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Albania

Albania US Consular Information Sheet November 04, 2008

 COUNTRY DESCRIPTION

Albania is a parliamentary democracy that is transforming its economy into a market-oriented system. Albania's per capita income is among the lowest in Eu

ope, but economic conditions in the country are steadily improving. Tourist facilities are not highly developed in much of the country, and though Albania's economic integration into European Union markets is slowly underway, many of the goods and services taken for granted in other European countries are not yet available. Hotel accommodations are limited outside of major cities. Read the Department of State Background Notes on Albania for additional information.

ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS

 A passport is required. All travelers entering or exiting Albania must have six months or more validity on their passport. Customs officers strictly enforce this law. U.S. citizens do not require a visa prior to entering Albania, but those traveling without a visa will be charged a fee for an entry stamp at the point of entry, which is valid for a stay of up to 90 days. This fee is currently 10 Euros, or the equivalent in any easily convertible currency, including U.S. dollars. Travelers without a visa who intend to stay in Albania for more than 90 days should be aware that Albanian law allows a traveler without a visa to remain in Albania for 90 days only within a specific 180-day period. That 180-day period is defined from the first day of entry. For example, a traveler entering without a visa on January 1 may remain in Albania for 90 days total during the period of time between January 1 and June 28. Departing Albania during this time period does not "restart the clock." Travelers attempting to reenter Albania without a visa and within 180 days of a previous entry and after an aggregate stay of 90 days may be denied entry. For stays exceeding 90 days within a 180-day period, those interested must apply for a Residency Permit at the police station with jurisdiction over the city of residence. Information on how to apply for a residency permit is available on the Embassy of Albania web site at http://www.embassyofalbania.org/. There is also a departure fee of ten Euros, or the equivalent in any easily convertible currency, including U.S. dollars. Visit the Embassy of Albania web site at http://www.embassyofalbania.org/consular.html#visa for the most current visa information. Dual Nationality: The Albanian government considers any person in Albania of Albanian parents to be an Albanian citizen. In addition to being subject to all Albanian laws affecting U.S. citizens, dual nationals may be subject to Albanian laws that impose special obligations. Male Albanian citizens are subject to compulsory military service regulations. If such persons are found guilty of draft evasion in Albania, they are subject to prosecution by the Albanian court. Those who might be affected should inquire at an Albanian Embassy or Consulate outside Albania regarding their status before traveling. In some instances, dual nationality may hamper U.S. Government efforts to provide protection abroad. 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

Although the overall security situation in Albania has improved in recent years, organized criminal activity continues to operate in all regions, and corruption is pervasive. US Government employees need permission to travel to the northern administrative districts of Shkoder, Malesi E Madhe and Tropoje (with the exception of the route along the national road to Montenegro and the city of Shkoder) and to the southern town of Lazarat, with such travel restricted to secure vehicles with escort. Travel restrictions for U.S. Government employees have been lifted for overnight stays in the city of Shkoder. In most cases, police assistance and protection is limited. A high level of security awareness should be maintained at all times. Photographing anything that authorities regard as being of military or security interest may cause travelers problems. All gatherings of large crowds should be avoided, particularly those involving political causes or striking workers. For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs’ web 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 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

In the latest State Department assessment, Albania’s crime rating is “medium.” Crime against foreigners is rare in Albania, as targeting foreigners is often viewed as too risky. Visitors should maintain the same personal security awareness that they would in any metropolitan U.S. city. Caution should be exercised in bars in Tirana where violent incidents, some involving the use of firearms, have occurred in the past, particularly in the early morning hours. Within the last years there have been fewer cases of carjacking compared with previous years. Anyone who is carjacked should surrender the vehicle without resistance. Armed crime continues to be more common in northern and northwestern Albania than in the rest of the country. Street crime is fairly common in Albania, particularly at night. Criminals do not seem to deliberately target U.S. citizens or other foreigners, but do seek targets of opportunity, and select those who appear to have anything of value. Vehicle theft is still one of the biggest problems in Albania. Pick-pocketing is widespread; U.S. citizens have reported the theft of their passports by pick-pockets. 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, 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 is 129, though coverage is inconsistent at best. See our information on Victims of Crime.

MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION

Medical facilities and capabilities in Albania are limited beyond rudimentary first aid treatment. Emergency and major medical care requiring surgery and hospital care is inadequate due to lack of specialists, diagnostic aids, medical supplies, and prescription drugs. Travelers with previously diagnosed medical conditions may wish to consult their physicians before travel. As prescription drugs may be unavailable locally, travelers may also wish to bring extra supplies of required medications. Recent electricity shortages have resulted in sporadic blackouts throughout the country, which can affect food storage capabilities of restaurants and shops. While some restaurants and food stores have generators to properly store food, travelers should take care that food is cooked thoroughly to reduce the risk of food-borne illness. Water in Albania is not potable. Visitors should plan to purchase bottled water or drinks while in country. The U.S. Department of State is unaware of any HIV/AIDS entry restrictions for visitors to or foreign residents of Albania. 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 (CDC) 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/en

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 Albania is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance. Major roads in Albania are often in very poor condition. Traveling by road throughout Albania is the most dangerous activity for locals and tourists. Vehicle accidents are the major cause of death, according to police statistics. Electricity shortages have resulted in sporadic blackouts throughout the country that can happen any hour of the day or night. Such outages affect traffic signals and street lights, making driving increasingly treacherous at any time of day. Travel at night outside the main urban areas is dangerous and should be avoided due to deplorable road conditions. During the winter months, travelers may encounter dangerous snow and icy conditions on the roads throughout mountainous regions in northern Albania. Buses travel between most major cities almost exclusively during the day, but they are often unreliable and uncomfortable. Many travelers looking for public transport prefer to use privately owned vans, which function as an alternate system of bus routes and operate almost entirely without schedules or set fares. Please note that many of these privately owned vans may not have official permission to operate a bus service and may not adhere to accepted safety and maintenance standards. Persons wishing to use privately owned vans should exercise caution. There are no commercial domestic flights and few rail connections. Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information. Visit the website of the country’s national tourist office at www.albaniantourism.com.

AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT

As there is no direct commercial air service to the United States by carriers registered in Albania, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not assessed Albania's Civil Aviation Authority for compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards. For further information, travelers may visit the FAA's web site at http://www.faa.gov/safety/programs_initiatives/oversight/iasa SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES: Albania's customs authorities may enforce strict regulations concerning temporary importation into or export from Albania of some items. It is advisable to contact the Embassy of Albania in Washington, D.C. or one of Albania's Consulates in the United States for specific information regarding customs requirements. As noted previously, the Albanian government considers any person in Albania of Albanian parents to be an Albanian citizen. In addition to being subject to all Albanian laws affecting U.S. citizens, dual nationals may be subject to Albanian laws that impose special obligations. Male Albanian citizens are subject to compulsory military service regulations. See our information pertaining to dual nationality. Albania is a cash economy. Credit cards and travelers checks are not generally accepted, except at the major new hotels in Tirana and some international airline offices. Travelers' checks can be changed at banks in larger towns. Automated Teller Machines (ATMs) are available in most cities. Please see our Customs Information CRIMINAL PENALTIES: While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country's laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law. Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses. Persons violating Albania’s laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned. Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Albania 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. Under Albanian law, police can detain any individual for up to 10 hours without filing formal charges. U.S. citizens are encouraged to carry a copy of their U.S. passports with them at all times to show proof of identity and U.S. citizenship if questioned by local officials.

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 Albania 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 Albania. 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 Rruga Elbasanit 103, tel. (355)(4) 2247285; fax (355)(4) 2232222. The U.S. Embassy web site is http://tirana.usembassy.gov/ * * * This replaces the Consular Information Sheet dated June 10, 2008, to update sections on Entry and Exit Requirements, Medical Facilities and Health Information, and Traffic Safety and Road Conditions.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Thu, 7 May 2020 13:53:07 +0200 (METDST)
By Briseida MEMA

Tirana, May 7, 2020 (AFP) - Ever since the coronavirus reared its head in Albania in early March, infectious disease specialist Nevila Gjermeni has been on the frontline.   That means she hasn't seen her children for two months -- a painful separation she hopes will soon be coming to an end as officials prepare to ease restrictions.   "Each of us has a family," the 38-year-old, pausing to fight back tears, said of colleagues who are urging the public to stay vigilant about health precautions.

Albania was quick to lock down and has so far avoided the devastation seen in places like Italy, which lies just across the Adriatic sea.   Some 30 people have died and fewer than 1,000 are known to be infected.   But as the country now slowly eases its sweeping restrictions, exhausted doctors fear a fresh inundation of infections in their hospital wards.   "We won the first battle but we are still at war," said Loreta Bici, a cardiologist working at a Tirana hospital that treats the most serious patients.   Like elsewhere in the world, the physical and emotional toll has been punishing for medical staff working around the clock.

In the Tirana hospitals converted into coronavirus centres -- now known as Covid 1 and Covid 2 -- doctors and nurses in hazmat suits and other cumbersome protective gear have spent their waking hours trying to care for patients who are lonely and afraid.   "You're all covered up, (the patient) can't see your eyes, he tries to recognise your voice, who you are, who is helping him," Najada Como, an infectious disease expert in charge of Covid 1, told AFP as her voice shook with emotion.

- First words, birthdays -
Many hospital staff have also been robbed of their emotional support systems.   Since March,  Gjermeni and her husband Arber, a resuscitation doctor in another department, have only been able to see their 15-month-old daughter Hana and 10-year-old son Bjorn over video chats.   Their toddler "is at the age where she's exploring faces" and it's impossible to tell her that she shouldn't touch, said Gjermeni.

The doctor also fears infecting her frail parents, who are looking after the children.   Important milestones have already been missed, such as Hana's first steps and attempt at words.   The parents were also unable to be with their son on his birthday, Gjermeni said through tears.   Other medical staff have feared for their own lives.

Adelina Dragoti, the 48-year-old head nurse at Covid 2, came down with the virus herself.   But she was back to work after four weeks.   "It is a true joy when we manage to save a life, when the patient wakes up, looks at you and says: 'I owe you my life,'" she told AFP of the rare bright moments inside the wards.   "I cannot forget these words."
Date: Mon, 20 Apr 2020 11:58:19 +0200 (METDST)

Tirana, April 20, 2020 (AFP) - Albania will allow some businesses to reopen Monday to ease to the economic pain of a coronavirus clampdown that has wiped out tens of thousands of jobs in the Balkan state.   Firms in the agriculture, fishing, mineral, oil and textile sectors are among those permitted to reboot activity once they have received a certificate from the health ministry, according to a list published on the government's website.

Hotels that meet all required hygiene conditions will also be allowed to open their doors, though venues like bars, restaurants and beauty salons remain shuttered.   Under the new relaxed rules, businesses must also respect a nightly 5:30 pm (1530GMT) curfew and "strictly" enforce social distancing measures for employees, who must wear protective gear, the government said.   Albania was quick to shut down public and economic life after its first cases of the virus emerged on March 9.

Since then nearly all businesses except for food shops and pharmacies have gone dark while residents are only allowed outsided with authorisation.    According to government figures, the tight lockdown appears to have staved off a major outbreak, with almost 600 known infections and 26 deaths from the virus in the country of 2.8 million.   But the economic costs have piled up, as some 50,000 Albanians -- around four percent of the official workforce -- have lost their jobs, according to Ministry  Economy.   A series of relief efforts are also costing the government some 540 millions euros.
Date: Tue, 26 Nov 2019 09:28:12 +0100 (MET)
By Briseida MEMA

Tirana, Nov 26, 2019 (AFP) - Six people died and some 150 were injured in Albania after the strongest earthquake in decades rocked the Balkan country early Tuesday, destroying buildings and burying victims in rubble.

The epicentre of the 6.4 magnitude quake was about 34 kilometres (about 20 miles) northwest of the capital Tirana, at a depth of 10 km, according to the European-Mediterranean Seismological Centre.   "We have victims," Prime Minister Edi Rama wrote on Twitter. "We are working to do everything possible in the affected areas."   The quake struck at 3:54 am local time (0254 GMT) and sent panicked residents running out onto the streets of Tirana, with people huddling in the open, an AFP correspondent said.

The worst damage appeared to be around the coastal town of Durres. The quake was the strongest to hit this region since 1926, Albanian seismologist Rrapo Ormeni told local television.   Three bodies were pulled from the ruins of damaged buildings in the port town, where a three-story hotel collapsed and other buildings were damaged, according to the defence ministry.   The bodies of a man and a woman were uncovered in rubble in the nearby town of Thumane, the ministry said.

A man in his fifties died after he jumped out of his building in panic in the town of Kurbin, the defence ministry said.   Some 300 armed forces personnel have rushed to Durres and Thumane for rescue operations, where "there are people trapped under the ruins", defence ministry spokeswoman Albana Qahajaj said.

In Thumane, around a dozen rescuers used an excavator to dig through a mountain of debris in search of possible victims.   At least 150 people with injuries have sought first aid in Tirana and Durres, Health Minister Ogerta Manasterliu said.

- Trapped under rubble -
In Thumane, soldiers, rescuers and families were sifting through the rubble of a collapsed five-storey building as cries of people trapped under debris were heard, an AFP reporter said.   Thoma Nika, a 58-year-old who lived in the building, said there were at least six people under rubble.    Another man, Arben Allushi said with tears in his eyes, that his wife and niece missing after the building collapsed.

A man in Durres told local television that his daughter and niece were trapped in the rubble of a collapsed apartment building.    "I talked with my daughter and niece on the phone. They said they are well and are waiting for the rescue. I could not talk to my wife. There are other families, but I could not talk to them," the man said.

The tremors were felt across the Balkan region, from Sarajevo to Bosnia and even in the Serbian city of Novi Sad almost 700 kilometres away, according to reports in local media and on social networks.   It was followed by several aftershocks, including one of 5.3 magnitude, the European-Mediterranean Seismological Centre said. It was described by authorities as the strongest earthquake in the last 20-30 years.   The Balkans is an area prone to seismic activity and earthquakes are frequent.
Date: Sat, 21 Sep 2019 20:39:17 +0200 (METDST)

Tirana, Sept 21, 2019 (AFP) - Albania was rattled by its strongest earthquake in decades Saturday, officials said, sending people fleeing into the streets in several cities, damaging buildings and triggering power cuts in the capital.   The epicentre of the shallow 5.6-magnitude quake, was near Durres, less than 40 kilometres (25 miles) west of the capital Tirana, according to the US Geological Survey.

Albania's defence ministry said it was the "strongest earthquake in the country in the last 20 to 30 years".   "There are no deaths," defence ministry spokeswoman Albana Qajaj said.   Some 80 people sought medical help in both Tirana and Durres, 21 of whom were hospitalised due to injuries caused by falling objects or parts of walls as well as for panic attacks, Health Minister Ogerta Manasterilu said.   Qajaj told AFP that houses and buildings in Tirana had been damaged but were still standing and that the ministry was accessing damage in other towns and villages.   Prime Minister Edi Rama cancelled his scheduled trip to the United States following the quake, which cut electricity and telephone lines in Tirana and a number of other towns and villages.

Many people remained outside their homes for several hours in the capital, fearful of aftershocks.   "I fear to return because such a strong earthquake could be followed with others," Drita Lohja, a resident in her fifties, told AFP.    Falling debris pulverised parked cars in parts of the city.   AFP reporters and witnesses saw windows broken and deep fissures in the facades of buildings in Durres, as well as in the capital.   Media reported that a large building in Tirana was seriously damaged and that residents were being evacuated.   A University of Tirana building was also damaged, witnesses said.

According to local media reports, at least two people were lightly injured and a dozen houses collapsed in the village of Helmes, 10 kilometres from Tirana.   Two other earthquakes followed the strong one that occurred at around 4:00 pm (1400 GMT) and was felt in neighbouring Montenegro and Italy, but also on the Greek island of Corfu according to some Twitter users.
Date: Fri, 9 Mar 2018 16:28:50 +0100

Tirana, March 9, 2018 (AFP) - The military has been deployed in northern Albania to help hundreds of people trapped by floods following heavy rainfall, authorities said on Friday.   More than 9,230 hectares (22,800 acres) of agricultural land is underwater in the Shkodra region, including villages where the only means of transport is by boat, the defence ministry said.

Army personnel are evacuating residents and securing food supplies in the affected areas, 100 kilometres (60 miles) north of the capital, Tirana.   The torrential rain in recent days has caused landslides damaging dozens of homes and flooding roads, said the transport ministry.   The rain has also forced the Albanian authorities to release excess water from a hydroelectric plant, which has added to the flooding in northern areas of the country.   Weather forecasters say the rain is likely to ease from Saturday.
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Paraguay

Paraguay - US Consular Information Sheet
September 15, 2008
COUNTRY DESCRIPTION:
Paraguay is a constitutional democracy with a developing economy.
Tourist facilities are adequate in the capital city of Asuncion, but they vary greatly
n quality and prices.
Travelers outside Asuncion should consider seeking travel agency assistance, as satisfactory or adequate tourist facilities are very limited in other major cities and almost nonexistent in remote areas.
Read the Department of State Background Notes on Paraguay for additional information.
ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS:
A passport and visa are required.
U.S. citizens traveling to Paraguay must submit completed visa applications in person or by secure messenger to the Paraguayan Embassy or one of the consulates and pay a fee.
Paraguay issues visas for one-entry or multiple entries up to the validity of the U.S. passport.
Applicants under 18 years of age traveling alone must appear with both of their parents or a legal guardian.
In case of a guardian, an original and one copy of proof of legal guardianship are required.
A document of authorization from parents/guardian will be accepted only if it is notarized and certified by the county clerk.
Travelers entering or departing Paraguay with regular U.S. passports will be fingerprinted.
Some airlines include the Paraguayan airport departure tax in the price of the airline ticket.
It is recommended that you check with the airline in order to determine whether or not the departure tax has been included.
If the tax is not included in the airline ticket then payment would be required upon departure in either U.S. or local currency (no credit cards or checks accepted). Visit the Embassy of Paraguay web site at http://www.embaparusa.gov.py 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:
As stated in the Department of State's latest Worldwide Caution, U.S. citizens overseas may be targeted by extremist groups and should maintain a high level of vigilance.
The U.S. Embassy is not aware of any specific terrorist threat to Americans in Paraguay.
Individuals and organizations providing financial support to extremist groups operate in Ciudad del Este and along the tri-border area between Paraguay, Brazil and Argentina.
Small armed groups have also been reported to be operating in the San Pedro and Concepcion Departments.
Drug trafficking remains a serious concern in the Department of Amambay.
Because of concerns about the lack of security in border areas, the U.S. Embassy in Asuncion requires U.S. Government personnel and their family members to provide advance notice and a travel itinerary when traveling to Ciudad del Este or Pedro Juan Caballero.
As a general precaution, the Embassy also counsels its employees traveling outside the capital to provide an itinerary including dates, contact names, and telephone numbers where the employee may be reached.

Since January 2007, there have been numerous kidnapping incidents mainly in the Alto Parana department.
Targets have been members of the Paraguayan business community or their family members.
It is believed that the individuals responsible for the kidnappings are financially motivated and have pre-selected their targets based on the victims’ wealth.

U.S. citizens should avoid large gatherings or any other event where crowds have congregated to demonstrate or protest.
Such activities have resulted in intermittent road closures including major routes traveled by tourists and residents.
While generally nonviolent, demonstrations and/or roadblocks have turned violent in the past.
Areas where such closures and barricades exist should be avoided.
U.S. citizens who encounter demonstrations and/or roadblocks should not attempt to continue the planned travel or to confront those at the roadblock.
Instead, they should avoid areas where individuals are demonstrating and in case of roadblock, wait for the road to reopen or return to the origin of their trip.
Uniformed police often conduct roving checks of vehicles and passengers.

For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs’ website 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 safety and security can also be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll free in the United States and Canada, or for callers outside the United States 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:
Crime has increased in recent years with criminals often targeting those thought to be wealthy.
Although most crime is nonviolent, there has been an increase in the use of weapons and there have been incidents where extreme violence has been used.
U.S. citizens have on occasion been the victims of assaults, kidnappings, robberies, and rapes.
Local authorities frequently lack the training and resources to solve these cases.
Under these circumstances, U.S. citizens traveling to or residing in Paraguay should be aware of their surroundings and security at all times.
They should take common sense precautions including refraining from displaying expensive-looking cameras and jewelry, large amounts of money, or other valuable items.
Resistance to armed assailants has often aggravated the situation and therefore is not advised.

Armed robbery, carjackings, car theft, and home invasions are a problem in both urban and rural areas.
Street crime, including pick pocketing and mugging, is prevalent in cities.
The number of pick pocketing incidents and armed assaults is also increasing on public buses and in the downtown area of Asunción.
As many incidents on public buses involve individuals snatching valuables, passengers should not wear expensive-looking jewelry or display other flashy items.
There have been incidents of pilferage from checked baggage at both airports and bus terminals.
Travelers have found it prudent to hide valuables on their person or in carry-on luggage.
Unauthorized ticket vendors also reportedly operate at the Asuncion bus terminal, badgering travelers into buying tickets for substandard or non-existent services.

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 them back to the United States may result in forfeitures and/or fines.
More information on this serious problem is available at http://www.cybercrime.gov/18usc2320.htm
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, contact family members or friends and explain how funds could be transferred.
Although the investigation and prosecution of the crime are 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.

Below are the local equivalent phone numbers to the “911” emergency line in Paraguay.
In Asuncion, the following phone numbers exist for roadside/ambulance assistance:
Emergency Services, including police and ambulances:
911.
Fire Department, including rescue of accident victims: 131, 132.
See our information on Victims of Crime.

MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION:
Adequate medical facilities, prescription and over-the-counter medicine, supplies, and services are available only in Asuncion.
Elsewhere, these are limited and may not exist.

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/en.
The U.S. Department of State is unaware of any HIV/AIDS entry restrictions for visitors to Paraguay or foreign residents of the country.

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

U.S. citizens have been injured and killed in traffic accidents.
Only minimal standards must be met to obtain a Paraguayan driver's license, and driver education prior to licensing is not common.
Drivers throughout Paraguay routinely ignore traffic regulations.
No vehicle insurance is required, and many Paraguayans drive without any insurance coverage.
Persons who drive in Paraguay should be prepared to drive defensively and with their own insurance in both urban and rural areas.

Public transportation is readily available for urban and inter-city travel.
Buses vary in maintenance conditions and may not meet U.S. safety standards.
Armed robberies and pick pocketing occur on buses in cities and rural areas, sometimes with the apparent collusion of the bus driver.
Taxis are available and may be called using telephone numbers listed in the newspapers.
No passenger train service exists.
Bicycle travel may not be safe due to traffic and other road hazards.
Most urban streets consist of cobblestones over dirt.
Some roads in Asuncion and other large cities are paved.
However, these roads frequently develop potholes that often remain unrepaired.
Nearly all rural roads are unpaved, and during rainy periods and the rainy season (November-March/April), they may be impassable.
Road signs indicating hazards, such as sharp curves or major intersections, are lacking in many areas.

Driving or traveling at night is not advisable outside Asuncion because pedestrians, animals, or vehicles without proper lights are often on the roads.
In addition, assaults and other crimes against motorists traveling at night have occurred.
Extra precautions should be exercised along infrequently traveled portions of the rural roads.

Intercity highway maintenance is not equal to U.S. standards.
The privately maintained toll road between Caaguazu and Ciudad del Este and the routes between Asuncion and Encarnacion and Asuncion and Pedro Juan Caballero are in good condition.
Most other intercity routes are in good to fair condition, with brief stretches in poor condition.
The Trans-Chaco route is in fair condition except for the portion between Mariscal Estigarribia and the Bolivian border, which is unpaved and at times impassable.

The Touring and Automobile Club provides some roadside assistance to its members.
The Club may be contacted in Asuncion by visiting its offices at 25 de Mayo near Brazil, First Floor, or telephoning 210-550, 210-551, 210-552, 210-553, Monday through Friday from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., or Saturday from 8:00 a.m. to noon, except for Paraguayan holidays.
The Touring Club also has offices in Ciudad del Este (tel. 061-512-340), Coronel Oviedo (tel. 0521-203-350), Encarnación (tel. 071-202-203), San Ignacio Misiones (tel. 082-232-080), Caaguazu Campo 9 ( tel. 0528-222-211), Santani (tel. 043-20-314), Pozo Colorado (cell phone. 0981-939-611, Villa Florida (tel. 083-240-205) and Ybyyau (tel. 039-210-206).
Towing services are scarce outside urban areas.
Twenty-four-hour tow truck services from Asuncion may be contacted by telephoning (021) 224-366, (021) 208-400, (cellular service provider) Tigo by dialing *822 or 0971-951-930.
For an extra fee, these companies may provide service outside Asuncion, but they typically demand immediate payment and may not accept credit cards.

Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information.
Visit the website of Paraguay’s national tourist office and national authority responsible for road safety at http://www.senatur.gov.py and http://www.mopc.gov.py/
AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT: The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the Government of Paraguay’s Civil Aviation Authority as not being in compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards for the oversight of Paraguay’s air carrier operations.
For more information, travelers may visit the FAA’s web site at http://www.faa.gov/safety/programs%5Finitiatives/oversight/iasa/
SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES: Paraguay’s customs authority may enforce strict regulations concerning temporary importation into or export from Paraguay of items such as firearms, medications, toys resembling weapons, or protected species.
It is advisable to contact the Paraguayan Embassy in Washington, D.C., or one of Paraguay's consulates in the United States for specific information regarding customs requirements.

Paraguay does not recognize dual Paraguayan nationality for American citizens.
Under Article 150 of the Paraguayan Constitution, naturalized Paraguayans lose their nationality by virtue of a court ruling based on unjustified absence from the Republic for more than three years, or by voluntary adoption of another nationality.
Please see our Customs Information.

CRIMINAL PENALTIES:
While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country's laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law.
Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses.
Persons violating Paraguay’s laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested, or imprisoned.
Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Paraguay 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 residing or traveling in Paraguay are encouraged to register with the nearest 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 Paraguay.
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 1776 Mariscal Lopez Avenue, Asuncion; telephone (011-595-21) 213-715, fax (011-595-21) 213-728; Internet: http://paraguay.usembassy.gov, email: paraguayconsular@state.gov.
The Consular Section is open for U.S. citizen services, including registration, Monday through Thursday from 1:00 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. and Fridays from 7:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m., except for U.S. and Paraguayan holidays; telephone (011-595-21) 213-715, fax (011-595-21) 228-603.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Tue, 28 May 2019 03:40:13 +0200
By Hugo OLAZAR

Nanawa, Paraguay, May 28, 2019 (AFP) - Like 70,000 people living close to the broken banks of the Paraguay River, where the water level has risen seven meters (23 feet) in some places, Graciela Acosta has had to pack up her belongings and evacuate.   Piled up on a canoe are the 39-year-old housewife's bed, wardrobe, bedside table and her dog Pirulin.

Acosta is getting ready to cross the border into Argentina with her daughter to seek refuge in a reception center in the neighboring town of Clorinda.   "I've had enough! It's the third time that I've had to move everything because of the floods," said Acosta.   "I pray to God that it ends. Every time. it costs a lot of money."   However, there's no chance of Acosta leaving her home in Nanawa, a town of just 6,000 people that borders Argentina to the west and faces the capital Asuncion to the east across the Paraguay River, for good.   "As soon as the water level drops, I'll go home," she said.

- 'Greater impact' -
In Nanawa, only around 500 people were able to avoid evacuation, due to living in homes with upper floors above the flood levels.   They're used to this as the Paraguay River, one of the largest in the Americas, breaks its banks and causes havoc in the poorest Nanawa neighborhoods built on the flood plain.   The river's brown waters rise almost to the height of street signs: in some areas, there is up to one or two meters of water covering roads.

Paraguayans have seen worse, though, back in 1983, according to the assistant director of the country's meteorology and hydrology service, Nelson Perez.   "It's not the Paraguay River's worst flood, but the impact is greater because more people live close to the river," said Perez.   "These are the worst floods I've seen," said Ruben Acosta, 55, who peddles his moving services by canoe.   It's a far cry from January and February, when the river's level was so low that navigating it became difficult.   "It rained a lot in March, three times more than usual, and it also rained a lot in April and May," said Perez, who pointed to deforestation as an added problem.

- 'It's like being in Venice' -
Wading through water up to his chest, Rigoberto Nunez leaves a cemetery carrying a chandelier, a vase, some crucifixes and family portraits, all plucked from the family vault.   "I prefer to take them away to be safe," says the 47-year-old traveling salesman.    The town is without electricity or police and inhabitants are afraid of looters.   Nunez is heading to a reception center provided by Argentine authorities in a Clorinda slum where he's already stashed his furniture.   Enrique Cardozo's workshop has already been ravaged by the floods.   "I've lost my sofa, the cupboard, I had nowhere to put them," said the 51-year-old father of four.

The family has moved into the first floor of their house, which is just 15 meters from the river.   "It rained non-stop for a week. One day, the water rose one meter. It was impressive, we couldn't save everything," said Cardozo.   "There's nowhere you can put your feet on the ground. It's like being in Venice, we move about by Gondola!"

On the other side of the river, Asuncion has not been spared as several areas have also had to be evacuated.   In the Sajonia residential zone, inhabitants and shopkeepers have seen their sidewalks lined with sandbags, to keep back the floodwaters.   According to Perez, though, the problems -- and waters -- will soon subside.   The water level rose only slightly on Monday, and will continue to do so for a few more days before it drains away during the first half of June, he said.
Date: Mon, 27 May 2019 12:07:58 +0200

Asuncion, May 27, 2019 (AFP) - Heavy flooding in Paraguay has displaced 70,000 families and is threatening to further inundate the capital Asuncion in the coming weeks, the country's weather bureau said.   Water levels on the Paraguay River are rising at a rate of 4-5 centimetres (1.5-2 inches) every day and is only 46 cm (18 in) below a "disaster" level, according to official data from the Department of Meteorology and Hydrology (DMH).

Crossing that threshold would "have a very strong impact" because of the number of Asuncion residents who have moved into the city's floodplain, said DMH deputy director Nelson Perez on Sunday.   The city's water service infrastructure was clogged with garbage which was exacerbating the floods, Perez added. 

Unusually heavy downpours over May, including two days which together exceeded Asuncion's average monthly rainfall, have exacerbated the flooding, said DMH meteorologist Eduardo Mingo.    Some 40,000 people in Asuncion have already been affected by the floods, official data reported.   A further 10,000 people have been displaced in the southern town of Pilar on the Argentinian border.   The government has mobilized armed forces to help displaced residents relocate to shelters, but hundreds of families have opted to stay behind in their inundated homes.
Date: Thu, 4 Apr 2019 03:06:45 +0200

Asuncion, April 4, 2019 (AFP) - More than 20,000 families across Paraguay have been affected by severe flooding from two weeks of heavy rain that caused the country's main river to burst its banks, a senior official said Wednesday as an emergency was declared in the capital.   National Emergency Minister Joaquin Roa made the announcement as forecasters said the precipitation would continue for the rest of the week.   The Paraguay River, which runs some 1,000 kilometres north to south and splits the country in two, is expected to continue overflowing.

A 90-day emergency was declared in Asuncion on Wednesday due to the flooding. Hardest-hit are some 5,000 families living in the Banado Sur working-class neighbourhood on the city outskirts.   The people affected by flooding "need sheet metal roofing, wood, and all types of help," a municipal official told AFP.   The Paraguay River flows past Asuncion and eventually merges into the Parana River in Argentina.   "We did not expect it to swell so quickly," said Pablo Ramirez, a resident of Banado Sur, a neighbourhood in the capital, dismayed after returning to his home after he left it one month ago due to flooding.

Ramirez, who relies on crutches to get around following a car accident, said that he will not leave home this time. The flooding "will go by quickly," he said optimistically.   Pedro Velasco, the leading neighbourhood Catholic priest, said that one week ago they warned emergency officials that the river was about to overflow and asked for trucks to deliver aid and help evacuate people.   "They didn't move until Monday, but by then it was already too late and they couldn't come in" because of the flooding, Velasco said.   Roa said that his office will deliver 400,000 of food in the next days in coordination with the Paraguayan military.
Date: Thu 28 Feb 2019
Source: Hoy [in Spanish trans. Mod.TY, edited]

Patients who present with febrile symptoms and who reside in the area where the 1st positive case was reported positive request tests for hantavirus [infection]. Until now there are 5 cases, 3 were positive in initial laboratory tests and 2 are suspect cases that will be tested outside [the country] because the Central Laboratory does not do confirmatory tests.

The febrile cases of residents in Capiata [Central department], the area where the 1st cases of hantavirus occurred, are adding up and now Health Surveillance has reported 2 more suspected cases, all children between 2 and 7 years old living in the same city; community intervention continues in search of possible cases.

The 1st cases confirmed in a private laboratory remain hospitalized in intensive care and the others who have improved are now receiving ambulatory treatment, stated Dr Sandra Irala of Health Surveillance.

"The clinical picture of hantavirus [infection] is that of a patient with a temperature above 38 deg C [100.4 deg F] and respiratory difficulty is another characteristic in the endemic area such as that of Chaco. In the non-endemic area [hantavirus infection] is suspected if the patient presents with fever and other possible causes are eliminated," the doctor indicated in a press conference.

The rodents that transmit the hantavirus do not inhabit urban areas and the way in which the disease [virus] is acquired is through contact with excreta and other secretions such as saliva and urine of these [infected] rodents.

Irala pointed out that the cases that are initially positive should have a cross-section of studies for final confirmation, so the samples were sent to Argentina, where there is a reference laboratory for the detection of this type of virus.

The person acquires the virus by inhaling air contaminated with the virus that is transported through dust particles, which is why it is recommended before cleaning, especially of storage buildings, to open doors and windows to ventilate the environment and moisten the soil to before proceeding with the sweeping.

The possibility of acquiring a hantavirus [infection] is if you have a history of having visited the Chaco area or if you were in a country that registers outbreaks of hantavirus, such as southern Argentina.

The disease has a 30% mortality rate and in Paraguay every year about 20 cases are registered, all in the Chaco region.

Alerting symptoms
-----------------
The symptoms of hantavirus [infection] are similar to other infectious diseases and include fever, headache, and gastrointestinal problems and, according to the development and the seriousness of the case, the patient may present with respiratory manifestations.

Before the appearance of any of these or other symptoms [the Ministry of Health] urges the public to go to the nearest health service to make the appropriate diagnosis and appropriate treatment. Under no circumstances should self-medication be used as this could aggravate the picture and obstruct the actual diagnosis of the disease.
=====================
[The active surveillance efforts in the neighborhood of the initial case has detected more patients now with a total 3 confirmed and 2 suspected. The tests used in the private laboratory to determine that 3 cases as confirmed are not indicated, nor if samples of these 3 cases were sent to the reference laboratory in Argentina for confirmation.

Most of the previous cases of hantavirus infection in Paraguay have been diagnosed in Boqueron department in the north western part of the country. This is the 1st report of hantavirus infections in the Central department of Paraguay. The possible hantavirus involved in this suspected case is not stated. A 2011 report indicated that Leguna Negra hantavirus was responsible for hantavirus pulmonary syndrome (HPS) cases in Presidente Hayes department. In addition to Laguna Negra virus (rodent host _Calomys laucha_), other hantaviruses that can cause HPS and are found in Paraguay (and their rodent hosts) include Juquitiba (_Akodon cursor_), Ape Aime-Itapua (_Akodon montensis_), Araucaria (_A. montensis_, _Oligoryzomys nigripes_), Jabora and Jabora-like (_A. montensis_), Alto Paraguay (_Holochilus chararius_), and Lechiguanas (_Oligoryzomys nigripes_). - ProMED Mod.TY]

[Maps of Paraguay:
Date: Tue 12 Jun 2018
Source: WHO, Malaria [edited]

- What were the key elements to Paraguay's malaria elimination success that helped the country reach zero indigenous cases of the disease?
Paraguay is the 1st country in the Americas since Cuba in 1973 to be certified malaria-free, representing a significant public health achievement not only for Paraguay but for the Americas as a whole. Achieving elimination in Paraguay required substantial levels of political commitment and leadership, as well as sustained investments in its national malaria programme over a period spanning more than 50 years. Notable aspects of its approach include:

Rapid and targeted response
---------------------------
With free universal health services in Paraguay and a strong malaria surveillance system, malaria cases were detected early, investigated promptly, and classified correctly.

Dedicated elimination strategy
------------------------------
After reporting its last case of malaria in 2011, Paraguay launched a 5-year plan to consolidate the gains, prevent re-establishment of transmission, and prepare for elimination certification. Activities centred on strengthening epidemiological surveillance, robust case management, and a public information campaign on the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of malaria to promote behaviour change among populations in at-risk areas.

Integration
-----------
During 2015 and 2016, as part of a broader health reform, malaria surveillance, diagnosis, and treatment activities were integrated within Paraguay's general health services, with the aim of expanding health coverage to at-risk populations and preventing re-establishment.

Strengthening surveillance skills
---------------------------------
A 3-year initiative to hone the skills of front-line health workers in the country's 18 health regions was launched in 2016 to keep the malaria surveillance system sustainable over the long term. Supported by The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, the project addresses disease prevention, identification of suspected cases, accurate diagnosis and prompt treatment to respond to the on-going threat of malaria importation from endemic countries in the region and Africa.

- How has Paraguay managed to stay malaria-free since 2012? What are the systems in place that made this possible and how long will the country keep those systems operational?
As part of the WHO elimination certification process, countries must demonstrate that they have the capacity to prevent the re-establishment of malaria transmission. The availability of free universal health services in Paraguay and a strong malaria surveillance system ensure imported cases of malaria are detected and responded to in a timely manner to prevent local transmission.

The inclusion of the national malaria programme within the National Malaria Eradication Service (SENEPA, in the Spanish acronym), the institution within the ministry of health responsible for the control of vector-borne diseases, helps guarantee the programme's future existence.

Further, congressional legislation provides predictable and long-term financing for the national malaria programme: by law, 1.5 percent of annual income from Paraguay's social security programme is allocated to SENEPA. Together, these elements ensure that efforts to prevent the re-establishment of malaria transmission can be sustained in the decades to come.

- What are the benefits of malaria elimination for Paraguay?
Eliminating malaria in Paraguay means that no one will fall ill or die from local transmission of the disease, bringing about tangible health benefits at the individual and community levels, as well as broader socio-economic outcomes.

- What role did national leadership, political will, civil society and international partners play in Paraguay's success?
Eliminating malaria is a collective effort, requiring the sustained engagement of many partners at the national, regional and global levels. However, achieving elimination is a country-driven process. For elimination efforts to succeed, government stewardship is essential, together with the engagement and participation of affected communities.

- Does Paraguay coordinate cross-border surveillance activities to prevent importation of malaria cases and do they provide antimalarial treatment to visitors and migrants?
Paraguay provides free treatment to all citizens, visitors, and migrants, regardless of their nationality or residency status. The national malaria programme has identified 3 populations at greatest risk: the military, Brazilian students attending universities in Paraguay, and Paraguayans travelling to Africa. Targeted interventions include strengthening passive detection systems, promotion of health education, and providing prophylaxis to travellers heading to and returning from malaria-endemic regions in Africa.

To step up cross-border collaboration, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) funded a project focused on strengthening entomological surveillance and control of vector-borne diseases in the 'triple border' area of Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay. A key outcome of the project, which ran from 2010 to 2012, was the development of an _Anopheles_ mosquito range map, a tool that shows the geographic distribution of malaria-carrying mosquitoes.

- What are the lessons learned from Paraguay's experience that can be applied in other countries looking to eliminate malaria?
Paraguay provides universal free health services to all, one of the critical elements that helps drive a country towards malaria elimination. Sustained political commitment and robust financial support are further keys to success. Continued surveillance of suspected cases, targeted community engagement and education, as well as strengthening skills of front-line health workers, are recommended strategies that WHO encourages countries to adopt as part of their national malaria elimination programmes.
 
- Is Paraguay replicating its elimination strategy with other infectious and mosquito-borne diseases?
Paraguay has an integrated approach to entomological surveillance activities, taking into account several vector-borne diseases including dengue, leishmaniasis, and Zika virus. Integration of malaria surveillance into the general health system had been a challenging task in Paraguay, but the lessons and experiences learned from other vector-borne diseases have contributed to the smooth integration and transition of the malaria programme. At the same time, the approach used to eliminate malaria is now being applied to eliminate Chagas disease and schistosomiasis.
======================
[ProMED congratulates Paraguay for this important public health achievement. It is important to demonstrate that malaria eradication is possible, and the achievement could be an inspiration for the countries in southeast Asia experiencing a decline in artemisinin susceptibility. - ProMED Mod.EP]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map of Paraguay:
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.