Tourists are abandoning the Dominican Republic after a spate of mysterious deaths

Tourists are abandoning the Dominican Republic after a spate of mysterious deaths

Dominican Republic is now safe the country's tourism minister promised as concern mounts about a spate of strange deaths including 9 in just 6 months.

Thirteen US visitors are believed to have died in or shortly after visiting the Caribbean nation in just over a year with a dozen travelers claiming they fell seriously ill after a trip.

The deaths have rocked the country which shares an island with Haiti, and led to the involvement of both the FBI and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention known as (CDC).

One resort the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino, has removed alcohol from the minibars in its guest rooms after it was revealed three of the dead fell ill after having an in-room drink. Counterfeit alcohol has been mooted as a cause of some of the illnesses.

Five autopsies of tourists who have died this year have concluded natural causes while three are undergoing further toxicological analysis. Those who have fallen ill have reported abdominal pain nausea and sweating.

Dominican Republic tourism minister Francisco Javier Garcia told reporters that the deaths are a statistical phenomenon. "We want the truth to prevail" he said. "There is nothing to hide here."

Media reports on the number of dead involved varies but this week Khalid Adkins from Denver was said to have been the 9th American tourist to die in the Dominican Republic since April. On Wednesday the 46 year old fell ill shortly after boarding a flight home at which point he was rushed to a local hospital where he died of kidney failure.

Earlier this week a 15 year-old Argentinian slipped into a coma on the island. Candela Saccone's family was told she was suffering from a diabetic condition though relatives said she had no history of the illness. The Dominican minister of health said she was "under control in a high quality hospital".

A surge in the number of holiday cancellations has followed news of the deaths, with 60 per cent of members of the American Society of Travel Advisors reporting customers pulling out of visits.

The Australian government's Smart Traveler website has not changed its advice since November last year. It advises travelers "exercise a high degree of caution" due to the high level of crime in the country, including warning that female travellers are at risk of sexual assault.

It also warns travelers about the risk of infectious diseases, including cholera, from water, ice cubes and uncooked or under cooked food.

The Dominican Republic has recently attempted to attract more luxury travellers, with the government investing $500m in re-purposing hotels bars and restaurants.

In an open letter published on June 18 Javier Garcia said the country was a "nation of happy, humble, emphatic and easy-going people with an innate sense of service, and that's why we want to send our sincerest condolences and solidarity to the families and friends of those affected."

"The National Police is working hard to complete the investigations so they can provide the answer these families are looking for" he said. "But as a responsible and law-abiding institution we want these investigations to follow due process and to be credible so that the families can receive the respect they deserve especially in these hard times.

"As far as we have been informed each one of the hotels involved have fully followed through with the established protocols and processes designed to respond immediately to these kinds of cases."

He said the ministry of tourism was working with hotels national authorities the FBI and the CDC "to accelerate the investigations and to keep the public informed as new findings arise" as well as to "reinforce safety conditions and quality control and beverages".

The first deaths in the country to raise the alarm were those of Edward Nathaniel Holmes 63 and Cynthia Ann Day 49 at the end of May found dead in their hotel rooms at the Grand Bahia Principe La Romana Resort in San Pedro de Macoris on the south east coast of the country.

An autopsy found the couple died of pulmonary edema the accumulation of fluid in the lungs but led others to question the circumstances around which relatives had fallen ill in the country.

The family of Miranda Schaup-Wener 41 who also died at the end of May at the Luxury Bahia Principe Bouganville hotel said she collapsed after having a drink from the minibar. An autopsy found she died of a heart attack.

Soon questions were being asked of more instances including deaths from 2018.

Tourists told CNN of "chemical smells" at different resorts in the Dominican Republic dating back as far as 2016 and suffering stomach cramps, diarrhoea and dizziness.

"The Dominican Republic probably has some indication of what it could be or what it might not be" Dr Amesh Adalja, from the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security told the Associated Press.

"The longer they keep everybody in suspense the worse it is going to be for the Dominican Republic especially when they are so dependent on tourism. Because the longer this goes on unexplained the longer people are going to be leery of going there."

Tourism minister Javier Garcia has been critical of media reports lumping the deaths together. "Speculating only directly affects hundreds of thousands of workers and families in the Dominican Republic and the income of millions of Dominicans who indirectly depend on tourism" he said.

In an interview with reporters he said: "What some media are describing as an avalanche of deaths does not correspond to the reality that we are living today in the Dominican Republic."

A number of British tour operators were asked whether they have issued guidance to their customers planning to travel to the country.

A spokesperson for Virgin Holidays in the UK said it was in liaison with Abta the travel association and the Dominican tourist board, adding: "Our ongoing dialogue with staff locally means they are equipped with the most up to date advice and guidance which they share with our customers on the ground to ensure they enjoy their holiday and remain safe too."

A spokesperson for Tui said the operator was aware of the reports. "We would like to reassure customers that these are isolated incidents in separate hotels," the spokesperson said. "Safety and well being of our customers is our highest priority. Holidays are continuing as normal and if we are made aware of any reason why they may not, we will contact customers directly."

The FCO makes no reference to food and drink safety in the Dominican Republic but says there have been cases of chikungunya virus and dengue fever.

In 2002, food hygiene in the country came under scrutiny after it was reported that British holidaymakers stood a one-in-three chance of falling ill.

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