling flights and closing borders – as significantly interfering with international travel and negatively impacting both response and recovery efforts.

Although reports that some countries have recently rescinded these measures and certain regional airlines resumed flights to affected countries, about 40 nations still implement the additional procedures and a number of carriers have yet to resume flights to these States.

Concluding that Ebola continued to be a Public Health Emergency, the Committee recommended that previous temporary recommendations be extended and provided additional advice to the WHO Director-General in accordance with the IHR.

The statement strongly reiterated the need for continued exit screenings in the three affected countries, which must be maintained for at least 42 days after the last case had twice tested negative for Ebola.

It recommended these nations “to maintain exit screening until human-to-human transmission has stopped in the entire subregion” and “urged affected countries to provide WHO, on a monthly basis, with the number of people screened at international airports and the results of such screening.”

The Committee also reemphasized active surveillance, particularly in border areas – in addition to vigilance for new cases, tracing of known contacts and cross-border cooperation to share information and assets – and highlighted that social and cultural links, which cross national boundaries, must be taken into account when planning and implementing such activities.


In Panama, Ban urges business leaders to support new development agenda with partnerships, resources

PANAMA – The United Nations Secretary-General, in an address in Panama to the CEO Summit of the Americas, said today 10 April that business has a key role in the success of several important international forums taking place in 2015 and will be deeply involved in the implementation of their outcomes.

“The new global development agenda and the battle against climate change will need resources, technology and capacity,” hetoldbusiness leaders who gathered in Panama City. “Private sources and partnerships will be crucial.”

He spoke of the UN Global Compact set up following the Millennium Declaration between business and society, saying that results from the Compact’s first 15 years showed that engagement of all key stakeholders in issues of common importance resulted in progress.

Partnerships between the UN and businesses were on the rise and included the Global Compact’s ‘CEO Water Mandate’ and the ‘Caring for Climate’ initiatives, while the UN Global Pulse initiative had already partnered with mobile network operators and social media companies to leverage ‘Big Data’ to improve humanitarian responses and gain insights on public concerns about policy changes.

There is growing realization of the link between business health and the health of societies, the Secretary-General said, pointing to corporate social responsibility initiatives, investors’ moves away from fossil fuels, and increasing minimum wages around the world.

“Social and environmental responsibility is becoming mainstream, and is increasingly a standard part of strategic corporate practice,” he said. “This is changing markets from within – and for the better. We have to build on this momentum, and bring on board those companies still doing business that puts profit before progress.”

In what he flagged as a year of global action, he stressed the need in 2015 to reduce inequality, to promote prosperity and equity and to protect the environment.

“With business support for implementing the sustainable development goals, we can transform our world,” he said. “Our Global Compact now has over 8,000 companies and 4,000 non-business organizations participating, with Local Networks in 86 countries – including many in Latin America.”

Business was part of the solution to several major global challenges and he thanked the assembled leaders for their part in trying to make 2015 a historic year. To achieve that, four steps would be essential.

Companies should communicate and support the sustainable development goals, help with implementation of the post-2015 development agenda, mobilize financing for development and help the international community to reach a meaningful universal agreement on climate action in Paris.

“Private sector advocacy can make a real difference in advancing well-functioning carbon markets,” he said. “Business can steer governments to support smart regulatory policies and emissions reduction targets that are in line with science. The world needs companies and investors everywhere to do their part in meeting the needs of people today while transforming our prospects for tomorrow.”


SABOR LATINO-Joint Cruise Destination Alliance is now a Fact

WILLEMSTAD, Curacao – Curaҫao, Aruba, Colombia and Santo Domingo, launched SABOR LATINO-Joint Cruise Destination Alliance at the Florida-Caribbean Cruise Association (FCCA) Cruise Shipping Miami at the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau.

SABOR LATINO-Joint Cruise Destination Alliance is the initiative of Aruba, Colombia, Curaçao, and Santo Domingo to present a unique cruise itinerary focused on market segments that have an affinity towards Latin influences.

This destination and port promotion cooperation between Aruba, Colombia, Curaçao, and Santo Domingo focuses on the Southern Caribbean ports of Cartagena, Oranjestad, Santo Domingo, and Willemstad. These destinations are unique for their Latin zest, cultural diversity, ethnic heritage, historic architecture, harmonious rhythms, arts and handiworks, brand shopping experience, culinary pleasures, natural Caribbean delights, and unsurpassed hospitality. Tailor-made proposals will be available upon request.

Curaçao is represented by Dimitri Cloose from Curaçao Ports Authority and Angelo Harms from the Curaçao Tourism Board. (Curacao Chronicle)


Tourism Expert: Future Looks Bright, Challenges Remain, Cuba an Opportunity for the Region to get better

CARIBBEAN - Caribbean tourism has been thriving in recent years and the future looks even brighter, but many challenges remain, Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association CEO Frank Comito said recently.

Comito, a Bahamas-based tourism expert with decades of experience in the industry, was speaking at the 2015 U.S.V.I. Hotel and Tourism Association General Meeting at the Ritz Carlton on St. Thomas.

According to Comito, 2014 was generally a good year for Caribbean tourism. Regional arrivals went up by 5.9 percent, he said, going up by 3.9 percent in the Virgin Islands. Occupancy in the territory went up by 5.1 percent, above the average Caribbean increase of 1.5 percent.

Comito also shared a 2012 study commissioned by the Nassau-Paradise Island Promotion Board that measured the strength of the image of popular Caribbean destinations. The U.S. Virgin Islands topped the list, the study showed, beating the Cayman Islands, the Bahamas, Aruba and Cancun.

The same study also put the Virgin Islands in the third spot for most preferred Caribbean destination, trailing the Bahamas and Aruba.

Comito noted from experience that hospitality in the Virgin Islands has moved from a “strong ‘suck-teeth’ mentality” to becoming highly professional and hospitable.

“We can look at it as half-full and feel encouraged,” Comito said. “We are doing some good things, but we have got to look at the half empty part as well. We cannot rest, particularly when we’ve got some huge challenges globally on our price competitiveness and our quality of service.”

The region needs to work on price competitiveness, according to Comito, because it is a significant and quantifiable factor in the competitiveness of a tourist destination as a whole. As of 2012, he said, studies showed that 27 percent of vacationers are willing to spend between $1,000 and $1,499 for an air inclusive vacation to the Caribbean with one companion. Some 25 percent are willing to pay a little higher — between $1,500 and 1,999 — but the percentages drop significantly as the price goes higher.

Driving down pricing, however, is a challenge in the Virgin Islands for the same reasons that it is a challenge in the region. Soaring utility costs, high cost of access and rising government taxes inflate the cost of doing business, he said. On top of that, the region also has to work on improving the overall quality of the vacation experience.

To address all these challenges, Comito said, collaboration and partnerships are key, and the private sector must take the lead. Advocating for tourism must also be based on facts; policies, for instance, must have direct impact on tourism revenues, jobs and tax revenues, according to Comito.

As for the re-opening of Cuba, Comito said the country is going to be a competitor in the U.S. market share, which comprises more than 80 percent of tourist visits in most Caribbean destinations.

“One can argue that the birth of tourism in the places like the Bahamas and the USVI is directly attributed to Cuba closing up,” he said.

Comito added, however, that Cuba opening up does not mean the death of tourism for the rest of the Caribbean. It could mean greater marketing power for the region, he said, and could up the ante on healthy competition.

“I view it as an opportunity to get better,” he said.


MH370 location beacon battery had expired 14-months before aircraft disappeared

INTERNATIONAL - On the first anniversary of the disappearance of MH370, Malaysian Airline's interim report revealed the battery of the locator beacon had expired more than a year before the plane vanished on March 8, 2014.

The report, which runs to almost 600 pages, showed the battery had expired in December 2012 - more than 14 months before the ill-fated flight.

Apart from the out of date beacon battery, no other concerns were highlighted in terms of the plane's mechanical features.

The report also said no red flags were raised over flight crew, despite growing suspicion falling on pilot Zaharie Ahmad Shah and co-pilot Fariq Abdul Hamid.

"There were no behavioural signs of social isolation, change in habits or interest, self-neglect, drug or alcohol abuse of the Captain, First Officer and the cabin crew," the report said.

Also a shipment of lithium-ion batteries were not deemed a potential hazard and were not given additional security screening.

The report was written by the international search team initially coordinated by Malaysia and also included China and Australia.

The leader of the 19-member team, Datuk Kok Soo Chon, said the report looked closely at air traffic control data, maintenance records, aircraft simulator sessions, and interviews with more than 120 people.

Investigators visited air traffic centres in Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam and Thailand in the course of compiling the report, Kok said. (TravelMole)


St Lucia expands tourism outreach with new Diaspora program

ST. LUCIA - The Saint Lucia Tourist Board has launched a dedicated marketing initiative to reach the island’s Diaspora in North America and the United Kingdom. Called Se Sannou, meaning “our thing” in Creole, the program is designed to strengthen ties with the Diaspora community as a knowledgeable and valuable resource to showcase the island as a choice vacation destination in lead source markets.

The Tourist Board will offer dedicated training sessions for members of the Diaspora community who wish to become skilled “Diaspora Touchpoints.” The tourism ambassadors will also receive a “Se Sannou” toolkit, marketing materials, merchandise, a quarterly newsletter with trends and island developments, and more. A dedicated website landing page will be included and an invitation-only Facebook group will connect the Diaspora community and encourage worldwide member dialogue. Prizes will be awarded for lead generation, including the chance to win a family vacation for four to Saint Lucia.

“Members of our Diaspora community are in a unique position to share their love and knowledge of their home with other members of the community and any potential visitors” says Louis Lewis, ‎director of tourism for the Saint Lucia Tourist Board. “They are an untapped resource who can be passionate advocates and help contribute to Saint Lucia’s leading tourism industry.”

Additional Se Sannou launch events will be held in New York City on March 5; Toronto on March 7; and Washington DC on March 14. (CaribbeanNewsNow)


Health City, Cayman Tourism partner to promote medical travel

CAYMAN ISLANDS - The Caribbean's newest healthcare facility is venturing into a new partnership to strengthen its identity as the region's premier destination for world-class healthcare and medical tourism.

Shomari Scott, marketing director of Health City Cayman Islands, said that the international hospital's strategy to attract more travelers seeking medical attention has been given the thumbs up by the Cayman Islands Department of Tourism.

"We are encouraged to embark on a partnership that positions Health City Cayman Islands as a leading tertiary care hospital in the Caribbean," said Scott, who previously served as the director of tourism in the Cayman Islands.

"Destination healthcare is intriguing," noted Rosa Harris, Cayman Islands' current director of tourism, who was pleased to embrace the department's "new budding partner."

"(This partnership) gives us an opportunity to promote the destination and have a different conversation," said Harris, who described the facility and the vision of Health City Cayman Islands as extraordinary.

Impressed also with Health City's long term commitment to the Cayman Islands, Harris described Health City as "multifaceted".

"It's not just a hospital. It will become a training center, assisted living facility, and also (offer) hotel accommodations. So, in our mind there will be many (levels and types) of partnership,” she noted.

Harris disclosed that Health City and the tourism department have already started to integrate marketing efforts, and she is enthusiastic about the potential for collaboration.

Health City Cayman Islands, the vision of top heart surgeon and humanitarian Dr Devi Shetty, is supported by two major healthcare organizations, Narayana Health and the US-based Ascension which is one of the nation's largest faith-based and non-profit health systems, providing the highest quality care to all with special attention to those who are poor and vulnerable. Health City Cayman Islands provides compassionate, high-quality, affordable healthcare services for all in a world-class, comfortable, patient-centered environment. Offering healthcare to international, regional and local patients, Health City Cayman Islands delivers excellence in adult and pediatric cardiology, cardiac surgery, medical oncology, orthopedics, pediatric endocrinology, and pulmonology. (CaribbeanNewsNow)


Carnival’s US$85 Million Dominican Republic Cruise Port to Open in October. Expected in first year 250,000 Cruise Passengers

DOMINICAN REPUBLIC – Carnival Cruise Lines recently announced it will begin welcoming guests at its newly developedAmber Coveport in theDominican Republic beginningOctober 2015. Six of Carnival Corporation's nine brands will call on Amber Cove along the country'sAmber Coast to give cruise passengers another exotic location to explore as part of their vacation experience.

The port will open with a visit from Carnival Victory from the company's Carnival Cruise Line brand onOctober 6, 2015. Following this inaugural visit, five additional Carnival Corporation brands are scheduled to make calls on Amber Cove -- including Cunard's Queen Mary 2 onNovember 22, P&O Cruises' (UK) Azura onDecember 5, AIDA Cruises' AIDAvita onDecember 11, Costa Cruises' Costa Deliziosa onDecember 31and Holland America Line's ms Eurodam onJanuary 19.

Additional ships from the company's brands are scheduled to call on the port in late 2015 and through 2016 including Carnival Cruise Line's Fantasy, Splendor, Valor, Sunshine, Conquest and Breeze and Holland America Line's Nieuw Amsterdam. These visits will consist of 57 calls by 13 different ships across the six brands taking place betweenOctober 2015andApril 2016, accounting for more than 155,000 guests during this period.

With the opening of the new Amber Cove port, passengers will be able to make stops along theDominican Republic'snorthAmber Coast, which has not been regularly visited on cruise itineraries since the 1980s. It will open expanded itinerary options in theCaribbean, the world's most popular region for cruise vacations1, and will pair with the company'sGrand Turk Cruise Centeronly 100 miles to the north to anchor new centralCaribbeanitineraries for Carnival's nine global brands. In looking to the future, the port is strategically located to be incorporated into itineraries featuring potential stops inCuba.

The new US$85 millionfacility represents the largest cruise industry investment ever made in theDominican Republic, and will feature a two-berth port able to accommodate the largest cruise vessels in operation today. Carnival Corporation has monitored the various stages of the port's construction progress with the use of drones, an innovative development that is being used for the first time as part of the company's port development process. The facility, a joint project between Carnival Corporation and the Rannik family of Grupo B&R, is expected to host more than 250,000 cruise passengers in its first year of operation. It will provide approximately 430 local jobs.

"The construction of the cruise port at Amber Cove has been an incredible project for our entire country, as well as theCaribbeanregion as a whole," said Francisco Javier, tourism director of theDominican Republic. "Carnival Corporation's investment in Amber Cove has already proven beneficial to the economy, and we expect the investment to have a positive long-lasting economic impact. The new port  will also give cruise passengers an opportunity to see another part of theDominican Republic, ourAmber Coast, which hasn't been available as part of cruise itineraries in nearly 30 years. This is a very exciting development."  

This new port facility in theDominican Republicunderscores the company's focus on creating great vacation experiences, as passengers sailing theCaribbeanwill have an exciting new destination to visit. It will also give Carnival Corporation's nine global cruise brands the ability to create more diverse itineraries, another important part of the cruise experience. More than 60 percent of cruisers are repeat passengers, and offering robust itineraries keeps the experience fresh and engaging for them.

The opening of Amber Cove adds to the portfolio of cruise destinations Carnival Corporation has developed in theCaribbean. This includes the Grand Turk Cruise Center in theTurks & Caicos Islands,Puerta Mayaon the Island ofCozumel, Mexico, and Mahogany Bay on the island of Roatan,Honduras. It is one of roughly 60 ports Carnival Corporation's brands visit in the region.

Amber Cove will feature a waterfront welcome center with a variety of retail offerings, including a marketplace for Dominican crafts and souvenirs, as well as a wide range of unique food and beverage establishments. The port will also include a recreational area featuring amenities such as a pool, splash zone and green space areas. The transportation hub -- the single largest component of the port -- will provide visitors easy access by land and sea to the surrounding destinations and attractions.

The new port will host one of the most extensive shore excursion programs available in theCaribbean, offering roughly 40 different landside experiences including beaches, water sports and special culinary, cultural and adventure options. Many of these excursion offerings will come from well-established local operators. Nearby Ocean World, one of the region's largest marine adventure parks, offers guests popular ways to experience and interact with a variety of marine animals.


U.S. State Department Issues ‘Critical’ Advisory on Crime

SINT MAARTEN/THE BAHAMAS/U.S.V.I. – The United States State Department has issued a “critical” advisory for the New Providence Island of The Bahamas where the threat of crime is considered to be of that nature.  The aforementioned island has sustained high levels of violent crime and armed robberies.

Last year Sint Maarten experienced a number of serious armed robberies of financial institutions, casinos and jewellery stores.  Some of the perpetrators have been caught by law enforcement.  On the Northern side of the island – St. Martin – there was also an armed shoot-out between French National Police (Gendarmes) and jewellery store robbers. There are no special crime advisories from the U.S. State Department, Bureau of Consular Affairs.  The country is considered a safe destination for vacationing.

The Royal Bahamas Police Force issued their 2015 Crime and Safety Report last week and it says that violent crime remains above 2013 levels over 2014.  The Police Force has implemented armed-checkpoints along with a crime reduction plan in tourist areas.

The Police have noticed a significant increase of violent armed crimes in areas heavily patronized by U.S. citizens.

According to the Crime and Safety Report, the U.S. Embassy in Nassau, Bahamas, has received an increase of reports of assaults including sexual assaults at residents, hotel rooms, casinos, outside hotels and on cruise ships, and as a result the U.S. Embassy issued five security messages in 2014.  

The U.S. Virgin Islands has also been dealing with an alarming increase in violent crime.

U.S. Virgin Islands Governor Kenneth Mapp has proposed a wide-range of measures that includes increasing police presence by hiring more officers and using the military police from the National Guard, if necessary, and sending large numbers of offenders out of the island to the U.S. mainland prisons.

One of the plans is to have the U.S. Federal Government prosecute all crimes involving firearms so that those convicted will be sent to federal prison.

Another plan of Governor Mapp is to transfer 50 to 60 per cent of the prisoners now incarcerated in the U.S. Virgin Islands to U.S. mainland facilities.



British Foreign Office Issues Warning of terrorism in Denmark

INTERNATIONAL - The British Foreign and Commonwealth Office has updated its advice today February 19 to say there is a general threat of terrorism in Denmark.

It says attacks could be indiscriminate, including in places frequented by foreigners, following two shooting incidents last weekend.

Two civilians were killed and five police officers were wounded in shooting incidents on February 14 and 15 in the Østerbro and Krystalgade areas of Copenhagen.

The FCO said Danish authorities consider both incidents to have been linked and terrorist-related.

However it also added that there is considered to be a heightened threat of terrorist attack globally against UK interests and British nationals, from groups or individuals motivated by the conflict in Iraq and Syria.

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