WORLD NEWS

Getting countries ...
Select countries and read reports below or

Anguilla

Anguilla US Consular Information Sheet
March 03, 2009
COUNTRY DESCRIPTION: Anguilla is a British overseas territory in the Caribbean, part of the British West Indies. It is a small but rapidly developing island with particularly well-developed
ourist facilities.

ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS:
The Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004 requires all travelers to and from the Caribbean, Bermuda, Panama, Mexico and Canada to have a valid passport to enter or re-enter the United States. U.S. citizens must have a valid U.S. passport if traveling by air, including to and from Mexico.
If traveling by sea, U.S. citizens can use a passport or passport card. We strongly encourage all American citizen travelers to apply for a U.S. passport or passport card well in advance of anticipated travel.
American citizens can visit travel.state.gov or call 1-877-4USA-PPT (1-877-487-2778) for information on how to apply for their passports.

In addition to a valid passport, U.S. citizens need onward or return tickets, and sufficient funds for their stay.
A departure tax is charged at the airport or ferry dock when leaving. For further information, travelers may contact the British Embassy, 19 Observatory Circle NW, Washington, DC
20008; telephone (202) 588-7800; or the nearest consulate of the United Kingdom in Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles, New York, Denver, Houston, Miami, Orlando, Seattle, or San Francisco. Visit the British Embassy web site for the most current visa information.

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:
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 A Safe Trip Abroad.

CRIME:
While Anguilla's crime rate is relatively low, both petty and violent crimes
do occur. Travelers should take common-sense precautions to ensure their personal security, such as avoiding carrying large amounts of cash or displaying expensive jewelry. Travelers should not leave valuables unattended in hotel rooms or on the beach. They should use hotel safety deposit facilities to safeguard valuables and travel documents. Similarly, they should keep their lodgings locked at all times, whether they are present or away, and should not leave valuables in their vehicles, even when locked.

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 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 find an attorney if needed.

The local emergency line in Anguilla is 911.
See our information on Victims of Crime.

MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION:
There is only one hospital, Princess Alexandra Hospital (telephone: 264-497-2551), and a handful of clinics on Anguilla, so medical facilities are limited.
Serious problems requiring extensive care or major surgery may require evacuation to the United States, often at considerable expense.

There are no formal, documented HIV/AIDS entry restrictions for visitors to and foreign residents of Anguilla, but there have been anecdotal reports of exclusion.
Please verify this information with the British Embassy 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.

MEDICAL INSURANCE:
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 Anguilla is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.

Unlike the U.S., traffic in Anguilla moves on the left. The few roads on the island are generally poorly paved and narrow. While traffic generally moves at a slow pace, with the increasing number of young drivers in Anguilla, there are occasional severe accidents caused by excessive speed. Although emergency services, including tow truck service, are limited and inconsistent, local residents are often willing to provide roadside assistance. For police, fire, or ambulance service dial 911.

Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information.
Visit the Government of Anguilla web site for further road safety information.

AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT:
Civil aviation operations in Anguilla fall under the jurisdiction of British authorities. The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the Government of the United Kingdom’s Civil Aviation Authority as being in compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards for oversight of Anguilla’s air carrier operations.
For more information, travelers may visit the FAA web site.

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 Anguilla laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned.
Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Anguilla are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines.
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.

CHILDREN'S ISSUES:
For information see our Office of Children’s Issues web pages on intercountry adoption and international parental child abduction.

REGISTRATION / EMBASSY LOCATION:
Americans living or traveling in Anguilla are encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate through the State Department's travel registration web site and to obtain updated information on travel and security within Anguilla. Americans without Internet access may register directly with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. By registering, American citizens make it easier for the Embassy or Consulate to contact them in case of emergency. The U.S. Embassy with consular responsibility over Anguilla is located in Bridgetown, Barbados in the Wildey Business Park in suburban Wildey, southeast of downtown Bridgetown.
The main number for the Consular Section is (246) 431-0225; after hours, the Embassy duty officer can be reached by calling (246) 436-4950.
Visit the U.S. Embassy Bridgetown online for more information.
Hours of operation are 8:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, except Barbadian and U.S. holidays.
* * *
This replaces the Country Specific Information for Anguilla dated April 2, 2008, to update sections on Country Description, Entry/Exit Requirements, Information for Victims of Crime, and Medical Facilities and Health Information.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Sat, 9 Sep 2017 19:31:32 +0200

Paris, Sept 9, 2017 (AFP) - France's meteorological agency on Saturday issued its highest warning for the Caribbean islands of St Martin and St Barts as Hurricane Jose bore down, three days after they were hit by Hurricane Irma.   The alert warned of a "dangerous event of exceptional intensity," with winds that could reach 120 kilometres (75 miles) per hour, and strong rains and high waves.

St Barts is a French overseas territory, as is the French part of St Martin, which is divided between France and the Netherlands.   Twelve people were killed on the two islands by Hurricane Irma, thousands of buildings were flattened and the authorities are struggling to control looting.   The French state-owned reinsurer CCR on Saturday estimated the damage at 1.2 billion euros ($1.4 billion).   Irma is now heading for Florida, where a total of 6.3 million people have been ordered to evacuate, according to state authorities.
Date: Tue 29 Apr 2014
Source: National Institute for Public Health and the Environment [edited]

1 Oct 2013-29 Apr 2014 (week 18) St Maarten - Since the last report (week 15 [17?]) 52 new cases have been confirmed among St Maarten residents. Up to 29 Apr 2014, now a total of 343 confirmed cases have been reported. One of these confirmed cases was hospitalized.

The median age of the confirmed patients was 44 years, range 4-92 years. Of those cases for which gender was available, 201 were female and 130 were male.

- On 6 Dec 2013, the 1st indigenous chikungunya [virus infection] case of St Maarten was reported. Retrospectively, the 1st patient with suspected complaints was reported in mid-October 2013 in St Martin.
------------------------------------
Communicated by:
Roland Hubner
Superior Health Council
Brussels
Belgium
=====================
[The report also has graphs showing case numbers over time.

Maps of St Martin/St Maarten can be accessed at
Date: 5-11 May 2014
Source: Institut de Veille Sanitaire (French Institute for Public Health Surveillance, InVS) [edited]

Cases since the beginning of the outbreak in December 2013:
- St Martin: (susp) 3240 cases; deaths 3; stable.
- St Barthelemy: (susp) 500 cases; stable.
- Martinique: (susp) 24 180; deaths 3; increasing.
- Guadeloupe: (susp) 13 600 cases; deaths 1; increasing.
- French Guiana: (susp) not available; (probable or confirmed) 122 cases with 83 locally acquired; increasing, with a new cluster in Kourou and 2 near Cayenne.
======================
[The 16 May 2014 report from Guyaweb (<http://www.guyaweb.com/actualites/news/sciences-et-environnement/le-chik-revient-kourou-setend-cayenne-desormais-saint-laurent/>) states that there are 2 new cases in Saint-Laurent-du-Maroni, overlooking the Suriname River, of which one is certainly autochthonous, and a new focal point occurred in Kourou with 4 cases.

Maps of the area can be seen at
and <http://healthmap.org/promed/p/35574>. - ProMed Mod.TY]
Date: 7-13 Apr 2014
Source: INVS Point Sanitaire No. 14 [in French, trans. ProMed Mod.TY, edited]

Cases since the beginning of the outbreak in December, 2013:
- St. Martin: (susp.) 2980 cases, (probable and conf.) 793 cases; Deaths 3; Decreasing.
- Saint Barthelemy: (susp.) 460 cases, (probable or confirmed) 135 cases; Decreasing.
- Martinique: (susp.) 16 000, (probable or confirmed) 1473 cases; Deaths 2; Increasing.
- Guadeloupe: (susp.) 4710 cases, (probable or confirmed) 1261 cases; Deaths 1; In epidemic status.
- French Guiana: (susp.) 7 cases with 4 locally acquired, (probable or confirmed) 39 cases with 26 locally acquired) 30 cases; (imported) 16 cases; Moderate to increasing; Half of probable and confirmed cases are located in Kourou; however indigenous cases have also been recorded from the Cayenne Matoury, Remire and Macouria communities.
=================
[Maps showing case distributions on each island can be accessed at the above URL. - ProMed Mod.TY]
Date: Thu 27 Mar 2014
Source: The Daily Herald [edited]

As St. Maarten continues to take measures to combat the spread of the chikungunya virus, the number of cases continues to climb.

Health Minister Cornelius de Weever announced on Wednesday [26 Mar 2014], that the total number of confirmed chikungunya cases thus far stood at 224.

De Weever also announced that government will be signing a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with French St. Martin as a means of collectively responding to the mosquito threat that puts the population at risk. He said both sides have been working closely together to address the dengue and chikungunya threats.

The MOU will cover, amongst other things, a regular exchange of epidemiological information on vector-borne diseases and collectively publishing and representing data collected under the agreement.

The need for collective information campaigns and enhancement of the mosquito vector-control programme will also be included in the MOU. The MOU also describes the need for planning execution and evaluation of collective responses to the chikungunya threat.
=========================
[The increase in the number of chikungunya virus infections over the past week in St. Maarten is of concern, rising from 123 cases to 224 cases. This number is confirmed in another report that also indicates that there are an additional 325 suspected cases (<http://www.rivm.nl/dsresource?type=pdf&disposition=inline&objectid=rivmp:239786>).  - ProMed Mod.TY]

[A HealthMap/ProMED-mail map can be accessed at:
<http://healthmap.org/promed/p/35574>.]
More ...

Morocco

General
********************************************
Morocco is a North African country and a favourite destination for many Irish tourists. The climate, relative shortness of the flights and the idyllic swimming conditions encourage many to vis
t.
Safety & Security
********************************************
The border regions of the country can be volatile and travellers planning to visit away from the main tourist routes should take extra precautions. The Western Sahara region is still in dispute though there has been an official cease-fire in place since 1991. The possibility of unexploded mines exists though it should be remembered that this area is many miles away from the normal tourist resorts. The level of street crime in Morocco is low but growing. Busy market places, parks and beaches are popular locations for petty criminals. Tourists should take care not to flaunt personal wealth and to avoid travelling away from the main tourist zones late at night. Travelling alone is a particular risk and only authorised guides and taxis should be used. Tourists have been threatened with serious injury at knife point if they have refused to purchase cannabis.
Laws & Customs
********************************************
It is an Islamic country and ladies in particular should take care to dress modestly. Islamic festivals can cause significant changes to occur which affect tourists including the holy month of Ramadan when all street cafés close until 5.30pm each day as strict Muslims do not eat during the daylight hours. The main tourist hotels continue to serve food as normal but many shops will remain closed. During these times tourists will need to carefully check their tickets and any travel arrangements may need to be changed. Banks and larger shops will remain open between 9am and 3pm Monday to Friday. Drug offences are treated very seriously and those visiting the Rif Mountains should realise this is a major cannabis growing area. Visitors with Arabic Bibles or those involved in any perceived outreach activity may find they are subjected to prolonged interrogation.
Health Facilities
********************************************
The level of health care available in many of the main hotels and resorts is perfectly adequate but care should be taken if your illness necessitates admission. Communication in English may be difficult and many medications will be unavailable. Frequently small private hospitals are used where standards vary greatly. Check that your travel insurance provides adequate cover for repatriation if required.
Food & Water Facilities
********************************************
The food and water provided in many of the main tourist resorts is very satisfactory but variations can easily occur and travellers should be careful at all times. Lettuce, undercooked bivalve shellfish (mussels, oysters, clams etc) and untreated water are all frequently implicated in sickness among travellers. Eating previously peeled fruit is also unwise and should be avoided. Bottled water purchased from main shops or hotels should be used for drinking and brushing your teeth.
Insect Bites & Mosquitoes
********************************************
There is only a very small risk of malaria transmission throughout Morocco and prophylaxis is not recommended for the majority of tourists. However, sandflies do abound during the summer months and can transmit a nasty disease known as Leishmaniasis. These small flies tend to hover close to the ground in shaded areas and can easily bite without the individual noticing. It is essential to use good insect repellent when at risk and to report any slow healing bite or sore to a doctor after your return home.
Sun Exposure
********************************************
The level of sun exposure in Morocco during the summer months can be intense. Take care to avoid the midday sun and use high sun blocking creams at all relevant times. Take particular care of children while in such a hot climate. Extra water and salt will be required to replace the amounts lost through perspiration. Salted crisps and nuts will be a useful source of salt.
Water Sports & Activities
********************************************
Many tourist locations in Morocco offer extended water sport facilities for tourists. Always check out what the standard of care is before agreeing to take part. Ask tourists who arrived before you and check with your holiday representative if possible. Confirm that good safety procedures are in place and that your travel insurance covers any accidents as a result of your activities.
Cash Facilities
********************************************
Traveller’s cheques and credit cards are accepted in many of the main tourist resorts. ATM machines are available in Casablanca and Rabat. It may be difficult to reconvert Moroccan money back to sterling and so care should be taken not to change too much initially until you clarify your expenses.
Travel by Train
********************************************
To visit other parts of the country many travellers use the train journey south from Tangier. However, be wary of any invitation from fellow passengers to alight at Asilah rather than continuing the journey south. A number of tourists have been held hostage and forced to make credit card transactions or cash withdrawals before being freed.
Road Transport
********************************************
Many tourists to Morocco hire motorbikes or cars to see more of the country. This is regarded as a high-risk activity and special care will be required at all times. Driving practices throughout Morocco are poor and traffic signals do not always function. Modern freeways link the main cities of Tangier, Rabat, Fez and Casablanca. Flash flooding can occur during the rainy season (November – March).
Rabies
********************************************
Rabies does occur in Morocco and it is essential that you avoid any and all contact with at risk animals. Typically this includes dogs, cats and monkeys but this viral disease can infect any warm-blooded animal. Take particular care to warn children to avoid animals and to report any contact as soon as possible.
Vaccinations
********************************************
There are no essential vaccines for entry into Morocco from Ireland. However most tourists are advised to consider adequate cover against:
*
Poliomyelitis (childhood booster)
*
Tetanus (childhood booster)
*
Typhoid (food and water disease)
*
Hepatitis A (food and water disease)
Those planning a longer or more rural trip will also need to consider cover against diseases like Hepatitis B and Rabies.
Summary
********************************************
The majority of tourists visiting Morocco will remain very healthy and well. However, following simple precautions against food and water disease and sun exposure will be essential.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Wed, 6 May 2020 19:47:21 +0200 (METDST)
By Sophie PONS

Rabat, May 6, 2020 (AFP) - Morocco has rapidly expanded its fleet of drones as it battles the coronavirus pandemic, deploying them for aerial surveillance, public service announcements and sanitisation.   "This is a real craze. In just weeks, demand has tripled in Morocco and other countries in the region," said Yassine Qamous, chief of Droneway Maroc, African distributor for leading Chinese drone company DJI.   Moroccan firms have been using drones for years and Qamous says it "is among the most advanced countries in Africa" for unmanned flight, with a dedicated industrial base, researchers and qualified pilots.

But restrictive regulations have long limited civilian drones to specific applications such as filming, agriculture, monitoring solar panels and mapping.   That changed rapidly as the novel coronavirus swept across the world.    In recent weeks, authorities have employed drones to issue warnings, identify suspicious movement in the streets and disperse illegal rooftop and balcony gatherings.   A strict lockdown imposed in March has not been uniformly respected, with local media reporting on nighttime gatherings of neighbours and collective prayers on roofs, beyond the view of street patrols.

- 'Vital technology' -
Last week local authorities in Temara, a town near the capital Rabat, launched a high-precision aerial surveillance system developed by local company Beti3D, which previously specialised in aerial mapping.   Other countries in Europe, Asia and the Middle East have also adopted technology deployed in China since the start of the pandemic, whether for tracking the movements of citizens, disinfecting public spaces or facilitating deliveries.   "Drones have quickly emerged as a vital technology for public safety agencies during this crisis as they can safely monitor public spaces," according to the website of DJI, by far the world's top drone maker.

Like most countries, Morocco primarily uses imported Chinese drones. But the emergence of new applications linked to the pandemic is also driving local production of specialised aerial vehicles.   "There is real demand," said Abderrahmane Krioual, the head of Farasha, a start-up that has raised funds to produce drones for thermal surveillance and aerial disinfectant spraying.   The aeronautics department of the International University of Rabat (UIR) offered its facilities, expertise and prototypes to authorities in March, deploying drones with loudspeakers or infrared cameras able to detect movement at night or spot individuals with high temperatures.

Several projects are underway across the country ahead of the widespread deployment of various models of drones, said Mohsine Bouya, the university's director of technology development and transfer.    Teams are also developing tracking applications, but "we'll have to wait for a change to the law" before launching them, he said.   Moroccan authorities declined to comment on the use of drones or the numbers deployed since the start of the public health emergency in mid-March.

- 'Toxic lockdown culture' -
Unlike in some countries, the use of surveillance drones has not sparked public debate in Morocco, where the kingdom's authoritarian response to the pandemic is widely supported.   Morocco closed its borders early and tasked law enforcement with imposing strict confinement measures on the population.

They include movement restrictions and the compulsory wearing of masks, with a nighttime curfew since the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan -- enforced by a heavy police presence.   Those found guilty of violating lockdown measures face one to three months in prison, a fine equivalent to $125, or both.    Officials say 59,000 people have been prosecuted for breaching lockdown measures.

Authorities say the measures have limited transmission of the virus, with 5,382 COVID-19 cases reported including 182 deaths since the state of emergency was announced.   But the kingdom's high number of arrests -- some 85,000 people by April 30 -- has drawn criticism from Georgette Gagnon, director of field operations at the United Nations' Human Rights Office.   Last week she listed Morocco among countries where repressive coronavirus measures have created a "toxic lockdown culture".    Morocco disputed this, saying its measures were "in line with legal frameworks respecting human rights".
Date: Mon, 13 Apr 2020 12:38:28 +0200 (METDST)

Rabat, April 13, 2020 (AFP) - More than 4,300 people were arrested over the weekend in Morocco for breaching emergency rules in place to combat the novel coronavirus, according to official figures.   More than half of those detained were taken into police custody.   Since mid-March, authorities have arrested 28,701 people across the North African country, 15,545 of whom have been referred to court after being held in custody, according to the country's national security force DGSN.

Penalties for violating measures in place to curb the spread of the COVID-19 disease include up to three months in jail and fines of up to 1,300 dirhams ($130), or both.   Morocco imposed a public health state of emergency on March 19, confining everyone to their homes except those with a permit to be out for work.   Last week, authorities made wearing face masks in public obligatory.   Police and security agents supported by soldiers in armoured cars have been deployed around the country, erecting road barriers and control points to enforce the measures.

Morocco has recorded 1,746 COVID-19 cases, with 120 deaths and 196 recoveries. Fewer than 7,000 tests have been carried out.   The largest number of arrests were made in the country's economic centre of Casablanca and the capital Rabat, according to the DGSN.   Isolation measures have proved most challenging in densely populated, working-class neighbourhoods, according to local media reports.

Economic paralysis brought on by the pandemic has left millions of Moroccans in a precarious existence, with the bulk of the workforce made up of informal workers dependent on odd jobs and lacking access to social safety nets.   In the absence of a social database, authorities are working to identify needy families to distribute direct financial aid and food baskets.
Date: Tue, 7 Apr 2020 00:04:15 +0200 (METDST)

Rabat, April 6, 2020 (AFP) - Wearing face masks in public will be obligatory in Morocco from Tuesday in a bid to stem the spread of coronavirus, according to an official decree.   The decision was announced late Monday after a government meeting on how to control the epidemic.   Morocco imposed a public health state of emergency on March 19, confining everyone to their homes except those with a permit to be out and about for their work.

Police, security agents and soldiers in armoured cars have been deployed around the country, erecting road barriers and control points.   The official number of COVID-19 cases in Morocco has doubled in a week to 1,120, including 80 fatalities.   The real numbers are likely to be significantly higher as there is a lack of testing gear in the country.
Date: Tue, 24 Mar 2020 18:49:02 +0100 (MET)

Rabat, March 24, 2020 (AFP) - Morocco has authorised hospitals to use antimalarial drugs in treating the new coronavirus, according to a document seen by AFP, as scientists urge caution over encouraging results from small trials.   The Moroccan health ministry on Monday gave hospitals and regional health directors the green light to start using hydroxychloroquine and related compound chloroquine "in the care of confirmed COVID-19 cases".

In a message seen by AFP, it said that "efforts have been made to ensure the availability of these medicines", urging caution in how the stocks are managed.   Rabat last week ordered the Moroccan branch of French drug maker Sanofi to hand over its entire stock of Nivaquine and Plaquenil, both of which contain chloroquine.   Studies in France and China have found that the drug helped patients suffering from the COVID-19 illness, and France on Monday ordered its use in severe cases.

US President Donald Trump on Monday said chloroquine could be a "gift from God".   He has been criticised by scientists for overhyping the drug, and on Monday the World Health Organization urged caution over its use.   NBC later reported that a woman in Arizona who heard Trump talk about chloroquine ended up in hospital and her husband died after they took a form of chloroquine she had used to treat her koi fish.   Authorities in Nigeria said hospitals had seen cases of chloroquine poisoning after Trump's comments.   Experts have urged the public to remain cautious until larger clinical trials validate the smaller studies.

In its note, Morocco's health ministry said it took its decision after consulting with a scientific committee which recommended prescribing chloroquine along with another drug called azithromycine.   Morocco's transport minister, Abdelkader Amara, who tested positive for the new coronavirus on March 14, has already said he was taking Nivaquine.   "My health is stable. I have no fever or respiratory symptoms. The headaches are almost gone. I just feel a little tired," he told private radio station Medi 1.   Morocco has recorded 143 cases of the COVID-19 illness, with four dead. The country has three screening centres and 1,642 intensive care beds for 35 million inhabitants.
Date: Sat, 14 Mar 2020 22:11:12 +0100 (MET)
By Hamza Mekouar with Sophie Pons in Rabat

Fnideq, Morocco, March 14, 2020 (AFP) - Thousands of tourists were stranded in Morocco on Saturday after the kingdom suddenly announced strict border restrictions in response to the coronavirus, leaving travellers stuck at borders, ports and airports.   "We are lost!" said David, an Italian tourist waiting at the closed border with the Spanish enclave of Ceuta in northern Morocco.

Late on Saturday, Rabat announced a suspension of air links with 21 countries including Austria, Denmark, Greece, Norway, Sweden and Switzerland in Europe, as well Turkey and Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Oman, Tunisia, and the United Arab Emirates.   Africa's Chad, Mali, Mauritania, Niger and Senegal, and Canada and Brazil were also in the list.   Morocco had already suspended air, sea and land links with European countries and Algeria on Friday, as well as taking measures to confine citizens to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

Flights to and from Algeria, Spain, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, Portugal and Italy were suspended "until further notice", while sea links for passengers and Morocco's land borders with Ceuta and a second Spanish enclave, Melilla, were closed.   But France announced that Rabat had agreed to allow repatriation flights for French nationals.   "New flights are being organised to enable (stranded French tourists) to return to France," President Emmanuel Macron tweeted Saturday.   The first flights back to France had already taken off that day, Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said earlier.

The closure of the only land border between Africa and the European Union at Cueta and Melilla saw Spaniards rushing to leave on Thursday evening, as Moroccan day workers hastily returned in the opposite direction.   The land borders are busiest in summer and the border sees regular traffic throughout the year. Now though a Moroccan police roadblock bars the road towards the border with Cueta.

- 'Who will pay?' -
David said he tried to go to Spain because links with Italy, a hotspot of the disease, are suspended.   After arriving in Morocco for a motorcycle tour with his partner earlier this month, the 33-year-old Italian was stuck at a service station outside Cueta.

The border at Cueta, like that at Melilla, was reopened Friday only for Spaniards.    The Spanish embassy in Morocco tweeted Saturday that ferries were still operating between the enclaves and mainland Spain.   Its French counterpart also tweeted that "passage (into Ceuta and Melilla) is open to French ferry ticket holders with vehicles."

But except for a few travellers, the normally busy border post near the Moroccan town of Fnideq was deserted.   At the service station, camper vans bearing various European license plates were parked waiting.   "We don't know how long this will last, no one has told us anything," said Rene, a 71-year-old French man, speaking before Le Drian and Macrons' announcements.   "The weather is good here, there's surely fewer cases of coronavirus in Morocco than in France," he said.

Moroccan authorities have reported 17 cases of COVID-19, including one death. France and Spain have together announced more than 210 COVID-19 deaths.   Morocco's Transport Minister Abdelkader Amara has tested positive for the disease after an official visit to Europe, his ministry announced Saturday.   On the Spanish side at Cueta, stuck Moroccans were wondering why their country would not let them back in.   "If I need to get a hotel, who will pay?" asked a man hoping to return home.

At Tangiers port some 30 kilometres to the west, containers and trucks were unloaded as usual but the passenger terminal was closed.   The busiest port in North Africa, the facility welcomed 568,000 foreign tourists in 2019, while some 473,000 entered from Cueta and Melilla, according to official figures.   The travel restrictions are causing panic in the kingdom's tourism sector, which accounts for 10 percent of GDP and is a key source of foreign revenues.
More ...

Turkmenistan

Turkmenistan - US Consular Information Sheet
March 02, 2009
COUNTRY DESCRIPTION:
Turkmenistan is a Central Asian nation roughly the size of California.
It shares borders with Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Afghanistan, and Iran.
Turkmen
stan gained its independence in 1991 during the dissolution of the Soviet Union.
Primarily a desert country, it has a population of around six million people. Tourist facilities, especially outside of the capital city of Ashgabat, are not highly developed.
Many of the goods and services taken for granted in North American and Western European countries are not yet available. Travel within the country can be difficult due to limited infrastructure and government-imposed internal travel restrictions.
Read the Department of State Background Notes on Turkmenistan for additional information.
ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS:
American citizens must have a valid passport and visa and/or letter of invitation from the Government of Turkmenistan to enter and exit Turkmenistan.
To apply for a visa, all U.S. citizens must complete an application and have a letter of invitation approved by the State Migration Service (SMS), formerly known as the State Service for the Registration of Foreigners (SSRF), in Ashgabat.
An individual or organization in Turkmenistan must submit the letter of invitation on behalf of an American citizen to the SMS accompanied by a copy of the traveler's passport ID page.
Each traveler’s passport must be valid for at least 6 months following the date of the application.
The SMS requires at least 15 working days for approval.
The U.S. Embassy in Ashgabat does not issue letters of invitation to citizens interested in private travel to Turkmenistan.
Applications for a visa can be submitted to the Embassy of Turkmenistan in Washington, D.C., or directly to the SMS in Ashgabat.
Under local law, a traveler with a stamped and approved invitation letter may also obtain a visa at the Ashgabat International Airport upon arrival in Turkmenistan; however, some travelers have reported difficulties with airlines not boarding passengers who only have approved invitation letters in lieu of a visa for onward travel to Turkmenistan.
Travelers are strongly recommended to obtain a visa before traveling.

The price for the visa will vary according to the intended length of stay.
For an additional charge, the SMS can extend a visa in Ashgabat beyond its initial validity.
Any traveler arriving without a visa or without the documents necessary to obtain a visa will be denied entry and may be held at the airport or border until the traveler has secured transportation out of Turkmenistan.
Based on past incidents, the Embassy discourages travelers from planning to use transit visas in lieu of obtaining tourist visas through a travel agency.
The U.S. Embassy in Ashgabat is unable to intervene with Turkmenistani authorities regarding the admission of private travelers to Turkmenistan.
Travelers departing Turkmenistan must have a current valid visa or they will be denied exit until they have extended the validity of the visa through their departure date.
In addition, U.S. citizens traveling in Turkmenistan should be aware that they need special permission from the SMS to travel to areas of the country that have been restricted by the Government of Turkmenistan, including almost all border areas.

Upon arrival at an airport or border entry point, foreigners will be charged approximately $12 for an immigration card issued by Turkmen authorities.
All foreigners are required to carry this immigration card for the duration of their stay in Turkmenistan.
Authorities will collect the immigration card upon departure.
Those departing Turkmenistan from the Ashgabat airport and flying with a non-Turkmenistani flagged carrier are required to pay a $25 departure fee.

In addition to the immigration requirements mentioned above, foreigners are subject to local registration requirements.
Americans who plan to stay more than three working days in Turkmenistan must register with the SMS.
SMS offices are located in all of Turkmenistan's five major cities: Ashgabat, Dashoguz, Mary, Turkmenabat and Turkmenbashy.
Foreigners who plan to travel outside of the city in which they will register must inform the SMS in advance; otherwise travelers will face fines or deportation.
One day prior to their departure from Turkmenistan foreigners must return to an SMS office to register the departure.
Foreigners should be registered and deregistered at the SMS in the city in which their sponsoring organization is located.
Foreigners who fail to register their departure may be prevented by immigration authorities from leaving the country until they have done so.
The penalties for remaining in Turkmenistan with an expired visa or for failing to register with SMS include fines, arrest, and/or deportation.
Foreigners who are deported for these violations may be prohibited from returning to Turkmenistan for up to five years.
American citizens in Turkmenistan are strongly urged to ensure that their visas do not expire and that they register with SMS upon arrival and upon departure.

Visitors holding tourist visas organized by a travel agency must stay in hotels; other visitors may stay in private accommodations whose owner must register the visitor's presence.
Visit the Embassy of Turkmenistan web site for the most current visa information.

Several popular travel guides discuss traveling by “ferry” across the Caspian Sea from Baku, Azerbaijan, to the port of Turkmenbashy in western Turkmenistan.
Some travelers have faced problems attempting to travel to Turkmenistan by boat.
Travelers should be aware that these “ferries” are in fact cargo ships that take on some passengers incidental to their primary function.
Passengers are generally not provided food or water on these ships, and sleeping and sanitary facilities are likely to be rudimentary.
Travelers should be aware that ships arriving at the port of Turkmenbashy often wait days offshore for outgoing ships to vacate the dock to allow incoming ships to disembark.
Some travelers have spent more than a week offshore while their ship awaited permission to enter the port, and they have run out of stores of food and water, or had their Turkmen visas expire before they could be used.
For this and other reasons travelers, especially those who plan to enter Turkmenistan by boat, are discouraged from using transit visas to enter Turkmenistan.

At Ashgabat International Airport, most airlines do not accept payment for tickets by credit card, or in any currency other than US dollars or Turkmen manat.
Travelers planning direct transit through Turkmenistan en route to another country should be aware that if they are stranded due to a missed connection, they will not be allowed to leave the arrival detention area until they are able to buy a ticket for an onward flight out of Turkmenistan.
For this reason, the Embassy discourages travelers from planning to directly transit through Ashgabat International Airport.

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:
Those considering travel to Turkmenistan should take the country's proximity to regions of past and current instability into account before making any plans.
The Government of Turkmenistan has designated many areas throughout the country as “restricted zones,” particularly the border areas next to Iran, Uzbekistan, and Afghanistan, the entire region of Dashoguz (including Dashoguz city), and areas of the Caspian coast.
Travel to these areas by foreigners is forbidden without special permission from the Government of Turkmenistan.
Turkmenistan Airlines, the national airline, will not sell a ticket to any traveler who intends to travel to a “restricted zone” without proof of permission from the government.
Travelers who wish to visit a “restricted zone” must have a valid passport and visa and must apply to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for a special permit.
There is a minimum processing time of 10 working days for these permits.

Visible police and military presence in Turkmenistan is common.
Both uniformed and plainclothes officials frequently ask to see passports, visas, migration cards, and SMS registrations.
Travelers should ask to see identification if they are not certain that the person requesting the information is an official.
These documentation checks, and residence and vehicle searches, are common.
Security personnel maintain checkpoints on major roads.

Security personnel may at times place foreign visitors under surveillance.
Hotel rooms, telephones, and fax machines may be monitored, and personal possessions in hotel rooms may be searched.
Taking photographs of anything that could be perceived as being of military or security interest, such as government buildings, may result in problems with authorities.
Visitors should ask whether buildings may be photographed.

Supporters of extremist groups such as the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, Al-Qaeda, and the Eastern Turkistan Islamic Movement remain active in Central Asia.
These groups have expressed anti-U.S. sentiments and may attempt to target U.S. Government or private interests in the region, including in Turkmenistan.
Terrorists do not distinguish between official and civilian targets.
Because of increased security at official U.S. facilities, terrorists are seeking softer civilian targets such as residential areas, clubs, restaurants, places of worship, hotels, schools, outdoor recreation events, resorts, beaches, maritime facilities, and commercial aircraft.

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 A Safe Trip Abroad.

CRIME:
Although the government's official policy is to report that there is no violent crime, there are incidents of assault, rape, and murder sometimes directed at foreigners.
Prostitution, heroin use, and economic conditions are all factors contributing to the incidence of violent crimes.
Petty theft is common in crowded public places such as the local bazaars.
Visitors should take appropriate measures to safeguard their passports and valuables in such areas.
Also, visitors should not leave their valuables in plain view within a parked vehicle.
Several recent cases suggest that there has been an increase in theft from parked vehicles.

Foreign visitors, including American citizens, present an attractive target for criminals.
Travelers should exercise the same common sense, good judgment, and caution as they would in any major U.S. city.
For instance, one should avoid carrying large sums of money in public.
Travelers should avoid walking alone after dark, and women specifically should avoid being alone in isolated areas.
Most taxis are not regulated by any government licensing agency and drivers are usually private citizens looking to make money.
The majority of cars will not have seat belts or other safety devices, and drivers may not have had any formal driver training.
For safety reasons, visitors should strongly consider hiring a private car and driver through their travel agency or hotel.
There is one government-owned and regulated taxi company, operating in Ashgabat, which charges a flat fee of 45,000 Old Turkmen Manat/9 Denominated Turkmen Manat (about $3.25 at the February 2009 exchange rate) for a one-way trip within Ashgabat city limits.
Its telephone number is: (993 12) 32-97-75.
If using local unregulated taxis, passengers should always negotiate fares with taxi drivers in advance, and extreme caution should be used when using taxis after dark, especially when there are other passengers in the vehicle.

Prostitution is illegal, and prostitutes have been known to accompany men to their residences or hotel rooms in order to steal from them, sometimes with the help of an accomplice.
The authorities will generally consider any woman leaving a discotheque with a foreign man late at night to be a prostitute, and on that basis, the foreigner may be detained.
In recent years, at least one foreigner was kept in jail for fifteen days on charges of soliciting prostitution.
Travelers should be aware that U.S. law provides for criminal prosecution in U.S. federal courts of American citizens who have solicited a prostitute under the age of 18 while traveling abroad.

Police can ask anyone to present identity papers at any time, but authorities are especially aggressive late at night.
Even if valid papers are presented, the police may ask for a bribe.
For this reason, those going from place to place late at night should consider using a trusted driver.

In many countries around the world, counterfeit and pirated goods are widely available. Transactions involving such products may be illegal under local law. In addition, bringing these products back to the United States may result in forfeitures and/or fines. More information on this serious problem is available from the U.S. Department of Justice, Computer Crime & Intellectual Property Section.

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, 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.

The local equivalent to the “911” emergency line in Turkmenistan is 03.
Please see our information on Victims of Crime, including possible victim compensation programs in the United States.

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 Turkmenistan’s laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned.
Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Turkmenistan are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines.
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.

SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES:
Turkmenistan has a cash-only economy.
However, several new hotels accept credit cards.
Vnesheconombank and the National Bank of Pakistan cash traveler’s checks and personal checks for a fee, although cashing a personal check is a lengthy process that could require up to two months.
Vnesheconombank also accepts Visa for cash advances, for a fee.

Although the manat is the official currency, U.S. dollars are widely accepted and are required as payment for certain goods and services.
Travelers may wish to bring sufficient U.S. currency to exchange into manat to cover expenses not payable in U.S. Dollars.
Old U.S. dollar bills (issued before 1990) and/or those in poor condition (with tears, writing or stamps) are not acceptable forms of currency in Turkmenistan.
Banks frequently do not have small bills for change.
In 2008, the government of Turkmenistan unified its dual currency exchange rate by bringing the commercial and governmental exchange rates together.
This change occurred incrementally, contributing to wild currency speculation by average citizens, many of whom keep their savings in U.S. dollars in their homes, rather than in bank accounts.
As a result, the banks, at times, have imposed limits on the amount of currency that could be exchanged by an individual on a particular day.
Travelers should check with their travel agencies to discuss options for currency exchange if a limitation should happen during their visit to Turkmenistan.

Turkmenistan customs authorities may enforce strict regulations concerning temporary importation into or export from Turkmenistan of items such as carpets, jewelry, musical instruments, pieces of art, archaeological artifacts, antiques, protected animals, etc.
It is advisable to contact the Embassy of Turkmenistan in Washington for specific information regarding customs requirements.
Travelers who wish to take carpets out of Turkmenistan must obtain a certificate from the Carpet Museum in central Ashgabat indicating that the carpet is not of historical value.
Some private shops may have carpets for sale for which they have already obtained certificates; buyers should be sure to ask about customs certificates before purchasing any carpet.
In addition, buyers may have to pay a tax calculated according to the size of the carpet.
Travelers who have purchased other items that could be perceived to be of historical value, such as jewelry, have also reported difficulties in taking these items out of Turkmenistan.
Turkmenistan's indigenous dog, the Alabay, is considered a national treasure and is banned for export without prior permission.
American citizens should also check to ensure that any item they intend to bring into the United States is permitted by U.S. customs regulations.

U.S. citizens are encouraged to carry a copy of their U.S. passports and visas with them at all times, so that, if questioned by local officials, proof of identity and U.S. citizenship, are readily available.

Travelers to Turkmenistan should be aware that there are several types of poisonous snakes and insects indigenous to the country. Even in cities, it is common to encounter cobras and scorpions, especially in areas covered with tall grass.
Travelers are advised to be alert to these dangers to avoid being bitten or stung. Please see our Customs Information sheet.
MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION: Medical care in Turkmenistan is limited and well below North American and Western European standards.
All visitors are strongly advised to purchase medical evacuation insurance to cover costs associated with transporting them to adequate medical facilities in the event of serious illness or injury.
Such travel can be expensive if undertaken under emergency conditions, and absent this insurance, medical evacuation travel may be logistically impossible on an emergency basis.
Travelers with medical conditions should consult their regular physician to determine whether travel to Turkmenistan is advisable in light of the level of available health care.
Resident American citizens travel to Western Europe or North America for treatment of any serious medical condition.
The U.S. Embassy maintains a list of public hospitals and English-speaking physicians in the country, however the standard of care at these hospitals cannot be considered comparable to Western standards.
Basic medical supplies, including disposable needles, anesthetics, and antibiotics are often in short supply.
Two private clinics have foreign medical practitioners (generally Turkish) who may be available for consultations and treatment; these clinics, however, have refused in some cases to admit patients with serious conditions, regardless of the patient’s ability to pay for treatment.
Even at these hospitals, the standard of care is low compared to Western standards.
Travelers requiring prescription medications should bring sufficient supplies of all necessary medications and appropriate documentation to ensure no problems with customs officials upon arrival.

Some HIV/AIDS entry restrictions exist for visitors to and foreign residents of Turkmenistan.
Currently, HIV tests are not required for applicants requesting tourist visas; however, should an individual be discovered to be HIV positive, that status would be grounds for denial of a visa or deportation.
All individuals requesting residence visas are required to submit to an HIV test.
Please verify this information with the Embassy of Turkmenistan 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.
MEDICAL INSURANCE:
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 Turkmenistan is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.
Road conditions in Turkmenistan make driving difficult and sometimes dangerous.
Most roads outside of major cities are narrow, riddled with potholes, unlit at night, and without proper road signs.
Driving at night on these roads should be avoided.
City roads are better in comparison to rural routes but may be hazardous due to potholes, uncovered manholes, poor lighting, and heavy pedestrian traffic.
Pedestrians frequently cross against traffic and create dangerous conditions.
Traffic accidents involving serious injury to drivers, passengers, and pedestrians are common.

In general, visitors should use caution when driving in Turkmenistan.
Drivers pay little attention to lanes and other road markings, with weaving and sudden lane changes a common occurrence (usually without use of a turn signal).
Drivers will often encounter cars going the wrong way on one-way streets or divided highways.
Cars also frequently make left-turns from the right lane and vice-versa.
Pedestrians regularly walk or stand in the middle of busy streets during the day and night, often without paying attention to oncoming traffic.

Roadside assistance does not exist in Turkmenistan, where vast stretches of highway are often unmarked.
Police checkpoints (where cars are required to stop and register) are a common feature on major routes between cities.
The U.S. Embassy in Ashgabat has received reports that police stationed at checkpoints may arbitrarily fine motorists.
Local law requires that traffic fines be paid within 12 hours.
If a fine is not paid within that period, the amount may double every 12 hours up to 72 hours, after which time the vehicle in question may be seized.

Travelers who wish to drive in Turkmenistan must have a valid international driving permit.
Foreigners who plan to reside in Turkmenistan must apply for a local driver's license with the Road Police Department of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Turkmenistan.
American citizens who want more specific information about driving in Turkmenistan should contact the Embassy of Turkmenistan at 2207 Massachusetts Ave. NW, Washington DC
20008, telephone (202) 588-1500.
Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information.
For specific information concerning Turkmenistan driving permits, vehicle inspection, road tax and mandatory insurance, contact the Turkmenistan National Tourist Organization offices at its Permanent Mission in New York.
The address is: 136 East 67th Street, NY, NY 10021.
The phone number is 1-212-472-5921.
AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT: As there is no direct commercial air service to the United States by carriers registered in Turkmenistan, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not assessed Turkmenistan’s Civil Aviation Authority for compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards.

Travelers may experience significant delays, unexpected re-routing, and sudden cancellations of flights, including those of Turkmenistan Airlines (Turkmenhowayollary), the national airline.
Travelers have reported difficulties securing reservations and purchasing tickets from Turkmenistan Airlines on both domestic and international flights, which are routinely overbooked.

CHILDREN'S ISSUES:
For information see our Office of Children’s Issues web pages on intercountry adoption and international parental child abduction.

REGISTRATION / EMBASSY LOCATION:
Americans living or traveling in Turkmenistan are encouraged to register with the U.S. Embassy or Consulate through the State Department’s travel registration web site so that they can obtain updated information on travel and security within Turkmenistan.
Americans without Internet access may register directly with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate.
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 at 9 1984 (Pushkin Street), off Magtymguly Street, tel. (993-12) 35-00-45; fax (993-12) 39-26-14.
The Consular Section can also be contacted by e-mail.
The Consular Section is open for American Citizens services every Monday through Friday afternoon, excepting holidays.
American Citizens are requested to call for an appointment for services except in cases of emergency.
*

*

*
This replaces the Country Specific Information for Turkmenistan dated September 2, 2008 without substantive changes.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Wed, 8 Apr 2020 05:36:53 +0200 (METDST)

Ashgabat, Turkmenistan, April 8, 2020 (AFP) - Authoritarian Turkmenistan gathered thousands of citizens for mass exercise events to mark World Health Day, state media said, ignoring the global trend for social distancing to fight the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.

The Central Asian country, along with North Korea, is one of a handful of territories which claim they have no cases of the virus which is sweeping across the globe.   A state television broadcast late on Tuesday showed hundreds of people wearing identical coloured tracksuits cycling in close formation on a cold, damp day in the capital Ashgabat.

Another sequence showed state employees including medical staff doing stretches inside and outside government buildings.   State media said 7,000 citizens participated in cycling events across the gas-rich ex-Soviet country to celebrate the date, which has been marked internationally since 1950.   President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov was shown riding a horse and biking with a small group of officials.

Turkmenistan has yet to register a case of the novel coronavirus that has killed more than 80,000 people worldwide, despite sharing a border with Iran, one of the first countries to be hit hard by the pandemic after China.   The country's government is notoriously secretive and national statistics, whether health-related or economic, are regularly doubted by field experts.

A separate state news report on Wednesday said authorities were building a hospital to treat infectious diseases in the Akhal region that surrounds Ashgabat, but did not mention COVID-19.   Strongman Berdymukhamedov mentioned the coronavirus publicly for the first time last week in a speech where he talked about the economic threat posed by the pandemic.    Turkmenistan and Tajikistan -- another former Soviet Central Asian country that has yet to declare a case of the disease -- both sent children back to school after spring holidays this week.
Date: Fri, 9 Sep 2016 19:53:02 +0200

Avaza, Turkmenistan, Sept 9, 2016 (AFP) - Turkmenistan strongman President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov on Friday opened a giant five-star hotel worth over $100 million, shaped like a cruise ship, at the country's main Caspian Sea resort.   The 13-floor, 350-room hotel is the biggest in Turkmenistan's Avaza tourist zone, which the government is trying to promote despite an incredibly restrictive visa regime for foreigners.

"The purpose of this resort is to create the best conditions for interesting recreation time for the Turkmen people," Berdymukhamedov said of Avaza, adding that the hotel was called "Gami", or "Boat" to symbolise "the boat of our friendship."    "And since we are on a boat, we will be having nautical pasta -- a cheap Soviet pasta dish with minced pork and beef -- for lunch," he joked, before the dish was served to officials, diplomats and journalists at the ceremonial lunch.   The Central Asian country's leader, 59, also quoted a nautically-themed poem by Russian wordsmith Mikhail Lermontov.   The 90-metre by 200 metre (300 by 650 feet) white marble-clad hotel was built to echo a "snow-white ocean ship" a representative of the state company that ordered it built, told AFP.

A giant portrait of Berdymukhamedov spanned three floors of the building as dancers performed in front of it.   The hotel was built by the Turkish construction and logistics firm Ekol.   Hydrocarbon-rich Turkmenistan's secretive government has a reputation for lavish spending on frivolous architectural projects, even in times of economic crisis.   The country devalued its manat currency by around twenty percent in early 2015 under pressure from low prices for hydrocarbons, which account for practically all of the country's exports.

On the black market the currency's value can fetch up to 6 manats to the dollar against an official rate of 3.5 to the dollar, down from 2.8 to the dollar in 2014.    Despite Berdymukhamedov officially encouraging belt-tightening, the country has continued to spend heavily on infrastructure ahead of the 2017 Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games it will host in the capital Ashgabat.

In 2013 Ashgabat earned a Guinness World Record as the city with the highest density of white marble-clad buildings.    "If the marble was laid out flat, there would be one square metre of marble for every 4.87 m³ of land," Guinness said at the time.   The city also hosts a golden statue of Berdymukhamedov and a similar statue of predecessor Saparmurat Niyazov, which once rotated with the movements of the sun.
Date: Wed, 6 Apr 2016 16:21:20 +0200

Ashgabat, Turkmenistan, April 6, 2016 (AFP) - Turkmenistan has passed a law making HIV tests mandatory prior to marriage, state media reported on Wednesday, in a sign the reclusive Central Asian state fears the spread of a disease it has always downplayed.    The law is the closest the highly secretive state of 5 million has come to acknowledging a public health threat from the disease which is prevalent throughout the former Soviet Union.

The law, which aims to "create conditions for healthy families and prevent the birth of HIV-infected children" was published in the state newspaper on Wednesday and is effective immediately.    An official from the country's national AIDS Center, speaking on condition of anonymity, told AFP that the new law was "very necessary" given the "high risk" of the spread of the virus.   The official cited use of intravenous drugs, mostly sourced from neighbouring Afghanistan, and prostitution as the main means of transmission.

Other than "persons entering marriage", the legislation also enforces HIV tests for blood donors, "persons suspected of narcotics use", prisoners, citizens of foreign countries applying for work visas and stateless persons.    According to the law signed by President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, the government will guarantee anonymity and free treatment for sufferers of the disease.

Turkmenistan, which remains largely closed to the outside world, has always downplayed the prevalence of HIV, a disease that attacks the human immune system and is transmitted from person to person via bodily fluids.   In 2002, the health ministry, which does not publish data on infectious diseases, claimed the country had only two cases of HIV and that both patients had been infected outside Turkmenistan.
Date: Tue, 21 Jul 2015 17:03:00 +0200 (METDST)

Ashgabat, Turkmenistan, July 21, 2015 (AFP) - Health-obsessed former Soviet Turkmenistan is the country with the world's lowest proportion of smokers, World Health Organisation chief Margaret Chan said during a visit to the isolated nation on Tuesday.    Chan said that  just 8 percent of the population smoked, according to WHO figures.   "Recently a WHO overview showed that in Turkmenistan only 8 percent of the population smokes," Chan told the country's authoritarian President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, who is a dentist by training.   "This is the lowest national indicator in the world. I congratulate you on this achievement," she said at a health forum in the capital Ashgabat.

Cited by state media, Chan noted that the country ratified the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control in 2011 by which time it had already banned smoking in public places.   Also speaking at the forum, Vera Luiza da Costa e Silva, Head of the Convention Secretariat, challenged the Central Asian state to drive smoking down to five per cent of the population in the coming years.   In 1990, 27 percent of Turkmen males over 15 and 1 percent of females smoked.

A decade later Turkmenistan banned smoking in public places, state buildings and the army, as well as all forms of tobacco advertising.   By comparison, 31.1 percent of the global male population over the age of 15 smoked in 2012, while 6.2 percent of females were smokers.   President Berdymukhamedov, in power since the death of eccentric predecessor Saparmurat Niyazov in 2006, is a keen equestrian, while Niyazov campaigned against smoking and built a 36-kilometre "path of health" into the mountains surrounding Ashgabat which government officials were forced to walk.   This April the gas-rich country of more than five million held a month of public exercises and sporting events under the slogan "health and happiness."
Date: Wed, 1 Jul 2015 17:54:35 +0200 (METDST)

Ashgabat, Turkmenistan, July 1, 2015 (AFP) - Turkmenistan reported its hottest June on record Wednesday, as a heat wave envelops former Soviet Central Asia.   "June 2015 was the hottest June since 1891 when records began. Daytime temperatures exceeded 40 degrees Celsius in the shade 16 times," a spokeswoman at Turkmenistan's state meteorological service in the capital Ashgabat told AFP Wednesday.   She noted that Tuesday, when temperatures reached 47.2 degrees Celsius, was the hottest June day in Ashgabat in the recorded history of the energy-rich country.   Many Muslims fasting for the Ramadan holy month in the secluded Caspian state have taken time off work and are shutting themselves away in air conditioned rooms, one observant Muslim who did not wish to be named told AFP.

In Kazakhstan temperatures, while set to vary in the coming week, remain very high in the southern regions of the country.   "In the afternoon the streets are empty," said Shafarat Sataeva, 72, from the southern region of Kyzylorda, where temperatures reached 42 degrees Celsius in the shade on Wednesday, the highest anywhere in the country.   In Tajikistan over 50 people including three Russian soldiers stationed at Russia's military base in the country drowned in mountain rivers and lakes as they sought to cool themselves.   The country's meteorological service said temperatures are expected to pass 40 degrees Celsius in the capital Dushanbe and warned of mudflows from high levels of glacial melt in the mountainous country.
More ...

Nauru

Nauru - US Consular Information Sheet
March 06, 2009
COUNTRY DESCRIPTION:
Nauru, a small single-island nation in the South Pacific, is located about 25 miles south of the equator.
It is a constitutional republic with a parliamentary s
stem of government.
Tourist facilities are available on a limited basis. Yaren, the capital, has an international airport.
Read the Department of State Background Notes on Nauru for additional information.

ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS:
A passport, visa, onward/return ticket, and proof of hotel bookings (or sponsorship from a resident of Nauru) are required for tourists. Travelers transiting with a valid ticket for an onward destination do not require a visa, provided that their first connecting flight departs within three days of their arrival in Nauru.
To obtain a visa, travelers should scan a copy of their passport data page, tickets and an explanation of the reason for their visit, and send it to the principal immigration office in Nauru: alf.itsmaera@naurugov.nr.
The immigration office will then email an approved travel letter for the traveler to board a flight and enter Nauru.
Upon arrival, a visa will be stamped in the passport.
The telephone number for immigration in Nauru is 011-674-444-3133.
Tourist visas are issued for a maximum of thirty days.
Business visitors must have a visa and a local sponsor.
Nauru collects a departure tax that must be paid in cash and in Australian dollars.
For more information on entry/exit requirements, travelers may wish to contact Republic of Nauru Permanent Mission to the United Nations in New York at 212-937-0074, or by fax at 212-937-0079.
The address is: 800 Second Avenue, Suite 400A New York, NY 10017.
E-mail addresses are: nauru@onecommonwealth.org and/or Nauru@un.int.

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:
For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs’ Internet site at http://travel.state.gov, where the current Travel Warnings and Travel Alerts, as well as the Worldwide Caution,
can be found.

Up-to-date information on 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.

CRIME:
Nauru has a low crime rate.
However, visitors should not be complacent regarding personal safety or the protection of valuables.
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, assist you to 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.

The local equivalent to 911 in Nauru is 444-3500
See our information on Victims of Crime.
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 those in the United States for similar offenses.
Persons violating Nauru law, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned.
Penalties for possession of, use of, or trafficking in illegal drugs are strict, and convicted offenders can expect jail sentences and fines.
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
SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES:
In Nauru, the Australian dollar is the legal currency.
Travelers’ checks and all major currencies are accepted by banks and may also be exchanged for local currency at some local hotels.
Nauru's customs authorities may enforce strict regulations concerning temporary importation into or export from Nauru of items such as foodstuffs, animals, and pornographic materials.
It is advisable to contact the Nauru Permanent Mission to the U.N., at 212-937-0074 for specific information regarding customs requirements.
U.S. citizens are encouraged to carry a copy of their U.S. passports with them at all times, so that, if questioned by local officials, proof of identity and U.S. citizenship are readily available.
If detained, U.S. citizens are encouraged to request that a consular officer at the U.S. Embassy in Suva, Fiji be notified.
MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION:
Health care facilities in the Republic of Nauru are adequate for routine medical problems, but very limited in availability.
Emergency response capability is extremely limited.
Serious medical conditions requiring hospitalization and/or medical evacuation to the United States can cost thousands of dollars.
Doctors and hospitals often expect immediate cash payment for health services.

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 U.S. Department of State is unaware of any HIV/AIDS entry restrictions for visitors to or foreign residents of Nauru.
Please inquire directly with Republic of Nauru Permanent Mission to the United Nations.
Please see the Entry/Exit Requirements section for contact information.

MEDICAL INSURANCE:
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 Nauru is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.

Traffic moves on the left in Nauru.
The main road circling the island is paved, but the remaining roads are unpaved.
There is no organized roadside assistance, although there are a number of mechanics and car repair facilities on the island.
Animals and pedestrians walking in the road make night driving hazardous.
For specific information concerning Nauru driving permits, vehicle inspection, road tax and mandatory insurance, contact the Nauru Consulate General in Melbourne, Australia at telephone (613) 9653-5709, fax (613) 9654-4738. Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information.

AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT:
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the Government of Nauru’s Civil Aviation Authority as not being in compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards for oversight of Nauru’s air carrier operations.
For more information, travelers may visit the FAA’s web site at FAA’a website.

CHILDREN'S ISSUES:
For information on international adoption of children and
international parental child abduction, see the Office of Children’s Issues web pages.

REGISTRATION / EMBASSY LOCATION:
There is no U.S. embassy or diplomatic post in Nauru.
The U.S. Embassy in Suva, Fiji, provides assistance for U.S. citizens in Nauru.
Americans living or traveling in Nauru are encouraged to register with the U.S. Embassy in Suva through the State Department’s travel registration web site at https://travelregistration.state.gov, and to obtain updated information on travel and security in Nauru.
Americans without Internet access may register directly with the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate.
The U.S. Embassy in Fiji is located at 31 Loftus Street in Fiji’s capital city of Suva.
The telephone number is (679) 331-4-466; the fax number is (679) 330-2-267.
Information may also be obtained by visiting the Embassy’s home page at http://suva.usembassy.gov/.
By registering, American citizens make it easier for the embassy or consulate to contact them in case of emergency.
*

*

*
This replaces the Country Specific Information dated August 20, 2008, with updates in the sections on Entry/Exit Requirements, Information for Victims of Crime, and Special Circumstances.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Fri, 26 Dec 2003 07:08:35 +0100 (MET) SYDNEY, Dec 26 (AFP) - Five more Afghan men haved join fellow detainees on a hunger strike at an immigration centre on the Pacific island of Nauru but all have agreed to end the protest if Australian officials attended a meeting to discuss their future, refugee advocates said Friday. The immigration department said a total of 45 mostly Afghan men were on hunger strike, a protest now entering its third week. An immigration spokeswoman said 11 of the protesters were in hospital but were not in a serious condition. National director of refugee advocacy group A Just Australia, Howard Glenn, said the hunger strikers had accepted a memorandum of understanding which would see representatives of the Australian and New Zealand governments, the United Nations and refugee groups meet to discuss the problems faced by detainees. "The Australians who have negotiated with the hunger strikers have done a great job in proposing a process which will end the life threatening behaviour, and find permanent solutions to end this shameful chapter," Glenn said in a statement. "We urge (Australian Immigration Minister) Amanda Vanstone to come to the party and rapidly agree to this summit." But Vanstone rejected the request. "The best thing hunger strikers on Nauru can do is end their dangerous protest of self harm," the minister said in a statement. "The proposal put by a Just Australia appears to hold out false hopes to the non-refugees on Nauru that self harm may be a successful way of achieving a visa to Australia. "No responsible Australian would hold out this false hope for hunger strikers if one of their children or loved ones was involved." A total of 284 asylum seekers, including 93 children, are being held on Nauru under Canberra's the so-called Pacific solution, devised two years ago to keep boat people from Australian shores.
Date: Tue, 23 Dec 2003 06:28:16 +0100 (MET) SYDNEY, Dec 23 (AFP) - An Australian government delegation failed to persuade hunger striking illegal immigrants on the Pacific island of Nauru to end their protest Tuesday, prompting Canberra to reaffirm its hardline stance toward the would-be refugees. Amid conflicting reports about the health of 35 mostly Afghan men who have refused food since December 10, Australia sent a delegation including former immigration minister John Hodges and Afghan community leader Gholam Aboss to convince the protestors their actions would be fruitless. But after a day-and-a-half on the island, the delegation said the protestors remained committed to their protest. "I again urge those residents in the camp to stop their hunger strike and think about returning to their home country," Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone said in a statement after receiving a briefing from the delegation. "The government will not be pressured into granting visas to people who have had a fair hearing and have been found not to be refugees." Four of the protestors have sewn their lips together and about 15 have been hospitalised but Vanstone said the delegation reported "they appear to be in remarkably good condition". Refugee advocacy group A Just Australia said asylum seekers were passing out as they spoke to the delegation at the detention camp. "Essentially it was a polite meeting but went nowhere, in fact there were some detainees that passed out during the meeting and had to be hospitalised," spokesman Greg Barns told public radio. A total of 284 asylum seekers, including 93 children, are being held on Nauru under Canberra's the so-called Pacific solution, devised two years ago to keep boat people from Australian shores.
Date: Mon, 15 Dec 2003 04:18:41 +0100 (MET) CANBERRA, Dec 15 (AFP) - Five illegal immigrants on hunger strike protesting against being held by Australian authorities on the Pacific island of Nauru have been taken to hospital, a refugee support group claimed Monday. Rural Australians for Refugees spokeswoman Elaine Smith said three of them were taken to hospital on Monday following two others at the weekend. A number of others were said to be urinating blood. She warned of possible deaths as the detainees entered their fifth day of hunger strikes, four with their lips sewn together. More than 280 boatpeople, mostly Afghans diverted to Nauru after the government refused them permission to land on Australian territory, remain on the island under Canberra's mandatory detention policy after their claims for asylum were rejected. The detainees, who include 93 children, have refused to return to Afghanistan. The immigration department confirmed that some 25 men have refused food and water inside the Nauru camp where the protest began last Wednesday. Officials said the condition of the men is being carefully monitored and the government has refused to reconsider their pleas. Smith said normal activities at the Nauru camp had stopped out of respect for the protesters. "The men on the hunger strike are lying quietly," she said. "It is too painful to speak. Helpers wash down their bodies with cool cloths."
Date: Wed, 10 Dec 2003 06:36:54 +0100 (MET) SYDNEY, Dec 10 (AFP) - Illegal immigrants detained by Australian authorities on the South Pacific island of Nauru and in a mainland detention centre have begun a hunger strike, some sewing their lips together, refugee advocates said Wednesday. Hassan Ghulam, president of the Hazara Ethnic Society of Australia, told a rally in Brisbane that the Nauru detainees, including some children, wanted to stage a non-violent protest to highlight their plight. Hundreds of illegal immigrants, including 85 children, are being held on the island as part of the so-called Pacific solution, under which newly arrived boatpeople were sent offshore to prevent them gaining access to Australian courts. Ghulam said he had received a phone call from one of the Nauru refugees, telling him of the hunger strike to coincide with world Human Rights Day. "This is not a hunger strike for a day or two," Ghulam said. "It will be continuing probably until they get a result." Ghulam said conditions on the island were unsatisfactory, with running water reduced to two hours a day and no water for washing other than seawater. "I call on the immigration minister to bring an end to this issue," he said. "It cannot go on indefinitely. "For the last two years they have suffered. There is no more emotional or mental energy left. They are drained." Ghulam said up to six of the refugees were under psychiatric care in the Nauru Hospital and one had attempted suicide last week. Four detainees in an isolation block at Port Hedland detention centre in the north of Western Australia have also joined the hunger strike, immigration officials said. A group calling itself Rural Australians for Refugees said contacts within the centre had informed her that 21 people were being held in isolation and all of them had been on a hunger strike since Monday. A spokeswoman for the group, Helvi Aarnio, said other detainees in the centre's general population had joined in the strike in solidarity and imposed work bans to mark International Human Rights Day. She said the detainees intended to continue the hunger strike until they were released from the isolation block.
Date: Tue 1 Apr 2003 From: ProMED-mail Source: The Australian online, Wed 2 Apr 2003 [edited] ---------------------------------------------- An epidemic of dengue fever is sweeping Nauru, the island at the centre of the Pacific solution refugee policy, as more than 20 asylum-seekers and staff are "strongly suspected" of having the disease. A vigorous attempt to solve the problem is under way in the 2 camps, which house 457 asylum-seekers sent there after being intercepted en route to Australia. Three "fogging" machines have been imported to kill the disease-carrying mosquitoes. Children sleep in air-conditioned demountables, and asylum-seekers are being urged to use insect repellent continuously. The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) says 17 asylum-seekers, including an Afghan girl, 9, and an Afghan boy, 5, are believed to have contracted dengue fever in the past 2 months. A further 5 staff members with the IOM, which manages the camps, are believed to have the disease. All asylum-seekers suspected of having dengue have been sent to the island's hospital for monitoring, but only a small number have had to stay overnight. No one has so far developed the potentially fatal hemorrhagic form of dengue fever. But IOM representatives have expressed frustrations that asylum-seekers are not wearing insect repellent, despite being advised to. Chief of Mission Cy Winter said none of the 22 community representatives or "block leaders" had worn repellent during regular meetings with IOM staff. Mr Winter said authorities were hopeful the worst was over, but there were still concerns that it might spread in the camps because people were not wearing repellent. The outbreak on Nauru was so bad recently that 100 locals a day were reporting to hospital with symptoms. That number has dropped to about 20 people reporting each day. [Byline: Megan Saunders]
More ...

World Travel News Headlines

Date: Tue, 26 May 2020 09:15:57 +0200 (METDST)

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.
Date: Tue, 26 May 2020 05:52:24 +0200 (METDST)

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.
Date: Tue, 26 May 2020 01:15:01 +0200 (METDST)

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.
Date: Mon, 25 May 2020 22:20:46 +0200 (METDST)

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."
Date: Mon, 25 May 2020 21:59:40 +0200 (METDST)

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.
Date: Mon, 25 May 2020 20:36:16 +0200 (METDST)

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.
Date: Mon, 25 May 2020 17:45:38 +0200 (METDST)
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.
Date: Mon, 25 May 2020 15:25:38 +0200 (METDST)

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.
Date: Mon, 25 May 2020 09:20:17 +0200 (METDST)
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.
Date: Fri, 22 May 2020 11:02:28 +0200 (METDST)

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.