Afghanistal US Consular Information Sheet March 03, 2009
Afghanistan has made significant progress since the Taliban were deposed in 2001, but still faces daunting challenges, including de
A passport and valid visa are required to enter and exit Afghanistan. Afghan entry visas are not available at Kabul International Airport or any other ports of entry in Afghanistan. American citizens who arrive without a visa are subject to confiscation of their passport and face heavy fines and difficulties in retrieving their passport and obtaining a visa, as well as possible deportation from the country. Americans arriving in the country via military air usually have considerable difficulties if they choose to depart Afghanistan on commercial air, because their passports are not stamped to show that they entered the country legally. Those coming on military air should move quickly after arrival to legalize their status if there is any chance they will depart the country on anything other than military air. Visit the Embassy of Afghanistan web site at http://www.embassyofafghanistan.org for the most current visa information. The Consular office of the Embassy of Afghanistan is located at 2233 Wisconsin Avenue NW, Suite 216, Washington, DC 20007, phone number 202-298-9125. Information about dual nationality or the prevention of international child abduction can be found on our web site. For further information about customs regulations, please read our Customs Information sheet.
SAFETY AND SECURITY:
The latest Travel Warning for Afghanistan emphasizes that the security situation remains critical for American citizens. The Taliban and associated insurgent groups, al-Qaida network terrorist organizations, and narco-traffickers oppose the strengthening of a democratic government. These groups aim to weaken or bring down the Government of Afghanistan and to drive Westerners out of the country. They do not hesitate to use violence, including targeting civilians. Terrorist activities may include, but are not limited to bombings -- including improvised explosive devices and car bombs -- assassinations, carjackings, rocket attacks, assaults and kidnappings. There were over 120 suicide attacks in 2008. There is an ongoing threat to attack and kidnap U.S. citizens and Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) workers throughout the country. In 2008,, more than 30 NGO workers were killed (six foreigners) and at least 78 NGO staff members (seven foreigners) were abducted. Over 25 other foreign civilians, including journalists, were kidnapped. Kabul continues to experience suicide bombings against Afghan government personnel and installations, Afghan and coalition military assets, and international civilians. Riots -- sometimes violent -- have occurred in response to various political or other issues. Crime, including violent crime, remains a significant problem. Official Americans' use of the Kabul-Jalalabad, Kabul-Kandahar highways and other roads throughout the country is often restricted or completely curtailed because of security concerns. Insurgents continue to use roadside and car bombs to conduct attacks and abductions along major highways. Millions of unexploded land mines and other ordinance present a constant danger. The country faces a difficult period in the near term, and American citizens could be targeted or placed at risk by unpredictable local events. Americans should not come to Afghanistan unless they have made arrangements in advance to address security concerns. The absence of records for ownership of property, differing laws from various regimes and the chaos that comes from decades of civil strife have left property issues in great disorder. Afghan-Americans returning to Afghanistan to recover property, or Americans coming to the country to engage in business, have become involved in complicated real estate disputes and have faced threats of retaliatory action, including kidnapping for ransom and death. Large parts of Afghanistan are extremely isolated, with few roads, mostly in poor condition, irregular cell phone signals, and none of the basic physical infrastructure found in Kabul or the larger cities. Americans traveling in these areas who find themselves in trouble may not even have a way to communicate their difficulties to the outside world. For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs’ web site, where the current Travel Warnings and Travel Alerts, as well as the Worldwide Caution, can be found. Up-to-date information on safety and security can also be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll-free in the U.S. and Canada, or for callers outside the U.S. and Canada, a regular toll line at 1-202-501-4444. These numbers are available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays). The Department of State urges American citizens to take responsibility for their own personal security while traveling overseas. For general information about appropriate measures travelers can take to protect themselves in an overseas environment, see the Department of State’s pamphlet A Safe Trip Abroad.
A large portion of the Afghan population is unemployed, and many among the unemployed have moved to urban areas. Basic services are rudimentary or non-existent. These factors may directly contribute to crime and lawlessness. Diplomats and international relief workers have reported incidents of robberies and household burglaries as well as kidnappings and assault. Any American citizen who enters Afghanistan should remain vigilant for possible banditry, including violent attacks.
INFORMATION FOR VICTIMS OF CRIME:
The loss or theft abroad of a U.S. passport should be reported immediately to the local police and to the U.S. Embassy in Kabul. If you are the victim of a crime while overseas, in addition to reporting to local police, please contact the U.S. Embassy in Kabul for assistance. The Embassy staff can, for example, assist you to find appropriate medical care, contact family members or friends and explain how funds could be transferred. Although the investigation and prosecution of the crime is solely the responsibility of local authorities, consular officers can help you to understand the local criminal justice process and to provide a list of attorneys if needed. The local equivalent to the "911" emergency line in Afghanistan is: 119 Please see our information on Victims of Crime, including possible victim compensation programs in the United States.
While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country's laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law. Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses. Persons violating Afghanistan’s laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned. During the last several years, there have been incidents involving the arrest and/or detention of U.S. citizens. Arrested Americans have faced periods of detention—sometimes in difficult conditions—while awaiting trial. Penalties for possession or use of, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Afghanistan are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines. Another sensitive activity is proselytizing. Although the Afghan Constitution allows the free exercise of religion, proselytizing is often viewed as contrary to the beliefs of Islam and considered harmful to society. Proselytizing may lead to arrest and/or deportation. Engaging in sexual conduct with children or using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is a crime, prosecutable in the United States. Please see our information on Criminal Penalties.
Because of the poor infrastructure in Afghanistan, access to banking facilities is limited and unreliable. Afghanistan's economy operates on a "cash-only" basis for most transactions. Credit card transactions are not available. International bank transfers are limited. Some ATM machines exist at Standard Charter Bank and Afghan International Bank (AIB) in the Wazir Akbar Khan neighborhood of Kabul, but some travelers have complained of difficulties using them. International communications are difficult. Local telephone networks do not operate reliably. Most people rely on satellite or cellular telephone communications even to make local calls. Cellular phone service is available locally in Kabul and some other cities, but can be unreliable. Injured or distressed foreigners could face long delays before being able to communicate their needs to family or colleagues outside of Afghanistan. Internet access through local service providers is limited. In addition to being subject to all Afghan laws, U.S. citizens who are also citizens of Afghanistan may also be subject to other laws that impose special obligations on Afghan citizens. U.S. citizens who are also Afghan nationals do not require visas for entry into Afghanistan. The Embassy of Afghanistan issues a letter confirming your nationality for entry into Afghanistan. However, you may wish to obtain a visa as some Afghan-Americans have experienced difficulties at land border crossings because they do not have a visa in their passport. For additional information on dual nationality in general, see the Consular Affairs home page for our dual nationality flyer. U.S. citizens are encouraged to carry a copy of their U.S. passport with them at all times, so that, if questioned by local officials, proof of identity and U.S. citizenship is readily available. As stated in the Travel Warning, consular assistance for American citizens in Afghanistan is limited. Islam provides the foundation of Afghanistan's customs, laws and practices. Foreign visitors -- men and women -- are expected to remain sensitive to the Islamic culture and not dress in a revealing or provocative manner, including the wearing of sleeveless shirts and blouses, halter-tops and shorts. Women in particular, especially when traveling outside of Kabul, may want to ensure that their tops have long sleeves and cover their collarbone and waistband, and that their pants/skirts cover their ankles. Almost all women in Afghanistan cover their hair in public; American women visitors should carry scarves for this purpose. Afghan customs authorities may enforce strict regulations concerning temporary importation into or export from Afghanistan of items such as firearms, alcoholic beverages, religious materials, antiquities, medications, and printed materials. American travelers have faced fines and/or confiscation of items considered antiquities upon exiting Afghanistan. It is advisable to contact the Embassy of Afghanistan in Washington for specific information regarding customs requirements. Travelers en route to Afghanistan may transit countries that have restrictions on firearms, including antique or display models. If you plan to take firearms or ammunition to another country, you should contact officials at that country's embassy and those that you will be transiting to learn about their regulations and fully comply with those regulations before traveling. Please consult http://www.customs.gov for information on importing firearms into the United States. Please see our Customs Information sheet.
MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION:
Well-equipped medical facilities are few and far between throughout Afghanistan. European and American medicines are available in limited quantities and may be expensive or difficult to locate. There is a shortage of basic medical supplies. Basic medicines manufactured in Iran, Pakistan, and India are available, but their reliability can be questionable. Several western-style private clinics have opened in Kabul: the DK-German Medical Diagnostic Center (www.medical-kabul.com), Acomet Family Hospital (www.afghancomet.com), and CURE International Hospital (ph. 079-883-830) offer a variety of basic and routine-type care; Americans seeking treatment should request American or Western health practitioners. Afghan public hospitals should be avoided. Individuals without government licenses or even medical degrees often operate private clinics; there is no public agency that monitors their operations. Travelers will not be able to find Western-trained medical personnel in most parts of the country outside of Kabul, although there are some international aid groups temporarily providing basic medical assistance in various cities and villages. For any medical treatment, payment is required in advance. Commercial medical evacuation capability from Afghanistan is limited and could take days to arrange. Even medevac companies that claim to service the world may not agree to come to Afghanistan. Those with medevac insurance should confirm with the insurance provider that it will be able to provide medevac assistance to this country. There have been outbreaks of Avian Influenza in poultry in Afghanistan, to include the areas of Nangahar, Laghman, and Wardak provinces, and in the city of Kabul, however, there have been no reported cases of the H5N1 virus in humans. Updates on the Avian Influenza situation in Afghanistan are published on the Embassy’s web site at http://kabul.usembassy.gov/information_for_travelers.html. For additional information on Avian Influenza, please refer to the Department of State's Avian Influenza Fact Sheet available at http://travel.state.gov/travel/tips/health/health_1181.html Tuberculosis is an increasingly serious health concern in Afghanistan. For further information, please consult the CDC's Travel Notice on TB. http://wwwn.cdc.gov/travel/yellowBookCh4-TB.aspx| The U.S. Department of State is unaware of any HIV/AIDS entry restrictions for visitors to or foreign residents of Afghanistan. However, if one has questions, please inquire directly with the Embassy of Afghanistan at http://www.embassyofafghanistan.org before you travel. Information on vaccinations and other health precautions, such as safe food and water precautions and insect bite protection, may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s hotline for international travelers at 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747) or via the CDC’s web site. For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad, consult the World Health Organization’s (WHO) web site. Further health information for travelers is available from the WHO.
The Department of State strongly urges Americans to consult with their medical insurance company prior to traveling abroad to confirm whether their policy applies overseas and whether it will cover emergency expenses such as a medical evacuation. Please see our information on medical insurance overseas. TRAFFIC
SAFETY AND ROAD CONDITIONS:
While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. The information below concerning Afghanistan is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance. All drivers face the potential danger of encountering improvised-explosive devices and land mines that may have been planted on or near roadways. An estimated 5-7 million landmines and large quantities of unexploded ordinance exist throughout the countryside and alongside roads, posing a danger to travelers. Robbery and kidnappings are also prevalent on highways outside of Kabul. The transportation system in Afghanistan is marginal, although the international community is constructing modern highways and provincial roads. Vehicles are poorly maintained, often overloaded, and traffic laws are not enforced. Vehicular traffic is chaotic and must contend with numerous pedestrians, bicyclists and animals. Many urban streets have large potholes and are not well lit. Rural roads are not paved. Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information.
AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT:
As there is no direct commercial air service to the United States by carriers registered in Afghanistan, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not assessed Afghanistan’s Civil Aviation Authority for compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards. For more information, travelers may visit the FAA’s internet website at http://www.faa.gov/safety/programs_initiatives/oversight/iasa. U.S. Government personnel are not authorized to travel on Ariana Afghan Airlines or any other airline falling under the oversight of the Government of Afghanistan’s Civil Aviation Authority, owing to safety concerns; however, U.S. Government personnel are permitted to travel on international flights operated by airlines from countries whose civil aviation authorities meet international aviation safety standards for the oversight of their air carrier operations under the FAA’s International Aviation Safety Assessment (IASA) program.
For information see our Office of Children’s Issues web pages on intercountry adoption and international parental child abduction. R
EGISTRATION / EMBASSY LOCATION:
Americans living or traveling in Afghanistan are encouraged to register with the U.S. Embassy through the State Department’s travel registration web site and to obtain updated information on travel and security within Afghanistan. Americans without internet access may register directly with the U.S. Embassy. By registering, American citizens make it easier for the Embassy or Consulate to contact them in case of emergency. The U.S. Embassy is located in Kabul on Great Massoud (Airport) Road, local phone number 0700-108-001 or 0700-108-002, and for emergencies after hours 0700-201-908. The web site is http://kabul.usembassy.gov/ * * * * * This replaces the Country Specific Information dated June 16, 2008 to update sections on Country Description, Entry/Exit Requirements, Safety and Security, Information for Victims of Crime, Criminal Penalties, Special Circumstances, and Medical Facilities and Health Information.
Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS
Kabul, April 29, 2020 (AFP) - A suicide bomber killed at least three people and wounded 15 others after detonating explosives near a military outpost in Kabul on Wednesday, an official confirmed, in the first attack to rock the Afghan capital in weeks. Interior ministry spokesman Tareq Arian confirmed the toll, calling the blast "a crime by the enemy of Afghanistan against civilians during the month of Ramadan". The attack appeared to target an Afghan special forces camp on the outskirts of Kabul, a security source told AFP.
No group has claimed responsibility for the incident, but Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said they were investigating whether their fighters were behind the attack. The blast comes as violence has surged across Afghanistan, with the UN reporting earlier this week that attacks spiked in the country following the signing of a landmark US and Taliban agreement in late February that was supposed to lay the groundwork for a peace process. Recent attacks have mostly been limited to rural areas and small towns. Under the US-Taliban deal, the insurgents have agreed not to attack cities.
The agreement established a framework for bringing to an end America's longest war following the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 that toppled the Taliban regime only for them to re-emerge and launch a deadly insurgency. But planned talks between the Kabul government and Taliban have derailed in recent weeks. Dozens of Afghan security forces and Taliban fighters have been dying almost daily with civilian casualties rising across the country as both sides ramp up operations. Kabul has been spared most of the violence. However, a string of attacks targeting minority groups proves the capital remains vulnerable to militants.
Kabul, Feb 24, 2020 (AFP) - Afghanistan has detected its first novel coronavirus case, the country's health minister said Monday, a day after Kabul announced it would suspend air and ground travel to Iran, where 12 people have died from the outbreak. "I announce the first positive coronavirus (case) in Herat," health minister Firozuddin Feroz told a press conference, calling on citizens to avoid travel to the western province which borders Iran.
A trade route through this valley has been used by travellers since antiquity
A map of this region can be found at
Although Xinjiang in Western China has reportedly 75 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 1 death (assessed 16 Feb 2020 at 9:43 PM EST) (<https://gisanddata.maps.arcgis.com/apps/opsdashboard/index.html#/bda7594740fd40299423467b48e9ecf6>), spread of COVID-19 to this very remote region in Afghanistan, that is easily cut off from the rest of the world especially in winter, seems unlikely. Also, 43% of deaths (15/35) occurred in children, which would be unusual for COVID-19. However, we are not told the clinical presentation of the illness, nor how a diagnosis of "pneumonia" was made in this undeveloped region. Other diagnoses, such as influenza, are also possible. More information from knowledgeable sources would be appreciated. - ProMED Mod.ML]
May 21, 2008
The Union of the Comoros is a developing nation located in the Indian Ocean off the east coast of Africa.
Comoros consists of three islands, Ngazidja (also known
A fourth island, Mayotte, is claimed by Comoros but remains a territory of France.
Ngazidja is home to the capital city, Moroni, and is the most developed of the three islands.
Facilities for tourism are limited and telecommunication links are unreliable.
French, Arabic, Swahili, and Comorian Creole are spoken.
Read the Department of State Background Notes on the Union of Comoros for additional information.
A passport and onward/return ticket are required.
Visas are available from the Comoran Mission to the United Nations in New York; American citizens visiting Comoros can obtain a free, 24-hour transit visa upon entry.
The following day, visitors are required to go to the immigration office in Moroni to change their visa status.
A fee is charged, depending on length of stay.
Travelers should obtain the latest details from the Mission of the Union of Comoros, 420 East 50th Street, New York, NY 10022; telephone number (212) 972-8010, fax (212) 983-4712.
Information about dual nationality or the prevention of international child abduction can be found on our web site.
For further information about customs regulations, please read our Customs Information sheet.
SAFETY AND SECURITY:
Comoros has experienced frequent strikes and civil unrest, resulting in violent clashes between police and demonstrators.
The most recent unrest involved the de facto separation of Anjouan from the Union government.
In March 2008, Union forces re-took Anjouan and are preparing the island for elections.
The former leader of Anjouan, Mohamed Bacar, has applied for asylum with France and is being held on the French Island of Reunion while his asylum claims is adjudicated.
As the government completes the transition to constitutional federalism and as Bacar’s asylum claim is pending, periodic strikes and protests will likely continue to occur.
U.S. citizens should avoid political rallies and street demonstrations as even demonstrations intended to be peaceful can turn confrontational and possibly escalate into violence.
American citizens are therefore urged to avoid the areas of demonstrations if possible, and to exercise caution if within the vicinity of any demonstrations.
Conditions are subject to rapid change on each of the three islands of the Comoros due to weak political institutions and a lack of economic development.
In a rare, apparently religious-based attack, a clinic run by a foreign Christian organization was firebombed on the island of Grande Comore in August 2007.
Religious intolerance and religious-based violence remain very unusual in Comoros.
Although foreign residents and visitors have not been targeted, the potential for further outbreaks of civil disorder remains high, and Americans should exercise caution and good judgment, keep a low profile, and remain vigilant with regard to their personal security.
U.S. citizens are encouraged to register with the U.S. Embassy in Antananarivo, Madagascar, if visiting or residing in Comoros.
Embassy contact information is provided below.
For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department’s web site, where the current Travel Warnings and Public Announcements, including the Worldwide Caution, can be found.
Up-to-date information on safety and security can also be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll free in the U.S. and Canada, or for callers outside the U.S. and Canada, a regular toll-line at 1-202-501-4444.
These numbers are available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays).
The Department of State urges American citizens to take responsibility for their own personal security while traveling overseas.
For general information about appropriate measures travelers can take to protect themselves in an overseas environment, see the Department of State’s pamphlet A Safe Trip Abroad.
U.S. travelers are advised to be vigilant against pick-pocketing and other forms of petty crime when visiting crowded market areas, parks, and at the beaches.
Violent crime is uncommon.
The most commonly reported crime is breaking into homes.
INFORMATION FOR VICTIMS OF CRIME:
The loss or theft abroad of a U.S. passport should be reported immediately to the local police and the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate.
If you are the victim of a crime while overseas, in addition to reporting to local police, please contact the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate for assistance.
The Embassy/Consulate staff can, for example, help you find appropriate medical care, to contact family members or friends and explain how funds could be transferred.
Although the investigation and prosecution of the crime is solely the responsibility of local authorities, consular officers can help you to understand the local criminal justice process and to find an attorney if needed.
See our information on Victims of Crime.
MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION:
Medical facilities in Comoros are poorly equipped.
Travelers should bring their own supplies of prescription drugs and preventive medicines. Malaria is prevalent in Comoros.
Travelers to Comoros should take malaria prophylaxis.
The serious and sometimes fatal strain of malaria, P. falciparum, is resistant to the anti-malarial drug chloroquine.
Because travelers to Comoros are at high risk for contracting malaria, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advises that travelers should take one of the following antimalarial drugs: mefloquine (Lariam™), doxycycline, or atovaquone/proguanil (Malarone™).
The CDC has determined that a traveler who is on an appropriate antimalarial drug has a greatly reduced chance of contracting the disease.
In addition, other personal protective measures, such as the use of insect repellents, help to reduce malaria risk.
Travelers who become ill with a fever or flu-like illness while traveling in a malaria-risk area and up to one year after returning home should seek prompt medical attention and tell the physician their travel history and what antimalarials they have been taking.
For additional information on malaria, protection from insect bites, and anitmalarial drugs, please visit the CDC Travelers' Health web pages.
The East African Indian Ocean islands have seen a rise in the cases of chikungunya, a viral dengue-like ailment, and dengue itself.
As with malaria, chikungunya and dengue are transmitted by mosquitoes.
Every effort should be made to use repellants, proper clothing and barriers that discourage/prevent mosquito bites.
The CDC web site contains further information on chikungunya at http://www.cdc.gov/ncidod/dvbid/chikungunya/ and dengue at http://wwwn.cdc.gov/travel/yellowBookCh4-DengueFever.aspx.
There have been occurrences of measles in Comoros, with outbreaks of greater severity on the islands of Anjouan and Moheli.
Travelers are advised to ensure that their measles vaccinations are up to date.
Further, information on vaccinations and other health precautions, such as safe food and water precautions and insect bite protection, may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s hotline for international travelers at 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747) or via the CDC’s web site at http://wwwn.cdc.gov/travel/default.aspx.
For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad consult the World Health Organization’s (WHO) web site at http://www.who.int/en.
Further health information for travelers is available at http://www.who.int/ith.
The Department of State strongly urges Americans to consult with their medical insurance company prior to traveling abroad to confirm whether their policy applies overseas and if it will cover emergency expenses such as a medical evacuation.
Please see our information on medical insurance overseas.
TRAFFIC SAFETY AND ROAD CONDITIONS:
While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States.
The information below concerning Comoros is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.
In Comoros, one drives on the right side of the street.
Roads are ill-maintained, congested, very narrow and poorly lit at night.
Travelers should exercise extreme caution when driving after dark.
Most urban roads are paved, but many rural roads are not.
Many roads are full of potholes and dangerous curves.
Most roads have no posted speed limits, but road conditions limit speeds to below 30 miles an hour.
Drivers and front seat passengers are required to wear seat belts.
There are no laws regarding child safety seats.
There are no organizations in Comoros that provide emergency or roadside assistance.
Individuals involved in accidents rely on passersby for assistance.
Taxis or a rental car with driver are preferable to public transportation.
Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information.
AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT:
As there is no direct commercial air service to the United States by carriers registered in Comoros, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not assessed Comoros’ Civil Aviation Authority for compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards. For more information, travelers may visit the FAA’s web site at http://www.faa.gov/safety/programs_initiatives/oversight/iasa.
SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES: While religions other than Islam are permitted in Comoros, evangelization is illegal.
Violators of this law can be fined or imprisoned.
Few establishments accept credit cards in the Comoros and most prefer Comoran Francs or Euros to dollars.
Please see our Customs Information.
CRIMINAL PENALTIES: While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country's laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law.
Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses.
Persons violating the laws of Comoros, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested, or imprisoned.
Penalties for possession, use or trafficking in illegal drugs in Comoros are strict, with convicted offenders receiving a mandatory minimum five-year jail sentence and heavy fines.
Engaging in sex with children or using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is a crime, prosecutable in the United States.
Please see our information on Criminal Penalties.
For information see our Office of Children’s Issues web pages on intercountry adoption and international parental child abduction.
REGISTRATION / EMBASSY LOCATION:
The United States has no Embassy in Comoros.
Americans living or traveling in Comoros are encouraged to register with the U.S. Embassy in Antananarivo, Madagascar through the State Department's travel registration web site, and to obtain updated information on travel and security within Comoros.
Americans without Internet access may register in person at the U.S. Embassy in Antananarivo.
By registering, American citizens make it easier for the Embassy to contact them in case of emergency. The U.S. Embassy is located at 14-16 Rue Rainitovo, Antsahavola, Antananarivo.
The mailing address is B.P. 620, Antsahavola, Antananarivo, Madagascar; telephone  (20) 22-212-57; fax  (20) 22-345-39.
The Embassy web site is http://www.usmission.mg/.
This replaces the Country Specific Information dated October 26, 2007 to update the section on Safety and Security.
Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS
Moroni, Comoros, April 26, 2020 (AFP) - Security forces in the Comoros have used teargas against Muslims who had congregated in mosques in violation of coronavirus lockdown rules, witnesses and a security source said on Sunday. The incidents occurred in two locations on the Comoros island of Anjouan, according to a security source who asked not to be named. A witness told AFP that "people were injured, most of them fled through the windows, one of them broke their foot", adding that "even this morning there was still a smell of gas in the area". President Azali Assoumani on Friday signed a decree strengthening anti-virus measures, which now include a nightly curfew.
The Comoros -- a predominantly Muslim Indian Ocean island group with around 40 percent of its population living in poverty according to the World Bank -- is one of few countries without any officially registered coronavirus cases. Opposition alliance the National Transitional Council condemned the action, saying Assoumani's army had "used teargas grenades and firearms against peaceful demonstrators" with the pretext of fighting against the spread of the coronavirus, "the existence of which he denies". In 2018, Anjouan was rocked by violent clashes between armed rebels opposed to Azali and the army that lasted for a week.
The number of reported cases has remained stable since the beginning of April  (on average, 4 to 5 reported cases per week). Since the beginning of the health alert, human cases have remained mainly in the center and northwest of the island." (<https://lejournaldemayotte.yt/2019/05/11/fievre-de-la-vallee-du-rift-a-mayotte-stabilite-du-nombre-de-nouveaux-cas/>).
By Philippe ALFROY
Bambao, Comoros, March 25, 2019 (AFP) - The Bambao hospital, nestled in a tropical forest on Anjouan island in the Comoros, was meant to bring state-of-the-art medical care to the poor Indian Ocean nation. Just two years later, the hospital is deep in debt and shunned by potential patients who find it too costly. "A poisoned chalice", "a colossus with feet of clay", "a sinking ship" are among the cliches that chief paediatrician Ahmed Rakibou used to describe the facility funded and built under a Chinese aid scheme. "If they had consulted us while building it, this could have been a jewel," the doctor said, regretting that "today it's all going straight to hell". The hospital is some 30 kilometres (about 20 miles) east of Mutsamudu, the capital of Anjouan, the poorest of the three islands comprising the Union of the Comoros.
The aim was to make the hospital a flagship of Comoran healthcare, with 120 beds in a brand-new building, a team of 167 staff, many recruited locally, and modern equipment including a digital radio scanner. China's ambassador to the Comoros, Xiao Ming, hailed a "new page in the annals of cooperation" at the opening ceremony, saying "public health has always had a priority place in Sino-Comoran cooperation". But a project that cost four billion Comoran francs (8.1 million euros, $9.2 billion) today looks more like a ghost ship, with a handful of patients wandering its corridors in stifling heat. For lack of funds, about 100 staff jobs have not been filled.
- 'Not many patients' -
In the emergency ward, a doctor silently examines a child's injured arm. The lethargic mood is broken only by the arrival of an ambulance carrying the victim of a motorcycle accident. "Our activity is very varied," nurse Ali Mosthadoi says cautiously before going further. "In fact, we don't have many patients."
Deputy director Sidi Chaanbane was more forthcoming. Since the hospital was opened by President Azali Assoumani in 2017, it has faced mounting difficulties, he said. "At the start, the road from Mutsamudu was in a very bad state and patients had trouble getting here," the administrator said. "It's been repaired since, but our real problem is that we sorely lack equipment and staff." In addition to staff salaries, the Comoran state provides just five million francs (10,000 euros) a month, but the hospital needs three times as much to pay its bills. "We can't balance the budget," Chaanbane said.
Day-to-day management is a nightmare. The scanner broke down soon after it was first used. Repairs were not covered by the Chinese cooperation agreement, so the hospital took out a loan to get the machine working again. The main problem is the cost of treatment, which is not free in the former French colony, independent since 1975. Much of the funding comes from the French Development Agency (AFD) in its aid budget. France still rules over the fourth major island in the archipelago, Mayotte. The three islands forming Comoros lack the standard of living on Mayotte and are far from able to make up the remaining health budget.
- 'Expensive' -
Rakibou said the hospital charges 125,000 Comoran francs for a Caesarean birth. "What Comoran can pay that?" he asks. "No -- this hospital is not made for the population." Kanissa Adbou, 27, brought her eight-year-old daughter who trod on a nail to the hospital. "The treatment is expensive. If I could afford it, I would go to Mayotte because there, hospital is free." Those who believed that providing a modern hospital on Anjouan would dissuade Comorans from trying their luck on Mayotte have been disappointed, although the trip is illegal. "People here prefer to pay 1,000 euros to go to Mayotte by kwassa kwassa (human traffickers' dugouts) than to come to us," a nurse said. "They trust only white doctors."
The failure to put the sophisticated equipment at Bambao to regular good use enrages Ahmed Abdallah, secretary general of the Hombo public hospital in Mutsamudu. "The money spent there would have been enough to repair our buildings, replace our equipment and build roads so that sick people could come from nearby villages," he said. "We don't have even a single ambulance, yet the government has I don't know how many four-wheel drives." Health Minister Fatma Mbaraka declined to respond to requests for comment from AFP. But Rakibou refuses to throw in the towel. He hopes that the winner of Sunday's presidential election and the international community will come up with increased funding. "It wouldn't take much to change our lives!" he said.
- since the beginning of the health alert, human cases have been located mainly in the centre and north west of the island, with nearly 60% of cases in Chiconi and Tsingoni.
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In addition to having people in close quarters even in "luxury liners" where maintaining a minimum of 6 feet (2 m) separation is virtually impossible, meals are often buffet style, with serving instruments shared by all. Imagine naval ships with more dormitory style quarters, perfect locations for rapid viral transmission. One can't help but wonder how many other naval vessels from multiple countries around the world are also experiencing similar outbreaks on their ships. - ProMed Mod.MPP]
Tokyo, Aug 23, 2017 (AFP) - Guam's number two politican Wednesday rolled out the welcome mat to tourists, promising his sun-kissed tropical island is safe -- despite North Korea's threat to launch missiles toward the Pacific US territory. Lieutenant Governor Raymond Tenorio made the comments in Tokyo where he was joined by Guam's tourism boss Jon Nathan Denight, amid fears that Pyongyang's sabre-rattling will hammer the key tourism industry.
Last year, Japanese tourists made up about half of the 1.5 million visitors to the island, which is about a four-hour flight from Tokyo. "We're one of the most protected and safe islands you'll find in the world," Tenorio told reporters at the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Japan. He added there was a big US military presence on Guam, a strategic outpost in the Pacific with its own missile defence system.
Added Denight: "Guam's brand image was built as a very safe and family-friendly destination. I want to reassure people of Japan that there has been no change and Guam is safe for travel." The unusual appeal to tourists comes several weeks after Pyongyang said it was considering firing a salvo of missiles toward the island -- prompting an angry reaction from US President Donald Trump.
Unlike Trump, however, Guam's 162,000-odd residents seem to be taking it all in stride, including Tenorio. "By and large, 99 percent of our population just go about their lives every single day. Things are normal on Guam," he said. "I have to admit sometimes it's really hard to do my job in my office. If you look outside...(from) where I'm sitting at my desk many times you'll see dolphins chasing the fish."
Hagatna, Guam, Aug 11, 2017 (AFP) - Tourism-dependent Guam is looking to cash in on its new-found fame as a North Korean missile target, tapping an unlikely promotional opportunity to attract visitors to the idyllic island and prove that all publicity is good publicity. Pyongyang's threats to launch four missile strikes near the US territory has stirred global curiosity in the remote Pacific destination, with it trending heavily on search engines as social media users wondered, "what is Guam?"
Although Guam hosts two US military installations and 6,000 US soldiers, making it the target of North Korea's wrath, tourism authorities are keen to dispel any impression of danger to the tranquil island and its secluded beaches. "The circumstances are unfortunate but this is a good opportunity for us to educate the world about Guam and our culture, about where we are, and who we are," said Josh Tyquiengco, marketing director at Guam Visitors Bureau, the official agency for the island.
"Guam is more than a military base. We are a safe family destination. We reassure potential visitors that we continue to be a safe... place to visit," Tyquiengco told AFP. Despite North Korea's threats to prepare plans within days that would surround Guam with "enveloping fire", fears of a potential attack have not deterred tourists from visiting Guam, he said. "We heard about a few booking cancellations from South Korea, but it's too minimal to affect the industry," he said.
Governor Eddie Calvo, in a briefing late Friday, said any attack on Guam "would be met with overwhelming force", pointing out that the biggest threat facing the island was the looming typhoon season. "With that, everybody should conduct their lives like business as usual. It's the weekend. Go out, have a good time, enjoy the beaches tomorrow and live your lives. "At this point, there are thousands of tourists coming in on a daily basis... from Japan, (South) Korea, Taiwan and China and other areas. It is our belief that they should enjoy themselves here."
As aircraft after aircraft -- packed with tourists -- landed Friday at Guam's international airport, the latest visitors to the island appeared untroubled by the prospect of missile strikes. Sun Doojin, who arrived with her husband and two-year-old daughter on a flight from Seoul, responded with an emphatic "no" when asked if she was concerned about an attack during her visit.
- 'A hidden gem' -
The Guam Daily Post, in an editorial, said the spotlight on the territory offered an opportunity to show the world why an island of 162,000 people draws more than 1.5 million tourists a year. "The beach waters are crystal clear, beaches aren't overrun, and nature hiking trails are very accessible. "The different cultures that are showcased on the island through food make Guam a hidden gem, a tropical vacation getaway but with the amenities and comforts of some of the small cities stateside."
Guam's history of earthquakes and typhoons mean its infrastructure is built to robust standards and authorities insist that the island is prepared for any emergency, including a North Korean strike. Homeland Security spokeswoman Jenna Gaminde told the Guam Daily News that in the event of an attack, residents would be immediately notified by sirens from the All-Hazards Alert Warning System located throughout the island. "If you hear the sirens, tune into local media -- radio, print, television -- for further instructions," she said.
Pyongyang has said it would take less than 18 minutes for a missile to cross the 3,400-kilometre (2,100-mile) distance to the US territory. In addition to the US military bases, Guam is also equipped with the sophisticated THAAD weapons system which is capable of destroying intermediate-range missiles in the final phase of flight.
Officials, however, have sought to brush off fears and say there has been no change in the threat level for now. "I don't think there's anything to worry about. No missile is going to land on Guam," said Carl Peterson, who serves on the Guam Chamber of Commerce's armed forces committee. "We've got defense mechanisms in place... they have the ability to seek out the missiles with kinetic energy and destroy it."
Miami, June 8, 2017 (AFP) - Five percent of women in the US territories who were infected with the Zika virus while pregnant had fetus or babies with defects, including microcephaly, government health data said Thursday. The report by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention covered the US territories of Guam, American Samoa, the US Virgin Islands, Micronesia, the Republic of Marshall Islands and Puerto Rico. The report is the first based on data from the US territories and the largest study of its kind to date.
CDC experts said the findings are consistent with previous findings about Zika cases in the mainland United States. "Women in the US territories and elsewhere who have continued exposure to mosquitoes carrying Zika are at risk of infection," said CDC acting director Anne Schuchat. "We must remain vigilant and committed to preventing new Zika infections." The rate of birth defects was slightly higher -- eight percent, or one in 12 -- in women whose infections were confirmed early in the pregnancy, during the first trimester, said the report.
The findings were based on the cases of 2,549 women with possible Zika virus infection who completed their pregnancies. Among these women, 1,508 had confirmed Zika virus infection from January 1, 2016 to April 25, 2017. Over 120 pregnancies resulted in Zika-associated birth defects, including infants born with unusually small heads, an irreversible condition known as microcephaly. Other complications in babies included seizures and problems with movement, coordination, eating and near constant crying.
Zika can be spread by the bite of infected mosquito or via sexual contact. Pregnant women are urged to avoid areas where Zika is spreading. Since Zika erupted on a large scale in mid-2015, more than 1.5 million people have been infected, mostly in Brazil and other countries in South America. Some 70 countries have been impacted. Zika may lead to an itchy rash and although it is dangerous for pregnant women and their fetuses, it often causes no symptoms in adults. In November 2016, the World Health Organization announced that the Zika virus outbreak no longer poses a world public health emergency, though it warned the epidemic remains a challenge.
Greece offers a great variety of attractions for the international traveller. A beautiful climate linked with great beaches, a vibrant nightlife and historical monuments to rival any other location throughout the world. All of this located
Situated in southern Europe the country enjoys mild winters but very hot summers. There may be occasional cool breezes (meltemia) but these can serve only to fool the traveller into thinking that they are unlikely to burn. Rain is very uncommon during the height of summer (July and August) and all travellers should be advised to use very adequate sun-block lotion at all times.
Slip, Slop, Slap
Following the Australian mantra of Slip, Slop and Slap makes perfect sense. Slip on a shirt, slop on sunscreen and slap on a hat when out and about during the day and this should help protect against the intense suns rays. Nevertheless, despite all their best intentions, travellers get burnt. This is particularly a problem in the first few days after their arrival when they do not realise the intensity of the suns rays and how easily they can be exposed. Falling asleep beside the hotel's swimming pool or on the beach is a very common problem and must be avoided against. The tips of the ears, shoulders (especially along the bra-strap line, ankles and behind the knees are commonly exposed and forgotten areas.
After Sun care
To treat significant sunburn it is important to increase fluid intake but also to take extra salt on your food (unless medically contraindicated for some specific condition like high blood pressure etc). Soothing water soluble lotions (especially ones containing a mild anaesthetic and/or steroid cream) are probably best but certainly avoid any of the ones which paste the skin with a thick layer - which is almost impossible to remove without causing serious pain! The more severe sunburn cases may need medical care and even hospitalisation which really ruins a holiday.
Food & Water
As a European destination Greece has a good level of food and water hygiene. Unfortunately this can vary - especially as you move away from the main tourist destinations and also as the summer temperatures rise and food goes 'off' more quickly. Eating hot food, avoiding cold foods (side-salads, lettuce etc) and never eating undercooked bivalve shellfish (mussels, oysters, clams etc) makes perfect sense. Eating food or taking fruit juice drinks from street vendors is a risk just not worth taking.
There may be both mosquitoes and sandflys about so having good repellents (DEET based ones) is worthwhile. The biggest problem will be early in the morning and towards the end of the daylight hours. However sitting in the shade while having lunch may be nice and cool but it is also often a place where these insects tend to hover looking for their next meal. Just don't allow that meal to be the blood in your unguarded ankle!
Seeing the Monuments
As mentioned previously Greece is covered with ancient monuments and these attract many thousands of tourists each year. The ruins are often not the most hospitable places for sun-sensitive tourists so taking care against the suns rays is essential - especially while standing carefully listening to the tour guide explain some complicated piece of history while the back of your legs get roasted! The other issue, for those trekking through the ruins, is the distinct possibility of a nasty twisted ankle.
Laser Night shows
Many of the ancient sites have beautiful night shows which depict something of the past splendour and are definitely worth seeing. However it is wise to wear good shoes as stumbling across loose stones is a particular problem at night and also bring a small torch, if possible, to guide your way. Getting separated from your travelling companions, or not being able to find your return bus, can lead to some understandable panic so listen carefully to any instructions and look out for some land marks before you get too far away into the night time crowd.
Some tourists may forget that rabies is a problem in many countries throughout the world and, even though Greece is regarded as rabies-free', there is always a problem if someone should get bitten. The possibility that this animal could have been recently smuggled into the country cannot be out ruled and so many would advise full post exposure treatment should this contact occur. Children may be at particular risk due to their inquisitive nature.
Sunburn and swimming go hand in hand but drowning can also occur all too frequently within this region. Strong currents, swimming after meals (or alcohol) and the ever popular romantic midnight swim are all serious risk factors. Also children running around the deep end of the pool may lose their footing and topple in without warning. Unfortunately a very small child sinks instantly with very little sign of the emergency to those close by. Parents need to keep aware of this risk at all times.
The summer working holiday
Many of our students head towards Greece for 2 to 3 months during the summer to work. The attractions are obvious but commonsense and sensible life-style choices are needed throughout their stay to lessen the risk of illness or them returning home with an infection they had not bargained for. Unfortunately many return home with life-long illnesses which have been contracted from a single unprotected sexual contact.
Vaccinations for Greece
As a general rule the usual travel vaccines are not recommended for most short-term travellers to this region. However for the student planning to spend a more prolonged period it would be sensible to consider cover against both Hepatitis A and Hepatitis B and also to check that their Tetanus cover is up-to-date.
This is still one of the most popular destinations for northern European travellers and, in the vast majority of cases, they will have a fantastic time with only good memories. Unfortunately some less prepared folks will end up with serious sunburn and other illnesses or diseases which perhaps are frequently associated with their own lack of care and protection rather than anything specific to this beautiful country.
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Athens, May 2, 2020 (AFP) - A 6.0 magnitude quake struck off the Greek island of Crete on Saturday but there were no immediate reports of casualties or damage. The Athens Geodynamic Institute said the epicentre was about 55 kilometres (35 miles) south of the city of Ierapetra. It hit at 1251 GMT (15:51 pm). "No victims or serious damage has been reported so far," a local police officer told AFP by telephone.
Tremors were felt across the island and landslides were reported on some roads in Lasithi, where Ierapetra is located, the fire service said. "Luckily the quake happened at a depth of 19 kilometres in the sea and there has not been any serious damage so far," said Giorgos Aspadrakis, the head of the fire brigade in Lasithi. "The quake went on for a long time," said Georgia Santamouri, 29, who lives at Heraklion -- almost 100 km from Ierapetra. "I was in bed. I was really scared in the beginning and I couldn't move initially but then I ran out," she said.
Greece is prone to earthquakes, with many occurring offshore. The last deadly quake occurred on the island of Kos in the Aegean Sea in July 2017. The 6.7-magnitude quake killed two people. The deadliest temblor in recent years struck the Athens region in 1999, killing 143 people.
Athens, April 23, 2020 (AFP) - Greece is extending coronavirus lockdown measures by a week to May 4, the government said Thursday. The country has managed to keep fatalities at a low level after registering its first virus death on March 12, despite a decade of cuts imposed on its public health system during the post-2010 debt crisis.
Supermarkets, banks and food delivery restaurants are among the few businesses still operating, and Greeks must inform authorities when leaving their homes for necessities, or risk fines. "Restrictive measures that apply until April 27 are extended by a week to May 4," government spokesman Stelios Petsas told reporters.
Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis next week will be announcing steps to remove some of the nationwide lockdown measures imposed on March 22, Petsas added. The relaxation of the restrictions is set to begin with a partial reopening of courts and land registers on April 27. The education ministry has also announced plans for final-year school pupils to hold university entry exams in June. Greece has so far officially announced 121 deaths, with 55 people still in intensive care.
Athens, April 7, 2020 (AFP) - Hundreds of Greek healthcare workers demonstrated on Tuesday to protest at working conditions and lack of manpower and equipment in public hospitals during the coronavirus pandemic. The demonstrations were staged to coincide with World Health Day, according to the federation of hospital personnel. "You only saw us when we covered our faces," proclaimed a poster printed by hospital trade unions, bearing a picture of doctors wearing anti-coronavirus masks. Demonstrators at the large Evangelismos hospital in central Athens held up signs demanding job hiring, virus testing and hospital equipment.
Police tried to enter the hospital courtyard where the rally was taking place before being forced back by demonstrators, an AFP photographer said. A similar protest was held at the main hospital in Larissa in central Greece, according to images from public television ERT. Despina Tossonidou, president of the doctors' union at Voula hospital in southern Athens, said that in addition to the hiring of medical staff, intensive care units in private clinics should be requisitioned "to overcome the shortcomings of the public sector" during the virus crisis. Health care in Greece was drastically affected by the country's 2010-2018 financial crisis and tough austerity required by creditors in exchange for bailouts.
As part of its measures to deal with the pandemic, the government has offered clinics 30 million euros ($32.6 million) and announced the hiring on short-term contracts of 2,000 doctors and 2,000 nursing staff. "These measures are just a drop in the ocean," said Tossonidou, a radiologist. "The hospital system needs 30,000 additional permanent doctors," she said, also citing the lack of protective equipment and COVID-19 testing in hospitals. "The majority of tests are currently carried out in private hospitals at costs ranging from 150 to 300 euros ($163-326)," said Tossonidou. Greece, a country of around 10.7 million people, has suffered relatively less than other European nations in the pandemic, recording 81 deaths out of 1,755 cases.
Athens, March 22, 2020 (AFP) - Greece will impose a nationwide lockdown to stem the spread of the coronavirus, limiting people to their homes except for essential outings, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said Sunday. "I have given orders that all appropriate action be taken to enforce the ban on all unnecessary movement across the country," Mitsotakis said in a televised address to the nation. The restrictions will come into force from 6:00 am local time (0400 GMT) on Monday, and will require citizens to carry proof of identity to leave their homes.
Outings are only permitted for people "going to work, the doctor, or to visit someone who needs help, or those who are buying food or medication", the prime minister said. Citizens are also permitted to leave the house to walk their pets or exercise outdoors alone or with one other person.
There are 15 recorded deaths and 624 infections from the coronavirus in Greece, which has a population of 11 million. Since reporting its first death from the virus on March 12, the country has gradually rolled out measures to limit gatherings and non-essential travel along with closing schools, shops and entertainment venues.
Athens, March 21, 2020 (AFP) - A strong 5.6 magnitude earthquake struck early Saturday in northwest Greece, damaging property in the city of Parga, authorities said. The quake struck at 0049 GMT (0249 local time), with the epicentre 11 kilometres (around six miles) from Parga in Kanalaki district, and 316 kilometres northwest of Athens, the Athens geodynamic observatory said. "No casualties have been reported at the moment," Parga mayor Nikolas Zacharias told AFP by telephone.
"Some old abandoned houses in Kanalaki collapsed and some houses suffered significant damage in this district of 2,500 inhabitants," Zaharias said, adding the temblor was strong throughout the area. Landslides partially damaged the region's roads, he added. Greece lies on major fault lines and is regularly hit by earthquakes, but they rarely cause casualties. In 2017, a 6.7-magnitude earthquake killed two people on the island of Kos in the Aegean sea, causing significant damage. In 1999, a 5.9-magnitude quake left 143 people dead in Athens and the region northwest of the capital.
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Riyadh, May 26, 2020 (AFP) - Saudi Arabia will end its nationwide coronavirus curfew from June 21, except in the holy city of Mecca, the interior ministry said Tuesday, after more than two months of stringent curbs. Prayers will also be allowed to resume in all mosques outside Mecca from May 31, the ministry said in a series of measures announced on the official Saudi Press Agency. The kingdom, which has reported the highest number of virus cases in the Gulf, imposed a full nationwide curfew during Eid al-Fitr, the Muslim holiday that marks the end of the fasting month of Ramadan.
The ministry said it will begin easing restrictions in a phased manner this week, with the curfew relaxed between 6 am and 3 pm between Thursday and Saturday. From Sunday until June 20, the curfew will be further eased until 8 pm, the ministry added. The kingdom will lift the lockdown entirely from June 21. "Starting from Thursday, the kingdom will enter a new phase (in dealing with the pandemic) and will gradually return to normal based on the rules of social distancing," Health Minister Tawfiq Al-Rabiah said on Monday. Saudi Arabia has reported around 75,000 coronavirus infections and some 400 deaths from COVID-19.
In March, Saudi Arabia suspended the year-round "umrah" pilgrimage over fears of the disease spreading in Islam's holiest cities. That suspension will remain in place, the interior ministry said. Authorities are yet to announce whether they will proceed with this year's hajj -- scheduled for late July -- but they have urged Muslims to temporarily defer preparations for the annual pilgrimage. Last year, some 2.5 million faithful travelled to Saudi Arabia from around the world to participate in the hajj, which Muslims are obliged to perform at least once during their lifetime.
Santiago, May 26, 2020 (AFP) - Chile registered a new high for coronavirus cases on Monday, with nearly 5,000 infections in 24 hours, including two ministers in President Sebastian Pinera's government. Health authorities announced 4,895 new infections in the South American country and 43 deaths.
Public Works Minister Alfredo Moreno and Energy Minister Juan Carlos Jobet said they were among those with the disease. "I have been informed that the COVID-19 test I had a few days ago was positive," Moreno said on Twitter, adding that he had no symptoms so far. The 63-year-old minister had placed himself in quarantine after one of his staff tested positive. Jobet also tested positive after starting to quarantine preventatively on Saturday, "when he experienced mild symptoms, which could be associated with the disease," a statement from the Energy Ministry said.
The 44-year-old minister "has had no direct contact with President Sebastian Pinera or other cabinet members in recent days," the statement said, without specifying how he became infected. Three other ministers, who had self-quarantined after being in contact with infected people, all tested negative and resumed work.
Chile suffered a surge in infections last week, prompting the government to order the lockdown of Santiago. The capital is the main focus of the pandemic in Chile, with 90 percent of the country's 74,000 cases. Last week, the Senate was closed after three senators tested positive for the coronavirus. Sessions were held by video conference.
Quito, May 25, 2020 (AFP) - Demonstrators defied coronavirus restrictions to march in cities across Ecuador on Monday in protest against President Lenin Moreno's drastic economic measures to tackle the crisis. Moreno last week announced public spending cuts including the closure of state companies and embassies around the world, but trade unions Monday said workers were paying a disproportionate price compared to Ecuador's elite. "This protest is because the government is firing workers to avoid making the rich pay," Mecias Tatamuez, head of the county's largest union, the Unitary Front of Workers (FUT), told reporters at a march in Quito.
Around 2,000 people marched in the capital, waving flags and banners and shouting anti-government slogans. The protesters wore masks and respected distancing measures recommended against the spread of the coronavirus that has caused at least 3,200 deaths in the country, making it South America's worst hit nation per capita. Authorities say more than 2,000 further deaths are likely linked to the virus.
Demonstrations took place in several other cities, including Guayaquil, the epicentre of Ecuador's health crisis, where union leaders said hundreds marched through the city. Moreno ordered the closure of Ecuadoran embassies, a reduction in diplomatic staff and scrapped seven state companies as part of measures designed to save some $4 billion. He also announced the liquidation of the TAME airline, which has lost more than $400 million over the last five years.
The government says the pandemic has so far cost the economy at least $8 billion. Public sector working hours have been cut by 25 percent, with an accompanying 16 percent pay cut. Moreno said on Sunday that 150,000 people had lost their jobs because of the coronavirus. Ecuador was struggling economically before the pandemic hit, due to high debt and its dependence on oil. The IMF predicts that the economy will shrink by 6.3 percent this year, the sharpest drop of any country in South America.
Dublin, May 25, 2020 (AFP) - Ireland recorded no new deaths from the coronavirus on Monday for the first time since March 21. Prime Minister Leo Varadkar called it a "significant milestone", adding on Twitter: "This is a day of hope. We will prevail."
The announcement came one week after Ireland, which has suffered 1,606 deaths from 24,698 infections, began to ease lockdown measures that had been in place for nearly two months. Ireland entered lockdown in late March, recording a peak of 77 deaths on a single day on April 20. "In the last 24 hours we didn't have any deaths notified to us," chief medical officer Tony Holohan said at a daily press briefing. He warned that the zero figure could be a result of a lag in reporting of deaths over the weekend, but he added: "It's part of the continued trend that we've seen in (the) reduction in the total number of deaths."
Ireland has announced a five-step plan to reopen the nation by August and took the first steps last Monday -- allowing outdoor employees to return to work, some shops to reopen and the resumption of activities such as golf and tennis. While the news of no fresh deaths was greeted as progress, officials remain concerned there will be a "second wave" as the lockdown is loosened. "The number of new cases and reported deaths over the past week indicates that we have suppressed COVID-19 as a country," Holohan added in a statement. "It will take another week to see any effect on disease incidence that might arise from the easing of measures."
Luxembourg, May 25, 2020 (AFP) - Luxembourg will ease its coronavirus restrictions on Wednesday, reopening cafes and restaurants and allowing civil and religious ceremonies under strict conditions, the government announced. The tiny country has so far registered only 3,993 COVID-19 cases, of which 110 have been fatal. Four people are in intensive care and shops were closed on March 18 to slow the spread of the new coronavirus.
Prime Minister Xavier Bettel told a news conference on Monday that eateries could reopen terraces with a maximum of four people at a single table. Indoor dining in cafes and restaurants will resume on Friday, he said, with social distancing of 1.5 metres (five feet) between groups. Marriages and funerals will also be allowed if the attendees wore face masks and kept two metres distance from each other. Bettel however said cafes and restaurants would have to close at midnight.
Francois Koepp, the general secretary of the Horeca federation grouping hotels, restaurants and cafes, welcomed the announcement, saying the sector had "greatly suffered from the confinement". He said it provided employment to some 21,000 people in this nation of 620,000 inhabitants. Cinema theatres and gyms will open at the end of the week but children's parks will remain closed. The government has pledged to give every citizen over 16 a voucher worth 50 euros ( $54) to spend in hotels to provide a boost to the sector. The vouchers will also be given to some 200,000 cross border workers from Belgium, France and Germany.
Prague, May 25, 2020 (AFP) - The Czech Republic and Slovakia will reopen their border this week for those travelling to the other country for up to 48 hours, Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis said Monday. "This will be possible without tests or quarantine" starting Wednesday, he added in a message posted on Twitter. The Czech Republic and Slovakia formed a single country until 1993. Babis himself was born in the Slovak capital of Bratislava.
Both countries have fared well in the current pandemic, with Slovakia posting the lowest death toll per capita in the EU and the Czech Republic keeping its COVID-19 figures down as well. The Czech government will also open border crossings with Austria and Germany on Tuesday but will still require negative COVID-19 tests from those entering the country. "We have negotiated similar conditions on the other side of the border with our German and Austrian colleagues," Interior Minister Jan Hamacek said. The interior ministry said blanket border checks would be replaced by random ones and added it would still not allow tourists into the country.
Czech Health Minister Adam Vojtech said the government was working on other measures to ease the travel restrictions adopted in mid-March. "We would like to introduce them next week," he added. Vojtech said EU citizens could now come to the Czech Republic "on business or to visit their family for a maximum of 72 hours if they submit a negative coronavirus test."
The country is also accessible to non-EU citizens who do seasonal jobs there, on condition they have tested negative. Czech restaurants, bars, hotels, castles, zoos and swimming pools have been open since Monday, when the government lifted many anti-virus measures. Czechs also no longer have to wear face masks outside their homes, except in shops and on public transport.
By Shafiqul ALAM
Dhaka, May 25, 2020 (AFP) - Some 15,000 Rohingya refugees are now under coronavirus quarantine in Bangladesh's vast camps, officials said Monday, as the number of confirmed infections rose to 29. Health experts have long warned that the virus could race through the cramped settlements, housing almost a million Muslims who fled violence in Myanmar, and officials had restricted movement to the area in April.
Despite this, the first cases in the camps were detected in mid-May. "None of the infections are critical. Most hardly show any symptoms. Still we have brought them in isolation centres and quarantined their families," Toha Bhuiyan, a senior health official in the surrounding Cox's Bazar area told AFP. He said narrow roads to three districts of the camps -- where the majority of the infections were detected -- have been blocked off by authorities.
The 15,000 Rohingya inside these so-called blocks faced further restrictions on their movement, he said. It comes as charity workers expressed fears over being infected in the camps as they worked without adequate protection. Two of the areas under isolation are in Kutupalong camp, home to roughly 600,000 Rohingya. "We are trying to scale up testing as fast as possible to make sure that we can trace out all the infected people and their contacts," Bhuiyan said.
Seven isolation centres with the capacity to treat more than 700 COVID-19 patients have been prepared, he said. Officials hope to have just under 2,000 ready by the end of May, he added. Mahbubur Rahman, the chief health official of Cox's Bazar, said authorities hoped this week they would double the number of tests being performed daily from 188. He said further entry restrictions have been imposed on the camp, with a 14 day quarantine in place for anyone visiting from Dhaka. "We are very worried because the Rohingya camps are very densely populated. We suspect community transmission (of the virus) has already begun," Rahman told AFP.
- 'Very little awareness' -
Bangladesh on Monday notched up a record single-day spike in coronavirus cases, with 1,975 new infections, taking the toll to 35,585 cases and 501 deaths. In early April authorities imposed a complete lockdown on Cox's Bazar district -- home to 3.4 million people including the refugees -- after a number of infections.
But a charity worker with one of the many aid organisations active in the camps said Monday he and many others were "very worried". "Fear and panic has gripped aid workers because many of us were forced to work without much protection," he told AFP without wishing to be named. "Social distancing is almost impossible in the camps. There is very little awareness about COVID-19 disease among the refugees, despite efforts by aid agencies."
The lack of information is exacerbated by local authorities having cut off access to the internet in September to combat, they said, drug traffickers and other criminals. More than 740,000 Rohingya fled a brutal 2017 military crackdown in Myanmar to Cox's Bazar, where around 200,000 refugees were already living.
Antananarivo, May 25, 2020 (AFP) - Madagascar's government has announced it will dispatch troops and doctors to an eastern town after several bodies were found in the streets and where two people died from the novel coronavirus. Madagascar's cabinet held a special meeting on Sunday to discuss the situation in Toamasina, the country's second largest city. The Indian Ocean island nation has registered 527 infections and two deaths, both in Toamasina.
Since Thursday, more than 120 new cases were confirmed, and several bodies were found in the city's streets though the cause of death was not clear. "Doctors must carry out thorough examinations to see if these deaths are caused by another illness (...) or if they are really due to severe acute respiratory problems which is the critical form of COVID-19," Professor Hanta Marie Danielle Vololontiana, spokesperson for the government's virus taskforce, said in a national broadcast on Sunday. The government will send 150 soldiers to reinforce Toamasina, maintain order and enforce measures against the coronavirus such as mask wearing and social distancing.
The cabinet also fired Toamasina's prefect without providing any explanation. A team was also ordered to distribute a drink based on artemisia, a plant recognised as a treatment against malaria, which the Malagasy authorities claim cures COVID-19. The potential benefits of this herbal tea, called Covid-Organics, have not been validated by any scientific study. The cabinet has also announced an investigation into the death of a doctor in Toamasina. According to local press, the victim was hospitalised after contracting COVID-19 and was found dead hanged in his room on Sunday morning.
By Bhuvan Bagga with Indranil Mukherjee in Mumbai
New Delhi, May 25, 2020 (AFP) - Domestic flights resumed in India on Monday even as coronavirus cases surge, while confusion about quarantine rules prompted jitters among passengers and the cancellation of dozens of planes. India had halted all flights within the country, and departing and leaving for abroad, in late March as it sought to stop the spread of coronavirus with the world's largest lockdown. But desperate to get Asia's third-largest economy moving again, the government announced last week that around 1,050 daily flights -- a third of the usual capacity -- would resume on Monday.
Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri said strict rules would include mandatory mask-wearing and thermal screenings, although middle seats on the aircraft would not be kept empty. The announcement reportedly caught airlines and state authorities off-guard, with several local governments announcing that passengers would have to go into quarantine for two weeks on arrival. Maharashtra, the Indian state with the highest number of coronavirus cases, capped at 50 the number of departures and arrivals in and out of its capital Mumbai.
Airlines scrapped dozens of flights on Monday while hundreds of passengers cancelled their bookings, reports said. The NDTV news channel said 82 flights to and from New Delhi had been cancelled and nine at Bangalore airport. Other flights from cities including infection hotspots Mumbai and Chennai were struck off, many at short notice, reports said. At Mumbai airport social distancing was forgotten as irate passengers harangued staff after their flights were cancelled at the last minute.
- 'Really scary' -
At New Delhi airport, hundreds of people anxious to get home but apprehensive about the risks queued from before dawn -- all wearing masks and standing at least one metre (three feet) apart. Security personnel behind plastic screens verified check-in documents and that passengers had the government contact tracing app, Aarogya Setu, on their phones.
"While I'm looking forward (to flying home), the idea of flying is really scary," student Gladia Laipubam told AFP as she stood in line. "Anything can happen. It's very risky. I don't really know when I'll be able to come back to Delhi now. There is no clarity from the university too at this time." One female airline employee wearing gloves, a mask and a protective face shield said she and many other colleagues felt "very nervous" about starting work again. "Dealing with so many people at this time is so risky. I must have interacted with at least 200 people since this morning," she told AFP, not wishing to be named.
Cabin crew on the planes had to wear full protective suits with masks, plastic visors and blue rubber gloves, and many were also confused about the rules, the Press Trust of India reported. "There is no clarity on whether I need to go into home quarantine for 14 days after returning to my base or show up for duty on Monday," one pilot told PTI. New coronavirus cases in India crossed 6,000 for the third consecutive day on Sunday, surging to a record single-day spike of 6,767 infections. The country has recorded almost 140,000 cases and over 4,000 deaths. Singh has said that international flights could resume in June, although dozens of special flights have in recent weeks brought back some of the hundreds of thousands of Indians stuck abroad.
Suva, Fiji, May 22, 2020 (AFP) - A huge fire at one of Suva's largest markets blanketed the Fijian capital in thick smoke before it was brought under control Friday, firefighters said. The blaze engulfed the Suva Flea Market, a major tourist attraction near the waterfront, sending plumes of acrid black smoke into the air. The National Fire Authority said an adjoining shop was also badly damaged but there were no reports of injuries. "It's been stopped now and no one was injured but that's all we can say at the moment," a spokesman told AFP. The said the cause of the fire was being investigated.