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Soualiga Newsday Focus (839)

Ebola virus disease is decreasing in all three of the most affected countries in West Africa. Ebola still remains a Public Health Emergency of International Concern

INTERNATIONAL - The fourth meeting of the Emergency Committee convened by the WHO Director-General under the International Health Regulations (IHR) 2005 regarding the Ebola virus disease (EVD, or "Ebola") outbreak in West Africa was conducted with members and advisors of the Emergency Committee earlier in the week of 19 January 2015.

This meeting was convened to review, in accordance with IHR provisions, whether the event continued to constitute a Public Health Emergency of International Concern and, if so, whether this warranted an extension or revision of the three -month date of the expiration of the temporary recommendations, which were first issued on 8 August 2014 and extended on 22 September 2014 and 23 October 2014.

Developments since the Committee's last meeting were reviewed, including the most recent epidemiological situation. The Committee noted that the number of Ebola cases is decreasing in all three of the most affected countries.

Since the previous meeting, three countries have declared the end of Ebola transmission: Spain, the United States of America, and Mali. One case was imported into the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (UK), in a health care worker who returned from Sierra Leone and was asymptomatic on exit screening and during travel; she became ill after arrival in the UK.

The Committee expressed concern that additional measures affecting travel, transport and trade that go beyond the temporary recommendations have been put in place in more than 40 countries.

Current response and preparedness activities were reviewed, as well as recent scaling up of the response. Priorities and strategies for moving towards zero cases were presented.

Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Mali and UK provided an update on and assessment of the Ebola situation in their countries, including progress towards implementation of the temporary recommendations.

Even though a few cases have occurred outside the three most affected countries, the measures recommended appear to have been helpful in limiting further international spread, including the exportation of disease from the three most affected countries.

It was the unanimous view of the Committee that the event continues to constitute a Public Health Emergency of International Concern. The Committee reviewed the temporary recommendations previously issued and stated that all previous temporary recommendations should remain in effect. The committee provided the following additional advice to the Director-General for her consideration in addressing the Ebola outbreak in accordance with the IHR.

Recommendations for the most affected countries (Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone)

The Committee strongly reiterated the previous temporary recommendation on exit screening and highlighted the value of exit screening in these three countries. Exit screening remains critical for minimizing the risk of exportation of Ebola cases. The three most affected countries should maintain robust exit screening until Ebola transmission is confirmed to have stopped in these countries. The Committee again urged affected countries to provide WHO regularly with the number of people screened at international airports and the outcomes of exit screening. The international community should support a sustainable approach to this exit screening.

Recommendation for countries sharing borders with Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone

These countries should be conducting active surveillance, including in border areas, and engaging in cross-border cooperation, information and asset sharing, and continued vigilance for new cases. National governments should empower local communities that have land crossings at shared national borders to be part of these activities.

Recommendations for all countries

The Committee reaffirmed the need to avoid unnecessary interference with international travel and trade, as specified in Article 2 of the IHR 2005. The Committee noted that more than 40 countries have implemented additional measures, such as quarantine of returning travellers and refusal of entry.

Such measures are impeding the recruitment and return of international responders. They also have harmful effects on local populations by increasing stigma and isolation, and by disrupting livelihoods and economies.

The Committee stressed that, therefore, in accordance with the provisions of Article 43 of the IHR 2005 , any country applying additional measures must do so on the basis of scientific principles and available scientific evidence.

Those countries applying measures that interfere with international travel shall provide to WHO the public health rationale and relevant scientific information for such measures. WHO may request countries to reconsider these measures. This provision is binding on all States Parties.

The Committee emphasized that all countries should enhance their preparedness activities and, in line with their IHR obligations, ensure their capacities to detect, assess and respond to any introduction of Ebola virus disease.

The Committee concluded that the primary emphasis must continue to be on 'getting to zero' Ebola cases, by stopping the transmission of Ebola within the three most affected countries. This action is the most important step for preventing international spread. Complacency is the biggest risk to not getting to zero cases. Continued vigilance is essential.

Based on this advice and the information considered by the Committee, the Director-General accepted the Committee's assessment, and declared that the Ebola outbreak in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone continued to constitute a Public Health Emergency of International Concern. The Director-General endorsed the Committee's advice and issued them as Temporary Recommendations under IHR (2005). The Director-General further reminded all countries of their obligations under the IHR.

The Director-General thanked the Committee members and advisors for their advice and requested their reassessment of this situation within three months or earlier should circumstances require.

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A Very High Impact Major Winter Storm Will Impact the US East Coast from Philadelphia & New York City through New England through Tuesday Night

US EAST COAST - A very high impact major winter storm is just getting started across the Mid-Atlantic States into the New York City metro area. Snow will spread into New England this afternoon into this evening; however, the worst part of this storm is expected from tonight through Tuesday.

he heavy snow is then expected to gradually wind down on Tuesday night. This is a storm where the snow will be measured in feet, especially from New York City and Long Island through southern New England.

Combine this with the strong winds that are expected and you have a crippling blizzard which will bring travel to a standstill tonight through Tuesday and Tuesday night across much of New England, eastern and south eastern New York, eastern Pennsylvania and much of New Jersey.

The maximum snow accumulations of 30 inches are expected across north eastern Connecticut, northern Rhode Island and central and eastern Massachusetts. 20 to 30 inches of snow accumulation are likely across all of southern New England, south eastern New York, Long Island and northern New Jersey.

If you live in or have family, friends or colleagues in the path of this winter storm, please do not travel tonight or on Tuesday as roads will be impassable; in fact, some roads may still be impassable even on Wednesday and Thursday due to the deep snow and even deeper snow drifts.

In addition, all airports in the north eastern United States will likely be closed for an extended period of time from tonight through at least Tuesday and even Wednesday. If you are headed to the store to stock up for this storm today, buy enough food and supplies to last you 2 to even 3 days.

In addition to the heavy snow and blizzard conditions, hurricane force winds and 30 foot seas are possible across the coastal and offshore New England and Nova Scotia waters as well as across the coastal and offshore waters from Long Island to Virginia.

These very strong winds and very high seas are likely to lead to coastal flooding along the coast of eastern Massachusetts, Cape Cod and Long Island. This coastal flooding may be severe enough to flood shore roads and basements of homes along the immediate coast during the early Tuesday morning high tide. Severe beach erosion is also expected during both high tides on Tuesday along the coasts of eastern Massachusetts, Cape Cod and Long Island. (Crown Weather Services)

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NEW DIVI VACATION CLUB DEBUTS - CLUB OFFERS PREMIER CARIBBEAN DESTINATIONS AND WORLDWIDE TRAVEL

CHAPEL HILL, North Carolina -The Divi Vacation Club has launched, and this new points-based club offers members access to premier destinations in the Caribbean and worldwide travel opportunities.  The Divi Vacation Club began enrolling members in January.  

The featured Caribbean properties include Divi ArubaPhoenix Beach Resort, Divi Village Golf & Beach Resort and Divi Dutch Village Beach Resort on Aruba; Divi Southwinds Beach Resort on Barbados; Divi Flamingo Beach Resort & Casino on Bonaire and Divi Little Bay Beach Resort on St. Maarten. These resorts, known as Divi Club Destinations, feature a range of vacation experiences, from modern high-rise hotels, to intimate beachside settings, to top dive resorts.

In addition to the Divi Club Destinations, members can vacation in more than 80 countries through the Divi Exchange Network, which partners with Interval International®to access hundreds of resorts around the world.   

"The Divi Vacation Club offers more travel flexibility than traditional vacation ownership, allowing club members to travel where they want, when they want and how they want, based on the amount of points they wish to spend," says Marco Galaverna, presidentof Divi Management Group. "With Pure Points, the currency used to book vacations, our members only spend the points they need depending on the season, resort, accommodation size and length of stay." The Divi Vacation Club also helps members save money on theirtravel, insuring that their yearly vacation costs will remain stable and affordable for years to come.   

The new club's website (www.divivacationclub.com) also premiered in January, outlining club program details as well as providing access for current members to explore destinations, make reservations, research points balances and make payments. For more information on Divi Vacation Club membership, visitwww.divivacationclub.comor call a sales center on Aruba:1-800-257-4943/1-919-883-4699or on St. Maarten:1-877-349-0560/1-919-338-2750.

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Jamaica kicks off sports tourism initiative – Jamaica Sport

JAMAICA - Jamaica has officially unveiled Jamaica Sport - a new initiative to develop the island as a major sports tourism destination.

Leveraging its success in world sport, notably the sprint prowess of Usain Bolt and Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, Jamaica aims to boost tourist arrivals with a regular calendar of major sporting events.

"As a country, we are well-known for our rich sporting legacy, whether for our remarkable successes or our indomitable spirit, especially in the sporting arena" said Paul Pennicook, Jamaica's Director of Tourism.

"The dominance of our athletes, including sprinters, cricketers, netballers, swimmers and footballers has been tremendous, but it is this achievement in combination with the 'can-do' attitude of our bobsledders that defines a sporting culture found only in Jamaica."

Jamaica Tourist Board announced a series of events through 2015, including a number of road races such as the internationally known Reggae Marathon in December, Kingston City Run and Jake's off-road Triathlon.

Mountain biking, tennis, and track and field events are also planned this year.

The inaugural event in the Jamaican sporting calendar is the Pineapple Cup from February 6.

This ocean racing classic dating back to 1961 sets sail from Fort Lauderdale for the 800 nautical miles to Montego Bay.

During the race there is a full timetable of cocktail parties, steel band shows, limbo dancing, before ending with prize-giving ceremony on February 15. (TravelMole)

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Mark Spitz to host Windstar's first Island Experience program

SINT MAARTEN/BVI - Small ship cruise line Windstar's new Island Experiences program will feature Olympic legend Mark Spitz during its January 31 Caribbean sailing. 

Windstar’s vessels call at Port St. Maarten weekly with the Wind Surf in port last Saturday.

Spitz, who famously won seven swimming gold medals at the 1972 Munich Games, will serve as host during the ship's stop at Prickly Pear Beach, a secluded nature reserve in the British Virgin Islands.

He will conduct an on-board lecture on the Yachtsman's Caribbean and join guests for dinner as well as taking swimming classes during the day.

"We are thrilled to have a renowned athlete like Mark Spitz join us for the launch of our new Island Experience," said Hans Birkholz, Windstar Cruises' chief executive officer.

"Our Private Events were designed for our guests to really experience the local culture in an exclusive way. The new Island Experience will allow them to feel like they are on their own slice of paradise for the day."

The Island Experience Private Events program will all feature beach and sporting activities such as volleyball, snorkeling, and bocce ball, along with a beach barbeque.

Besides BVI, Island Experience Private Events are also scheduled for “Mayreau Private Beach Getaway,” “St. Lucia Getaways in Paradise,” and “Isla de Coiba: Tropical Beach Delights,” Panama.

The cruise line said more celebrity hosts will be announced in the coming months.

Windstar Cruises operates a fleet of small luxury cruise ships known for its intimate yacht style experience and unique voyages to the world’s best small ports and hidden harbors.

Its three recently renovated sailing yachts carry just 148 to 310 guests and cruise to 50 nations, calling at 150 ports throughout Europe, the South Pacific, the Caribbean, and Central America.

In May of 2014, Windstar launched Star Pride, the first of three newly acquired power yachts. In May of 2015 the company will launch Star Breeze and Star Legend. The power yachts, with a capacity of 212 guests each, will double the size of Windstar’s fleet, making the company the market leader in small ship cruising with 300 or fewer passengers, with a total of 1,242 berths.

The additional capacity will open up new itineraries such as voyages to Southeast Asia, Arabia, Iceland, and beyond.

Windstar was recently listed on Condé Nast Traveler’s prestigious Gold List, coming in as the #3 cruise line in the world.

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Malaysia Tourism promotes cycling travel packages

MALAYSIA - Tourism leaders in Malaysia are peddling the country's eco-tourism credentials with the recent roll out of a raft of new tour packages for cyclists.

To kick off the 2015 programme, Tourism Malaysia will promote a new guide book 'Discover Malaysia by Bicycle' at the ASEAN Tourism Forum on January 22.

The packages focus mainly on cycling enthusiasts from Indonesia, Singapore and Thailand and include three-day tours of Kuching, Kota Bharu and a four-day Taman Negara cycling package.

"Through these packages, domestic and international tourists will be able to explore more destinations in Malaysia through cycling," said Tourism Malaysia's deputy director-general of promotions, Azizan Noordin.

The packages are being marketed through 32 local tour agencies.

Tourism Malaysia has been promoting cycling tours since 2011 and sold over 5,000 packages during 2013. (TravelMole)

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Bermuda brands itself as sporting haven in new marketing strategy push

BERMUDA - Chief executive officer of the Bermuda Tourism Authority Bill Hanbury has laid out plans for a new marketing strategy for the island, focusing on sports tourism, its British traditions as well as its 'island soul.'

Hanbury says Bermuda will be marketed as an 'Atlantic' destination rather than a 'Caribbean' destination and as a place to vacation year-round.

"Global visitors desire sports and recreational experiences," Hanbury said, detailing plans to aggressively promote Bermuda golf.

BTA will set up a golf tourism advisory board, and an on-island concierge service to enable visitors to book tee times easily.

It also pitching to athletic teams as an ideal warm weather training destination, and running, cycling and triathlon events could play an important role.

"Our winter weather is delightful compared to the US, Canada and the UK," Hanbury said, adding that BTA will allocate more marketing dollars to shoulder season promotion, focusing initially on the north-eastern US and Canada. (TravelMole)

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Chinese consortium expected to take over Club Med

CARIBBEAN - The year-long bidding war for control of the French owned Club Med resort group may have found a winner.

Club Med has resorts all over the world: Caribbean, Mexico/Florida, The Alps, Europe and the Mediterranean, South America, Asia, Indian Ocean and Africa.  The resorts in the Caribbean can be found in The Bahamas, Dominican Republic, Guadeloupe, Martinique and Turks & Caicos Islands.

The company is expected to back an offer from Fosun International, a consortium led by Chinese billionaire Guo Guangchang.

Rival bidder, Italian tycoon Andrea Bonomi's Global Resorts investment firm has said it will not raise its offer again and will withdraw its last bid.

Shanghai based Fosun International, owned by Chinese billionaire Guo Guangchang, increased its latest offer to $29.55 on December 17.

Fosun has worked with Club Med for several years on new developments in China and the Club Med board and CEO Henri Giscard d'Estaing had backed the Fosun bid due to its expertise in the Asia market where Club Med sees the most promising long term growth.

Investors hope the new owners will invest in expanding markets like China to widen the client base previously dominated by Europeans.

Fosun hopes to attract China's growing middle classes with high end resorts. (TravelMole)
  

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Rise in tourism to Cuba predicted as country comes out of the cold. CTO to help promote visitors to Cuba from the United States

CARIBBEAN - Caribbean leaders have welcomed the restoration of full diplomatic relations between the US and Cuba, announced last month by Presidents Obama and Castro, saying it will increase tourist arrivals to the islands.

The Caribbean Tourism Organisation (CTO) suggested the move would lead to a rise in the number of American holidaymakers visiting Cuba, which has been effectively closed to US tourism for the past 50 years.

The CTO was looking forward to engaging Cuba in its programmes in the United States, which is the region's biggest source market, sending over 12 million visitors last year.

"Any opportunity to substantially increase that number will be welcomed," it said in a statement.

Cuba has been a member of the CTO since 1992 and has been included in its marketing efforts in Canada, Latin America and Europe but never before in the US. The closest it came was in 2002 when the CTO managed to secure a visa for the then Cuban coordinator of international affairs in the country's ministry of tourism to attend Caribbean Week in New York.

Following the restoration of diplomatic relations between Cuba and the US, the CTO said it anticipates 'much broader participation in all CTO-organised events'. (TravelMole)

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AirAsia passengers might have drowned after aircraft may have made an emergency landing on water

ASIA - Experts believe the ill-fated AirAsia flight QZ8501 may have made an emergency landing on water only to be overwhelmed by high seas before sinking.

Evidence found so far pointing to this theory includes the discovery of an emergency exit door and an inflatable slide, which may suggest the evacuation process had started.

The main fuselage, resting on the seabed, is also thought to be largely intact.

Passengers may have been waiting for flight crew to inflate a life raft when the plane was hit by high waves, says former transport minister Jusman Syafii Djamal.

"High waves may have hit the plane, the nose, and sunk the plane," he said.

Another aviation expert says the experienced captain, a former air force fighter pilot, brought the plane down onto the water which did not have a destructive impact.

"The pilot managed to land it on the sea's surface," said Dudi Sudibyo, a senior editor of aviation magazine Angkasa.

"The emergency locator transmitter would work on impact, be that land or sea, and my analysis is it didn't work because there was no major impact during landing,"

The plane which departed from Surabaya carrying 162 people to Singapore disappeared en route.

Full details and the cause of the crash will remain a mystery until the black box flight recorder is recovered, which investigators said could take a week.

Officials have confirmed that debris and bodies found in the sea near Borneo are from the missing AirAsia Flight QZ8501.

Bambang Soelistyo, who is leading the search operation, told a press conference a shadow was seen under water which appeared to be in the shape of a plane.

The news conference, shown live on Indonesian TV and watched by relatives of missing passengers, also showed bodies floating on the water.

Soelistyo said all resources were now being sent to the area where the debris was found.

At least 30 ships, 15 aircraft and seven helicopters are taking part in the search operation.

AirAsia CEO Tony Fernandes said he was devastated and tweeted: "My heart is filled with sadness for all the families involved in QZ 8501. On behalf of AirAsia my condolences."

Flight QZ 8501 was carrying 137 adult passengers, 17 children and one infant, plus two pilots and five crew.

Most of the passengers were Indonesian but also included a Malaysian, a Singaporean, three South Koreans and one UK national, confirmed to be Mr Choi Chi Man. (TravelMole)

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