Albania US Consular Information Sheet November 04, 2008
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
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.
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
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.
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
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."
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.
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.
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.
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.
This group of islands are situated off the eastern coast of Africa in the Indian Ocean. The main Island is Mahe and it has a population of under 100,000. The other two islands with significant popula
Safety and Security:
The majority of tourists visiting the Seychelles will have a very peaceful time and the rate of crime throughout the country is small. However, like many other destinations this situation is changing and there are increasing numbers of reports of petty crime - even on the more popular beaches. Generally it is unwise to leave valuables unattended while you bathe and walking around the main streets in Victoria after dark is not recommended especially for women. All money exchanges must be transacted with official designated dealers and a receipt obtained. Otherwise strict penalties may be enforced.
The level of healthcare in the main tourists resorts is perfectly adequate for most situations but outside these regions the level of care is significantly less. On isolated islands doctors are often unavailable and it may take many hours before you could move to a better equipped location. Always make sure your travel and health insurance is up to date before you leave home.
Food & Water Facilities:
The level of food and water preparation in the main tourist resorts is excellent but when travelling to isolated regions the standards drop considerably. Consuming foods cooked in local homes will be a significant risk in many circumstances and usually best avoided. However, well cooked fresh fish and other well prepared local delicacies should not present any particular difficulty. As always it is wise to avoid all under cooked bivalve shellfish such as oysters, mussels and clams. Unprepared cold foods like lettuce are also better left untasted and fruit which has been previously peeled will be potentially contaminated. If you peel it yourself it should be fine. Check the tap water smells of chlorine and if not, do not use it for drinking or even brushing your teeth.
Insect Bites and Malaria:
No malaria risk occurs throughout the Seychelles so prophylaxis will not be required. This is excellent news but you should be aware that mosquitoes can still be a problem and so careful avoidance techniques are required - particularly between dusk and dawn. Dengue Fever has been found on the Islands through there has been no epidemic of the disease for some years.
The risk of Rabies:
The Seychelles are rabies free but obviously care should still be taken to avoid any contact with warm-blooded animals such as dogs, cats and monkeys. With the difficulties in patrolling the extensive coastline of the Seychelles it is always possible that the disease will be introduced at some stage in the future.
Take care to listen to local advice before swimming in the sea. Strong currents and various marine life may lead to a severely spoiled holiday. Never swim after a heavy meal or significant intake of alcohol and always swim in the company of others.
The strength of the sun in the Seychelles throughout the year is significant and this can cause both sunburn and serious dehydration. After a long haul flight it may be tempting to fall asleep beside the hotel pool but this may cause dreadful sunburn and can easily ruin a holiday. Children need to be watched carefully as they are more liable to the effects of the sun, particularly on any fair skinned child. Wearing a light good fitting t-shirt and Increasing their salt intake may be very beneficial.
In the Seychelles they drive on the left side of the road but outside the main tourist resorts the roads tend to be very narrow with often shear drops. Barriers are rare and accidents can easily occur. The speed limits are between 25 to 50 mph and both drivers and front seat passengers are required to wear safety belts at all times. There is an ambulance service on the islands of Mahe, Praslin and La Digue which is summonsed by ringing 999.
Local Laws and Customs:
There are strict regulations regarding import and export of firearms, spear-fishing equipment, fruit and vegetables. When paying for your hotel expenses a credit card must be used in most circumstances. If you have cash you must provide a receipt showing how it was obtained. A casino receipt would be adequate if you have been lucky enough!
Vaccinations for the Seychelles:
Unless you are entering the islands from tropical Africa there are no essential vaccines for entry or exit. However for your own personal health it is recommended that travellers are covered against the following diseases;
Poliomyelitis (childhood booster)
Tetanus (childhood booster)
Typhoid (food and water borne disease)
Hepatitis A (food and water borne disease)
For those undertaking a longer more rural trip other vaccines may need to be considered including Hepatitis B.
Generally most tourists who maintain the usual commonsense rules stay perfectly healthy while in the Seychelles. Just remember the different climate conditions to your home situation and take care with food and water consumption. Further information is available from the Tropical Medical Bureau.
Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS
Victoria, Seychelles, May 4, 2020 (AFP) - Life in the Seychelles began returning to normal on Monday as authorities relaxed confinement measures, with no new coronavirus cases recorded in almost a month and only 11 people infected in the island nation.
The archipelago went into lockdown on April 8, two days after the last case of the virus was recorded, shutting non-essential services and banning all movement aside from grocery shopping. A few days later a nighttime curfew was added to the measures. The restrictions were applied to Mahe, the main island as well as the second and third most-populated islands Praslin and La Digue. On Monday most businesses were allowed to re-open and people were once again moving freely and going to work -- few of whom wore a mask.
Authorities have called on citizens to nevertheless maintain social distancing measures and remain vigilant. "We have won the battle but we have not won the war. We must remain vigilant and prevent the spread of the virus in the Seychelles at all cost," said Public Health Commissioner Jude Gedeon. Only three of the original patients remain ill. Some restrictions will remain in place. Schools will not open until mid-May and bars and restaurants in June. Gatherings of more than four people are still banned.
The Indian Ocean archipelago of 115 islands is a paradise for luxury tourism, and welcomed more than 360,000 visitors in 2018 -- a figure four times its population. The impact of the coronavirus pandemic on global tourism has hit the islands hard. The government banned cruise ships and shut its international airport when the first cases were announced on March 14.
The airport is due to re-open on June 1, although borders will remain closed to countries which still count active cases of the virus. Authorities do not expect tourists to return until September. The absence of tourists has led the Seychellois rupee to drop 30 percent to the US dollar and the euro in recent weeks.
By Nicolas DELAUNAY
Les Mamelles, Seychelles, Feb 20, 2020 (AFP) - On a plain suburban street in Seychelles, far from the idyllic coastline and luxury resorts pampering honeymooners and paradise-seekers, heroin addicts queue anxiously for their daily dose of methadone. It is a scene few outsiders would associate with the tropical nirvana adrift in the Indian Ocean, and one rarely, if ever, glimpsed by tourists as they shuttle from the airport to five-star luxury on white-sand beaches.
But life for many Seychellois is far from picture perfect: the tiny archipelago nation is battling what officials say are the world's highest rates of heroin addiction. Nearly 5,000 people are hooked, government figures show, equivalent to nearly 0 percent of the national workforce -- a statistic that has startled the government into action.
In comparison, 0.4 percent of the global population consumed opioids in 2016, half of them in Asia, according to a United Nations report that puts Seychelles among the top consumers alongside producing countries such as Afghanistan. The Seychelles' heroin boom, which took off over the past decade, gripped young and old alike and cut across class lines. Among those queueing in the town of Les Mamelles for methadone -- a substitute narcotic used to wean users off heroin -- are parents with young children, an old man leaning on a cane and a taxi driver between shifts.
Graham Moustache, a 29-year-old father of two, described how the arrival of affordable and high-quality heroin in Seychelles swept up his entire family. "I have four brothers and two sisters, and we have all been heroin addicts at one point," he told AFP, tracing his fingers over the needle scars on his arms. "I've been to prison twice," he said, adding his mother had turned him in as "she didn't know what to do any more". "Sometimes, I didn't have enough to eat and I had to choose between eating and buying heroin. I chose heroin."
- Soaring addiction -
The rise of new trafficking routes through East Africa in the late 2000s, coupled with porous borders and relatively high purchasing power among Seychellois, flooded the paradisal islands with heroin. The average salary in the archipelago is $420 (390) -- high compared to other African nations. The World Bank considers the Seychelles the only high-income country on the continent, thanks to the growing tourism industry. But around 40 percent of the population still lives in poverty.
By 2011, around 1,200 people were addicted, prompting a punitive crackdown. "We did not make a difference between the victim and the trafficker," said Patrick Herminie, director of the state-run Agency for Drug Abuse Prevention and Rehabilitation (APDAR). By 2017, addiction had risen four-fold, placing Seychelles among the world's most drug-dependent nations. The government, realising its war on drugs had failed, changed tack and declared a public health emergency. "The magnitude of the problem is simply because we reacted a bit late," Herminie said.
Money has poured into combating the scourge, with state funds for drug prevention and rehabilitation programmes soaring to 75 million Seychelles rupees ($5.5 million) in 2020 -- almost 10 times the 2016 budget. APDAR, a specialist drug agency created in 2017 to tackle the problem, employs four times as many staff as the body that preceded it. A state-run methadone programme has reached 2,500 people, with medical follow-ups helping to track their progress. But the free availability of methadone has also prompted drug dealers to lower their prices.
Mobile clinics drive around offering methadone to addicts and providing free health checks and advice. "I've been clean for more than a year. I found a job as a fisherman, and I can see my two kids," said Moustache proudly, as he queued at the white methadone van staffed with healthcare workers. Others have struggled to stay the course. "Methadone helps me a lot, but it's difficult not to take heroin at all," said Gisele Moumou, an emaciated 32-year-old addict, drawing ragged breaths and sweating as she waits for her small cup of methadone.
- Stopping the scourge -
Schoolchildren are being taught about the damage done by drugs through awareness campaigns and billboards in classrooms. But there is much work to be done, especially among children from families affected by drug use, says Noellie Gonthier from CARE, a local harm-reduction charity. "Sometimes, four- or five-year-olds at school mimic injecting heroin," she said. "Our challenge is to make them understand that what they consider normal -- because of their family context -- actually isn't at all." On Mahe, a small, mountainous island with lush vegetation, most of the population lives near the water. Life is quiet here, without traffic, and the streets are mostly clean.
Poverty is largely hidden, concentrated in a few neighbourhoods behind faded walls or in the hills. So why do so many Seychellois take drugs? The authorities admit they haven't quite figured it out, but say it appears that while poverty does not quite allow people to live well, it allows them enough money to buy drugs to forget their woes. "The root of the cause, we're still working on it," said Herminie. Early studies show that health and social problems associated with heroin use have declined since the government switched its response from punishment to prevention, officials say.
Crime has nearly halved and annual cases of new hepatitis C infections have fallen 60 percent. Youth unemployment, meanwhile, has shrunk from 6.5 percent to 2.1 percent in recent years. One recovering addict, a taxi driver who did not want to be named, offered a bleak assessment as he waited for his daily methadone in an empty car park in Les Mamelles. "We're a small island in the middle of the ocean. What else is there to do here?" he said.
By Nicolas DELAUNAY
Cousin Island, Seychelles, Jan 16, 2020 (AFP) - Giant tortoises amble across Cousin Island as rare birds flit above. The scene attests to a stunning success for BirdLife International, a conservation group that bought the tiny Seychelles isle in 1968 to save a songbird from extinction. Thick vegetation smothers ruins that are the only reminder of the coconut and cinnamon plantations that covered the island when the group stepped in to protect the Seychelles Warbler.
Now teeming with flora and fauna and boasting white beaches, Cousin Island is firmly on the tourist map, with managers scrambling to contain visitor numbers and soften their negative environmental impact. More than 16,000 people visited the island in 2018, compared with 12,000 a decade earlier. "Tourism is important for Cousin. That's what allows us to finance the conservation projects we run here. "But 16,000 tourists... that was too much," said Nirmal Shah, director of Nature Seychelles, which is charged with running the special reserve.
Before the island was in private hands, the population of Seychelles Warblers was thought to have shrunk to just 26, barely hanging on in a mangrove swamp after much of their native habitat had been destroyed. Now, they number more than 3,000 and the greenish-brown bird has been reintroduced to four other islands in the archipelago. The former plantations have transformed into native forests, teeming with lizards, hermit crabs and seabirds, and the island is the most important nesting site for hawksbill turtles in the western Indian Ocean. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) waxes lyrical about the "unique biodiversity and conservation achievements" of Cousin, "the first island purchased for species conservation", a model since replicated around the world.
- Nature first -
Tourists have been allowed onto the island since 1972, but the message is clear: nature comes first. In a well-oiled routine, every morning a handful of luxury sailboats and small motorboats anchor off the island, where their occupants wait for Nature Seychelles to skipper them ashore on their boats. "Tourist boats cannot land directly on the island, the biohazard risk is too big," Shah said. "Non-indigenous animals who may accidently be on board could come to the island and threaten its (ecological) balance." Too many tourists can also upset this balance.
Nature Seychelles in July increased the price of visits from 33 to 40 euros ($36 to $44) and removed a free pass for children under 15, resulting in a welcome 10-percent reduction in visitor numbers. "Something had to be done, there was too much pressure on the environment," said Dailus Laurence, the chief warden of the island. "When there are too many tourists it can bother nesting birds and turtles who want to come and lay their eggs on the island."
One guide said that some tourists, bothered by the island's ubiquitous mosquitos, would "leave the paths, move away from the group and walk where they are not supposed to", putting fragile habitats at risk. Shah said that if they wanted to increase the number of tourists, it would require hiring more wardens and guides who live on the island, which would also have a negative impact on nature. "Our absolute priority is nature, and it comes before tourists. If we have to take more steps to protect it and reduce the number of tourists, we will," he said.
Victoria, Seychelles, Dec 30, 2019 (AFP) - A French tourist was seriously injured after being attacked by a shark while swimming in the Seychelles, a popular tourist destination, the French ambassador said Monday. The attack on the 45-year-old woman took place Sunday night off the island of Praslin, the second-largest in the picturesque archipelago famed for its pristine beaches. The victim was injured in one arm and was transported to a hospital. "She underwent an operation last night and her life is not in danger," Ambassador Dominique Mas told AFP. The attack comes during the high tourist season for the Seychelles, an archipelago of 115 islands located off the coast of East Africa in the Indian Ocean.
Such incidents are rare in the Seychelles, though two tourists -- one French and one British -- were killed in shark attacks off Praslin in August 2011. Officials said Praslin's relatively cool waters could attract sharks during breeding. The Seychelles Maritime Safety Administration (SMSA) cordoned off the area where Sunday's attack occurred to search for the shark. The SMSA also imposed a temporary ban on swimming in the area.
WHO is working with the Seychelles health authorities to reduce the risk of plague spreading from neighbouring Madagascar, which faces an unprecedented outbreak that has killed more than 70 people since August. No plague cases have been confirmed in the Seychelles.
Alongside support for laboratory testing, WHO has deployed experts and medical supplies to the 115-island country. The Organization is also providing guidance for the tracing and treatment of contacts of people who are suspected to have been infected.
“We are working with health authorities to reduce the risk of the spread of plague in the Seychelles by improving surveillance and preparedness,” said Dr. Ibrahima Soce Fall, WHO Regional Emergencies Director for the Africa region.
WHO is advising the Government of Seychelles on the implementation of public health measures that are in line with the WHO International Health Regulations, such as enhanced surveillance, isolation and treatment of suspect cases, contact tracing and prophylactic treatment of potential contacts.
WHO currently assesses the risk of spread of plague in the Seychelles to be low.
British Indian Ocean Territory
Cuba is an independent island country situated in the Caribbean. It is the largest of the islands and covers 42,000sq miles. The climate is sub tropical throughout the year with most of the rainfall in
Safety & Security:
The majority of tourists visiting Cuba will have no difficulty but bag snatching and other street crime appears to be increasing. The old Havana area and other major tourist resorts may be particular areas of concern in this regard. On arrival be careful to only use your recognised tour operator. If you are taking a taxi at any stage make sure it is a registered one and not a private vehicle. It is unwise to carry large quantities of money or jewellery away from your hotel and try not to flaunt wealth with your belongings. Pickpockets are too common an occurrence on buses and trains and at train stations so be careful with your essential documents and credit cards. Valuables should not be stored in suitcases when arriving in or departing from Havana as there have been a number of thefts from cases during the time the cases are coming through baggage handling. There is an airport shrink-wrap facility for those departing Havana which reduces the risk of tampering. Remember to carry a photocopy of your main documents (passport, flight tickets etc).
Following a number of serious road accidents involving tourists, you are advised not to use mopeds for travelling around Cuba or in Havana. Also, if you are involved in any accident a police investigation will be required to clear you and this may significantly delay your travel plans. On unlit roads at night there have been a number of accidents associated with roaming cattle (sounds like Ireland!). The traffic moves on the right side of the roads. There is a main highway running the length of the country but many of the country roads are in poor repair.
Local Laws & Customs:
When arriving into Cuba make sure you are not carrying any items which could be considered offensive. Any illicit drug offense is treated very seriously and Cuban law allows for the death penalty to be used under these circumstances. If you require personal medication for your health, make sure it is in original packing and carry a letter from your doctor describing the medication. Never agree to carry any item for another individual and always secure your cases once they are packed. Taking photographs of military or police installations or around harbours, rail and airport facilities is strictly forbidden.
Since 1993 it is now possible to use US dollars for all transactions within Cuba. Remember, there is a 20$ airport departure tax. Certain travellers cheques and credit cards may not be acceptable within Cuba. This is particularly true of American Express cheques and cards but check your situation with the travel operator before departure.
Generally healthcare facilities outside of Havana are limited and many standard medications may not be available. It is important to carry sufficient quantities of any medications which may be required for the duration of your time in Cuba.
Food & Water:
The level of food and water hygiene varies throughout the country and between resorts. On arrival check the hotel cold water supply for the smell of chlorine. If it is not present then use sealed bottled water for both drinking and brushing your teeth throughout your stay. Cans and bottles of drinks are safe but take care to avoid pre-cut fruit. Peel it yourself to make sure it is not contaminated. Food from street vendors should be avoided in most cases. Bivalve shellfish are also a high risk food in many countries and Cuba is no exception in this regard. (Eg Mussels, Oysters, Clams etc)
Malaria & Mosquito Borne Diseases:
Malaria transmission does not occur within Cuba and so prophylaxis is not required. However, a different mosquito borne disease called Dengue has begun to reoccur in the country over the past few years. This viral disease can be very sickening and even progress to death. It is rare for tourists to become infected but avoiding mosquito bites is a wise precaution.
Swimming, Sun & Dehydration:
The extent of the Cuban sun (particular during the summer months (April to October) can be very excessive so make sure your head and shoulders are covered at all times when exposed. Watch children carefully as they will be a significant risk. Drink plenty of fluids to replace what will be lost through perspiration and, unless there is a reason not to,
take extra salt either on your food or in crisps, peanuts etc. Take care if swimming in the Caribbean to stay with others and to listen to local advice. Never swim after a heavy meal or alcohol.
Rabies Risk in Cuba:
This viral disease does occur throughout Cuba and it is essential that you avoid any contact with all warm blooded animals. Dogs, cats and monkeys are the most commonly involved in spreading the disease to humans. Don't pick up a monkey for a photograph! If bitten, wash out the wound, apply an antiseptic and seek urgent medical attention.
Vaccinations for Cuba:
There are no essential vaccines for entry / exit if coming from Ireland. However, for your own personal protection travellers are advised to have cover against the following;
Tetanus (childhood booster)
Typhoid (food & water borne disease)
Hepatitis A (food & water borne disease)
For those planning a longer or more rural trip vaccine cover against conditions like Hepatitis B and Rabies may also need to be considered.
Cuba is becoming a popular destination for tourists and generally most will stay very healthy. However commonsense care against food and water borne disease is essential at all times. Also take care with regard to sun exposure, dehydration and mosquito bites.
December 22, 2008
Nicaragua’s fragile democracy remains under stress.
Following municipal elections in November 2008, in which opposition leaders have charged massive fr
The economy remains among the poorest in the hemisphere.
Crime has increased significantly in recent months.
The national language is Spanish, although many residents of the Caribbean coastal areas also speak English and indigenous languages.
The climate is hot and humid, with the “summer” dry season running mid-November through mid-May and the “winter” rainy season running from mid-May through mid-November.
Terrain ranges from the hilly and volcanic to coastal beaches and tropical jungles.
Geological faults run throughout the country, along which active volcanoes are situated.
Earthquakes are common, but the last major earthquake, which destroyed the city of Managua, occurred in 1972.
Nicaragua lacks tourist infrastructure.
Except in the cities and major thoroughfares, most roads are unpaved.
Public transportation is unsafe and there are no sidewalks.
Most essential services are sporadic.
Most hospitals are substandard.
Hotels in Managua are adequate, but primarily are oriented to serve a business or government clientele.
Potential tourists may want to obtain information from the National Tourism Institute (INTUR), the governmental agency responsible for developing, regulating, and promoting tourism in Nicaragua at http://www.intur.gob.ni/.
Read the Department of State Background Notes on Nicaragua for additional information.
A valid U.S. passport is required to enter Nicaragua.
Although there is a bilateral agreement that waives the six-month validity passport requirement, U.S. citizens are urged to ensure that their passports are valid for the length of their projected stay in the country before traveling.
U.S. citizens must have an onward or return ticket and evidence of sufficient funds to support themselves during their stay.
A visa is not required for U.S. citizens; however, a tourist card must be purchased for $5 upon arrival.
Tourist cards are typically issued for 30 to 90 days.
A valid entry stamp is required to exit Nicaragua.
Pay attention to the authorized stay that will be written into your entry stamp by the immigration inspector.
Visitors remaining more than the authorized time must obtain an extension from Nicaraguan Immigration at http://www.migracion.gob.ni/.
Failure to do so will prevent departure until a fine is paid.
There is also a $32 departure tax.
Many airlines include this tax in the price of the ticket.
If the tax is not included in the ticket, payment can be made at the airline counter upon departure.
Per Nicaraguan law, individuals should exit Nicaragua with the same passport with which they entered the country.
Dual national minors who entered Nicaragua on their Nicaraguan passports will be subject to departure requirements specific to Nicaraguan children under the age of 18, even though they may also be citizens of other countries.
More information on these requirements can be found on the U.S. Embassy web site at http://nicaragua.usembassy.gov/dual_nationality.html.
According to Nicaragua’s Laws for Foreigners, foreigners must be in possession of a valid identity document at all times while in Nicaragua and may be required to show it to Nicaraguan authorities upon request.
Acceptable identity documents are: (1) a permanent residency card, (2) temporary residency card, or (3) valid passport or travel document accompanied by an entry stamp.
In June 2006, Nicaragua entered a “Central America-4 (CA-4) Border Control Agreement” with Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador.
Under the terms of the agreement, citizens of the four countries may travel freely across land borders from one of the countries to any of the others without completing entry and exit formalities at Immigration checkpoints.
U.S. citizens and other eligible foreign nationals, who legally enter any of the four countries, may similarly travel among the four without obtaining additional visas or tourist entry permits for the other three countries.
Immigration officials at the first port of entry determine the length of stay, up to a maximum period of 90 days.
Foreign tourists who wish to remain in the four-country region beyond the period initially granted for their visit are required to request a one-time extension of stay from local Immigration authorities in the country where the traveler is physically present, or travel outside the CA-4 countries and reapply for admission to the region.
Foreigners “expelled” from any of the four countries are excluded from the entire “CA-4” region.
In isolated cases, the lack of clarity in the implementing details of the CA-4 Border Control Agreement has caused temporary inconvenience to some travelers and has resulted in others being fined more than one hundred dollars or detained in custody for 72 hours or longer.
For the most current information about visas to visit Nicaragua, visit the Embassy of Nicaragua web site at http://www.cancilleria.gob.ni.
Information about dual nationality or the prevention of international child abduction can be found on our website.
For further information about customs regulations, please read our Customs Information sheet.
SAFETY AND SECURITY:
Municipal elections took place across Nicaragua on November 9, 2008.
Violent demonstrations followed as opposition groups questioned the authenticity of the results.
Activities observed during protests included but were not limited to tear gas, rubber bullets, setting off fireworks, rock-throwing, tire burning, road blocks, bus and vehicle burning, and physical violence between law enforcement and protestors and between political rivals.
Political demonstrations and strikes continue to occur sporadically, are usually limited to urban areas, and occasionally become violent.
U.S. citizens are advised to monitor local media reports, to avoid crowds and blockades during such occurrences and to exercise caution when in the vicinity of any large gathering.
U.S. citizens are cautioned that strong currents and undertows off sections of Nicaragua's Pacific coast have resulted in a number of incidents of drowning.
Powerful waves have also resulted in broken bones, and injuries caused by sting rays are not uncommon in popular resort bathing areas.
Warning signs are not posted, and lifeguards and rescue equipment are not readily available.
U.S. citizens contemplating beach activities in Nicaragua's Pacific waters should exercise appropriate caution.
Hiking in volcanic or other remote areas can be dangerous and travelers should take appropriate precautions.
Hikers should have appropriate dress, footwear, and sufficient consumables for any trek undertaken.
Individuals who travel to remote tourist or other areas for hiking activities are encouraged to hire a local guide familiar with the terrain and area.
In particular, there have been instances of hikers perishing or losing their way on the volcanoes at Ometepe Island.
While they may look like easy climbs, the terrain is treacherous and heavily overgrown.
Although extensive de-mining operations have been conducted to clear rural areas of northern Nicaragua of landmines left from the civil war in the 1980s, visitors venturing off the main roads in these areas are cautioned that the possibility of encountering landmines still exists.
Domestic travel within Nicaragua by land and air, particularly to the Atlantic side can be dangerous.
Domestic airlines use small airstrips with minimal safety equipment and little boarding security.
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 pamphlet A Safe Trip Abroad.
Violent crime in Managua is increasing and petty street crimes are very common.
Gang activity also is increasing, though not at levels found in neighboring Central American countries.
Pick-pocketing and occasional armed robberies occur on crowded buses, at bus stops and in open markets like the Oriental and Huembes Markets.
Gang violence, drive-by shootings, robbery, assault and stabbings are most frequently encountered in poorer neighborhoods, including the Ticabus area, a major arrival and departure point for tourist buses.
However, in recent months it spread to more upscale neighborhoods and near major hotels, including the Zona Hippos.
In 2008, a U.S. citizen was critically injured in a gang-motivated drive-by shooting that occurred in the San Judas area.
Another U.S. citizen was kidnapped and left for dead in the Villa Fontana area of Managua.
U.S. citizens are increasingly targeted shortly after arriving in the country by criminals posing as Nicaraguan police officers who pull their vehicles – including those operated by reputable hotels -- over for inspection.
In each case, the incidents happened after dark and involved gun-wielding assailants who robbed passengers of all valuables and drove them to remote locations where they were left to fend for themselves.
Some assailants employed threats of physical violence.
While the traditional scene of these attacks has been the Tipitapa-Masaya Highway, this activity has recently spread to the Managua-Leon Highway.
The U.S. Embassy warns U.S. citizens to exercise extreme caution when driving at night from Managua’s International Airport and to avoid traveling the Tipitapa-Masaya Highway at night.
U.S. citizens should exercise caution when approached by strangers offering assistance.
Several U.S. citizens traveling by bus from San Juan del Sur to Managua have reported being victimized by fellow women travelers who offered to assist them in locating and/or sharing a taxi upon arrival in Managua.
In all cases, upon entering the taxi, the U.S. citizens have been held at knife-point, robbed of their valuables, and driven around to ATM machines to withdraw funds from their accounts.
Violent criminal activities and petty crime are also increasing in the tourist destination of San Juan del Sur.
In 2008, a U.S. citizen family was violently assaulted and kidnapped by several armed men.
Other American citizens have been the victims of armed robberies by assailants wielding machetes, knives, and/or guns along the beaches in and around San Juan del Sur.
U.S. citizens should exercise particular caution when visiting the following beaches: Maderas, Marsella, Yankee, Coco, and Remanso.
Police coverage is extremely sparse outside major urban areas, particularly in Nicaragua’s Atlantic coast autonomous regions.
Lack of adequate police coverage has resulted in these areas being used by drug traffickers and other criminal elements.
Street crime and petty theft are a common problem in Puerto Cabezas, Bluefields, and the Corn Islands along the Atlantic coast.
For security reasons, the Embassy has limited travel by its staff to the North and South Atlantic Autonomous Regions (RAAN and RAAS), including the Corn Islands.
Given the area’s geographical isolation, the Embassy’s ability to provide emergency services to U.S. citizens who choose to travel in the Caribbean costal area is constrained.
Police presence on Little Corn Island is made up of volunteers with little to no formal training, and is minimal on Corn Island and other remote areas.
In late 2007, a U.S. citizen was assaulted and violently raped while on vacation in Little Corn Island.
U.S. citizens have previously been the victims of sexual assault on this island and other beaches in the country.
The Embassy recommends traveling in groups when in isolated areas.
Single travelers should exercise special caution while traveling in the Corn Islands and other remote areas of the country.
Throughout the country, U.S. travelers should utilize hotels and guest houses that have strong security elements in place, including but not limited to rooms equipped with safes for securing valuables and travel documents and adequate access control precautions.
Visitors should avoid walking and instead use officially registered taxicabs.
Radio-dispatched taxis are recommended and can be found at the International Airport and at the larger hotels.
Robbery, kidnapping, and assault on passengers in taxis in Managua are increasing in frequency and violence, with passengers subjected to beating, sexual assault, stabbings, and even murder.
Several U.S. citizens reported brutal attacks in taxis during 2008, particularly around the International Airport area.
Before taking a taxi, make sure that it has a red license plate and that the number is legible.
Select taxis carefully and note the driver's name and license number.
Instruct the driver not to pick up other passengers, agree on the fare before departing, and have small bills available for payment, as taxi drivers often do not make change.
Also, check that the taxi is properly labeled with the cooperativa (company) name and logo.
Purse and jewelry snatchings sometimes occur at stoplights.
While riding in a vehicle, windows should be closed, car doors locked, and valuables placed out of sight.
Do not resist a robbery attempt.
Many criminals have weapons, and most injuries and deaths have resulted when victims have resisted.
Do not hitchhike or go home with strangers, particularly from nightspots.
Travel in groups of two or more persons whenever possible.
Use the same common sense while traveling in Nicaragua that you would in any high-crime area of a major U.S. city.
Do not wear excessive jewelry in downtown or rural areas.
Do not carry large sums of money, ATM, or credit cards that are not needed, or other 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, 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.
See our information on Victims of Crime.
MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION:
Medical care is very limited, particularly outside Managua.
Basic medical services are available in Managua and in many of the smaller towns and villages.
However, treatment for many serious medical problems is either unavailable or available only in Managua.
Emergency ambulance services, as well as certain types of medical equipment, medications and treatments, are not available in Nicaragua.
Physicians and hospital personnel frequently do not speak English, and medical reports are written in Spanish.
Patients must have good understand and an ability to speak Spanish in order to navigate the local medical resources.
In an emergency, individuals are taken to the nearest hospital that will accept a patient.
This is usually a public hospital unless the individual or someone acting on their behalf indicates that they can pay for a private hospital.
Payment for medical services is typically done on a cash basis, although the few private hospitals will accept major credit cards for payment.
U.S. health insurance plans are not accepted in Nicaragua.
Dengue fever is endemic in Nicaragua.
Currently, no vaccine or specific medication is available to prevent or treat Dengue fever.
Malaria is endemic in the Atlantic coast region and anti-malarial medication should be taken before and after travel to this region.
Travelers are advised to take a prophylactic regimen best suited to their health profile.
No prophylaxis anti-malarial medication is required for Managua and the western, Pacific coast region.
For both Dengue fever and malaria, the best prevention is the use of DEET insect repellant, as well as the wearing of protective clothing and bed-nets to prevent mosquito bites.
Tap water is not considered safe in Nicaragua.
All persons should drink only bottled water.
Individuals traveling to Nicaragua should ensure that all their routine vaccinations are up to date.
Vaccination against Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, rabies and typhoid is strongly recommended.
A yellow fever vaccination is not required to enter Nicaragua unless the traveler has recently visited a country where yellow fever is endemic.
Travelers taking prescription medications should bring an adequate supply with them when coming to Nicaragua.
Many newer combination medications are not available in local pharmacies.
The U.S. Department of State is unaware of any HIV/AIDS entry restrictions for visitors to or foreign residents of Nicaragua.
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 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:
Driving in Nicaragua poses many difficulties and risks, including mandatory arrest for drivers involved in accidents that result in death or serious injury until police are able to determine who is at fault.
Driving is on the right side of the road in Nicaragua.
Motorists driving to Nicaragua should use the principal highways and official border crossings at Guasaule, El Espino, and Las Manos between Nicaragua and Honduras and Penas Blancas between Nicaragua and Costa Rica.
Although some of the principal highways connecting the major cities are in generally good condition, drivers should be aware that seasonal, torrential rains take a heavy toll on road beds.
With few exceptions, secondary roads are in poor repair, potholed, poorly lit, frequently narrow, and lack shoulders.
Road travel after dark is especially hazardous in all areas of the country.
Motorists are encouraged to prepare accordingly and may want to carry a cellular phone in case of an emergency.
Some of the major highways and roads are undergoing major repair, repaving, and upgrading.
Be on the lookout for detours and slow traffic on these roads.
In general, road signs are poor to non-existent.
Bicycles, oxcarts, dogs, horses, and vehicles without lights are at times encountered even on main thoroughfares in Nicaragua.
Motorcycles, often carrying passengers, dart in and out of traffic with little or no warning.
Many vehicles are in poor condition, travel very slowly, and break down without warning.
Drivers should be especially careful on curves and hills, as many drivers will pass on blind spots.
Speed limits vary depending on the type of road, but because the government lacks the resources, traffic rules are rarely enforced.
Due to the age and disrepair of many vehicles, many drivers will not signal their intentions using turn indicators.
Rather, it is common for a vehicle operator to stick his hand out the window to signal a turn.
If you do drive in Nicaragua, you need to exercise the utmost caution, drive defensively, and make sure you have insurance.
Nicaraguan law requires that a driver be taken into custody for driving under the influence or being involved in an accident that caused serious injury or death, even if the driver is insured and appears not to have been at fault.
The minimum detention period is 48 hours; however, detentions frequently last until a judicial decision is reached (often weeks or months), or until a waiver is signed by the injured party (usually as the result of a cash settlement).
Visitors to Nicaragua might want to consider hiring a professional driver during their stay.
Licensed drivers who are familiar with local roads can be hired through local car rental agencies.
In case of accident, only the driver will be taken into custody.
The Embassy has received an increasing number of complaints from U.S. citizens who have been stopped by transit police authorities demanding bribes in order to avoid paying fines.
Motorists in rental cars and those whose cars have foreign license plates are more likely to be stopped by transit police.
Transit police have seized driver licenses and car registration documents from motorists who refuse to or are unable to pay.
Subsequently, these drivers have reported difficulties in recovering the seized documents.
U.S. citizens are urged to ensure that their vehicles comply fully with Nicaraguan transit regulations, including being in possession of an emergency triangle and fire extinguisher, and that the vehicle is properly registered.
If transit police authorities demand an on-the-spot payment, drivers should ask for the officer's name and badge number, as well as a receipt, and inform the Embassy of when/where the event took place.
(Reports should be sent via email to ACS.Managua@state.gov.)
Rental car agencies should also be advised if their vehicles have been deemed negligent in meeting Nicaraguan transit regulations.
As noted in the “Crime” section above, several groups of U.S. citizens driving from Managua’s International Airport at night have been robbed and kidnapped by men dressed as Nicaraguan police officers.
While the majority of these crimes have occurred on the Tipitapa-Masaya Highway, recent reports indicate similar activity along the Managua-Leon Highway.
The U.S. Embassy warns U.S. citizens to exercise extreme caution when driving at night from Managua’s International Airport and to avoid traveling the Tipitapa-Masaya Highway at night.
Avoid taking public transportation buses.
They are overcrowded, unsafe, and often are used by pickpockets.
Because of the conditions discussed above, traffic accidents often result in serious injury or death.
This is most often true when heavy vehicles, such as buses or trucks, are involved.
Traditionally, vehicles involved in accidents in Nicaragua are not moved (even to clear traffic), until authorized by a police officer.
Drivers who violate this norm may be held legally liable for the accident.
Regulations governing transit are administered by the National Police.
For specific information concerning Nicaraguan driver’s permits, vehicle inspection, road tax, and mandatory insurance, you may wish to refer to the National Police web site at http://www.policia.gob.ni.
You may also contact the Embassy of Nicaragua or a Consulate for further information.
Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information.
Visit the website of the country’s national tourist office and national authority responsible for road safety at http://www.mti.gob.ni
AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT: The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the Government of Nicaragua’s Civil Aviation Authority as not being in compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards for oversight of Nicaragua’s air carrier operations.
For more information, travelers may visit the FAA’s web site at http://www.faa.gov/safety/programs_initiatives/oversight/iasa
Purchasing Property: U.S. citizens should be aware of the risks of purchasing real estate in Nicaragua and should exercise caution before committing to invest in property.
The U.S. Embassy has seen an increase in property disputes over the last several years.
The 1979-90 Sandinista government expropriated approximately 28,000 real properties, many of which are still involved in disputes or claims.
Land title remains unclear in many cases.
Although the government has resolved several thousand claims by U.S. citizens for compensation or return of properties, there remain hundreds of unresolved claims registered with the Embassy.
Potential investors should engage competent local legal representation and investigate their purchases thoroughly in order to reduce the possibility of property disputes.
The Nicaraguan judicial system offers little relief when the purchase of a property winds up in court.
The Embassy is aware of numerous cases in which buyers purchase property supported by what appear to be legal titles only to see themselves subsequently embroiled in legal battles when the titles are contested by an affected or otherwise interested third party.
Once a property dispute enters the judicial arena, the outcome may be subject to corruption, political pressure, and influence peddling.
Many coastal properties have been tied up in courts recently, leaving the ”buyer” unable to proceed with the intended development pending lengthy and uncertain litigation.
In other cases squatters have simply invaded the land while the police or judicial authorities are unable (or unwilling) to remove the trespassers.
Again, the Embassy advises that those interested in purchasing Nicaraguan property exercise extreme caution.
Please note that Nicaraguan law currently prohibits any individual from buying beach-front property (including islands) unless the original land title was registered before the 1917 Nicaraguan Agrarian Reform Law.
Coastal properties with titles pre-dating 1917 are not risk-free, however.
In 1987 the Nicaraguan Constitution established the property rights of indigenous communities over territory they have traditionally occupied.
The Embassy advises extreme caution when considering the purchase of coastal property in Nicaragua.
Currency and Credit Cards: U.S. dollars are widely accepted throughout the country, and major credit cards are also typically accepted in hotels, restaurants, stores, and other businesses in urban and tourist areas.
Visitors who need to change dollars are encouraged to do this at their hotel since this is typically the safest place.
ATM machines are available at banks in addition to some shopping centers and gas stations in urban and tourist areas.
However, individuals should exercise caution when using an automaticteller machine since they are typically in or near uncontrolled areas and criminal elements can easily see them withdrawing cash.
Traveler’s checks are accepted at a few major hotels and may also be exchanged for local currency at authorized exchange facilities ("casas de cambio").
Visitors will also find enterprising individuals - ”Cambistas” - waving wads of cash in the street.
Changing money in this fashion can be dangerous and is not recommended.
The U.S. Embassy has noted an increase in credit card fraud.
Although local police authorities have made several arrests in conjunction with credit card scam operations, the danger for abuse continues.
Illegal use can include “skimming” or making a copy of the magnetic strip on the credit card or simply copying the number for later use.
U.S. citizens who do continue to use credit cards in Nicaragua are advised to check statements frequently to monitor for abuse and/or to ask banks to email them when transactions exceed a certain number or size.
Disaster Preparedness: Nicaragua is prone to a wide variety of natural disasters, including earthquakes, hurricanes, and volcanic eruptions.
General information about natural disaster preparedness is available via the Internet from the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) at http://www.fema.gov
On the Atlantic side, nautical travelers should be aware that there is an ongoing boundary dispute with Colombia over the San Andres Island archipelago and the surrounding waters, specifically the area east of the 82nd and up to the 79th meridian.
Furthermore, the Government of Nicaragua has also begun to exercise sovereignty over territorial waters that were formerly controlled by Honduras but recently awarded to Nicaragua by the International Court of Justice.
Since October 2007, the Nicaraguan Navy has impounded about a dozen vessels, including two U.S.-owned vessels, for allegedly fishing without a Nicaraguan permit in theses zones.
Maritime boundary disputes also exist on the Pacific side.
In late-2007, the governments of Nicaragua, Honduras, and El Salvador reached an accord regarding shared fishing rights in the Gulf of Fonseca; however, questions remain regarding boundary demarcations in the Gulf of Fonseca.
Commercial fishing vessels should always ensure that they are properly licensed as problems have been reported in the areas off Cabo Gracias a Dios.
As a result of these disputes, in June 2008, the U.S. Coast Guard published a Special Warning on Nicaragua in the U.S. Notice to Mariners, which can be found at http://www.navcen.uscg.gov/Lnm/d1/lnm01242008.pdf (p. 6).
Travelers should also be aware that narcotics traffickers often use both the Caribbean and the Pacific coastal waters.
Customs Regulations: Before excavating archaeological materials, or agreeing to buy artifacts of historical value, all persons are strongly urged to consult with the National Patrimony Directorate of the Nicaraguan Institute of Culture.
Nicaraguan law and a bilateral accord limit the acquisition, importation into the United States and commercialization of said goods.
Severe criminal penalties may apply.
U.S. citizens planning to stay in Nicaragua for an extended period of time with the intention of bringing vehicles or household goods into the country should consult Nicaraguan customs officials prior to shipment.
Please see our Customs Information.
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 Nicaraguan laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested, or imprisoned.
Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Nicaragua 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.
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 Nicaragua are encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate through the State Department’s travel registration website so that they can obtain updated information on travel and security within Nicaragua.
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 Kilometer 5 1/2 (5.5) Carretera Sur, Managua; telephone (505) 252-7100 or 252-7888; after hours telephone (505) 252-7634; Consular Section fax (505) 252-7304; Email: firstname.lastname@example.org or ACS.Managua@state.gov; web page: http://nicaragua.usembassy.gov/
This replaces the Country Specific Information for Nicaragua dated June 3, 2008, to update sections on Country Description, Entry/Exit Requirements, Safety and Security, Crime, Medical Facilities and Health Information, Traffic Safety and Road Conditions, and Special Circumstances.
Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS
Montreal, Oct 25, 2018 (AFP) - Canadian tour operator Transat has cancelled all flights to Nicaragua this coming winter over the crisis that has left more than 320 dead in the Central American country, the company said Thursday. This decision was made "because of the ongoing civil unrest and (the) weak demand that arises," Air Transat spokeswoman Debbie Cabana told AFP. Air Transat would have offered three direct flights weekly form Toronto or Montreal to Managua from December 20 until the end of March. "Customers who have reservations at the destination can change their booking or get a full refund," Cabana said.
Protests that began in April against a pension reform in Nicaragua grew into a movement demanding the departure of President Daniel Ortega and his wife, Vice President Rosario Murillo, who are accused of authoritarianism. The protests have been severely repressed by police and paramilitaries, and the government proclaimed the situation normalized. Canada continues to advise its nationals "to avoid any non-essential travel to Nicaragua."
Managua, Sept 7, 2018 (AFP) - Many shops, banks and gas stations were closed Friday in a 24-hour strike in Nicaragua called by the opposition in protest at "political prisoners" and the rule of President Daniel Ortega's government. In Mercado Oriental, one of the capital Managua's main trade districts, most of the 20,000 shops and businesses were shut, while few people were out on the streets. "It's an excellent strike, this is how we are supporting those who were taken, who are being tortured, who have no business being in jail just for protesting," shopkeeper Geidy Areas, 38, told AFP. The normally busy road south from Managua to Masaya, where many shops operate, appeared more desolate than normal. Friday's strike, the first since July, was called by the opposition Civil Alliance for Justice and Democracy. More than 300 Nicaraguans have been charged with crimes for taking part in protests, including 85 who are accused of terrorism. The Alliance is demanding dialogue with Ortega's government after months of turmoil that left more than 300 people dead, according to rights groups.
In Managua, most banks, gas stations, shopping malls and book shops were closed but there were more buses and public transport vehicles running than during previous strikes in June and July. In an important economic zone north of Managua, many hardware stores, shops and cafes remained open. "People have to keep struggling because they've got bank debts and need to feed their children," food vendor Johana Blandon, who works in a busy free trade zone to the east of Managua, told AFP. Government offices were operating as normal. Nicaragua's descent into chaos was triggered on April 18 when relatively small protests against now-scrapped social security reforms were met with a government crackdown, backed by armed paramilitaries.
Catholic church-brokered peace talks broke down in June after Ortega rejected a key opposition demand to step down and bring forward presidential elections. Last week, Ortega expelled the United Nations human rights mission after it published a report criticizing the "climate of fear" in the Central American country, one of the poorest in the region. The UN denounced a wide range of serious violations, including disproportionate use of force by police, which in some cases resulted in extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, arbitrary detention and torture. Ortega, a former guerrilla leader who has been in power for the last 11 years, denied the claims and described the UN as "an instrument of the policies of terror, lies and infamy."
Managua, Sept 6, 2018 (AFP) - Nicaragua's opposition called a 24-hour strike on Thursday, due to start the next day, in protest against President Daniel Ortega and to demand the release of "political prisoners." The strike is due to begin at midnight on Thursday, the Civil Alliance for Justice and Democracy, made up of students, businesses and civil service groups, said in a statement.
The opposition is demanding dialogue with Ortega's government after months of turmoil that left more than 300 people dead, according to rights groups. It called on supporters to "join this national effort from your homes." "Nicaragua needs an urgent and peaceful solution through dialogue," said the opposition. "We need to live in security, without kidnappings, without political prisoners, without persecution and without the stigmatization of those who think differently." Last week, Ortega expelled the United Nations human rights mission after it published a report criticizing the "climate of fear" in the Central American country, one of the poorest in the region. The UN denounced a wide range of serious violations, including disproportionate use of force by police, which in some cases resulted in extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, arbitrary detention and torture.
Ortega, a former guerrilla leader who has been in power for the last 11 years, refuted the claims and described the UN as "an instrument of the policies of terror, lies and infamy." In addition to the dead and 2,000 people injured in clashes between anti-government protesters and regime forces back by paramilitaries, more than 300 Nicaraguans have been charged with crimes for taking part in the protests, of which 85 are accused of terrorism. Two Alliance leaders, Medardo Mairena and Edwin Carcache, are amongst those to have been charged. The opposition says "dialogue is the only path" to overcome the current political crisis.
Nicaragua's descent into chaos was triggered on April 18 when relatively small protests against now-scrapped social security reforms were met with a government crackdown, backed by armed paramilitaries. Catholic church-brokered peace talks broke down in June after Ortega rejected a key opposition demand to step down and bring forward presidential elections. Opposition supporters claimed the last strike in mid-July was 90 percent respected, although government media said businesses had remained open in several trade zones.
Managua, July 27, 2018 (AFP) - More than a dozen doctors, nurses and technical staff in a public hospital in Nicaragua have been sacked because they treated wounded anti-government protesters and were seen backing their cause, medical sources said Friday.
Those fired "without any legal justification" worked at the Oscar Danilo Rosales Hospital in the northwestern city of Leon, surgery and endoscopy department chief Javier Pastora told AFP. The hospital is run by the health ministry. The allegation bolstered reports that those perceived to back protest claims calling for the ouster of President Daniel Ortega were being persecuted by his government and sympathizers.
Nicaragua has seen more than three months of unrest as those protests were brutally countered by police and armed pro-government paramilitaries. More than 300 people have been killed and thousands have fled to neighboring Costa Rica for safety, according to rights groups. Pastora, who has worked in Nicaragua's public health system for 33 years, said the staff members were fired because they were deemed to support the protesters by treating them. "They said we were people showing solidarity and support for the people's fight," he said. Pastora said at least nine medical specialists were among those fired.
- Dismissed in surgery -
"I was in surgery when they came from human resources to tell me I could no longer stay because I was fired," said one of the dismissed medics, cancer surgeon Aaron Delgado. A dismissed pediatrician, Edgar Zuniga, called the axings "arbitrary." They were fired "for thinking differently, for saying Nicaragua needs democracy, freedom, that the repression and killings must stop and there has to be dialogue," he said.
The staff and residents in Leon held a protest in front of the hospital demanding the sackings be reversed. Leon used to be a bastion of support for the Sandinista movement Ortega leads, but as the unrest took hold, there too paramilitaries and anti-riot police have stormed the city several times to crush protests. Rights groups say more than 2,000 people have been hurt across the country since the clashes erupted mid-April. Many of them sought medical attention for their wounds from volunteers outside the state health system, which was said to have received orders to turn them away.
Washington, July 11, 2018 (AFP) - The known death toll from a four-month crackdown on anti-government protests in Nicaragua has risen to 264, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights said Wednesday.
"As recorded by the IACHR since the start of the repression against social protests, to date, 264 people have lost their lives and more than 1,800 have been injured," the commission's chief Paulo Abrao told reporters. He was speaking at a meeting of the Organization of American States -- of which the IACHR is part -- about the situation in the violence-wracked Central American country, where protesters are seeking the ouster of President Daniel Ortega. The rights body had previously given a toll of 212 dead, although local estimates recently put the toll at about 250.
The influential Roman Catholic church has been mediating between Ortega's government and the opposition to end the unrest, but the process has become bogged down amid continuing violence. In the latest outburst, at least 14 people died in a weekend raid by a pro-government mob near the opposition bastion of Masaya, in the country's southwest. The opposition is planning to crank up the pressure on Ortega starting on Thursday with an anti-government protest and general strike.
A former leftist guerrilla, Ortega will next week commemorate the 1979 popular uprising that brought him to power with an annual July 19 march due to start in Masaya. Once the hero of left-wing revolutionaries, Ortega is now widely viewed as an oppressor. Having lost a presidential vote in 1990, he was re-elected in 2007 but opponents have accused him -- together with his wife Vice President Rosario Murillo -- of establishing a dictatorship characterized by nepotism and brutal repression.
World Travel News Headlines
Riyadh, May 26, 2020 (AFP) - Saudi Arabia will end its nationwide coronavirus curfew from June 21, except in the holy city of Mecca, the interior ministry said Tuesday, after more than two months of stringent curbs. Prayers will also be allowed to resume in all mosques outside Mecca from May 31, the ministry said in a series of measures announced on the official Saudi Press Agency. The kingdom, which has reported the highest number of virus cases in the Gulf, imposed a full nationwide curfew during Eid al-Fitr, the Muslim holiday that marks the end of the fasting month of Ramadan.
The ministry said it will begin easing restrictions in a phased manner this week, with the curfew relaxed between 6 am and 3 pm between Thursday and Saturday. From Sunday until June 20, the curfew will be further eased until 8 pm, the ministry added. The kingdom will lift the lockdown entirely from June 21. "Starting from Thursday, the kingdom will enter a new phase (in dealing with the pandemic) and will gradually return to normal based on the rules of social distancing," Health Minister Tawfiq Al-Rabiah said on Monday. Saudi Arabia has reported around 75,000 coronavirus infections and some 400 deaths from COVID-19.
In March, Saudi Arabia suspended the year-round "umrah" pilgrimage over fears of the disease spreading in Islam's holiest cities. That suspension will remain in place, the interior ministry said. Authorities are yet to announce whether they will proceed with this year's hajj -- scheduled for late July -- but they have urged Muslims to temporarily defer preparations for the annual pilgrimage. Last year, some 2.5 million faithful travelled to Saudi Arabia from around the world to participate in the hajj, which Muslims are obliged to perform at least once during their lifetime.
Santiago, May 26, 2020 (AFP) - Chile registered a new high for coronavirus cases on Monday, with nearly 5,000 infections in 24 hours, including two ministers in President Sebastian Pinera's government. Health authorities announced 4,895 new infections in the South American country and 43 deaths.
Public Works Minister Alfredo Moreno and Energy Minister Juan Carlos Jobet said they were among those with the disease. "I have been informed that the COVID-19 test I had a few days ago was positive," Moreno said on Twitter, adding that he had no symptoms so far. The 63-year-old minister had placed himself in quarantine after one of his staff tested positive. Jobet also tested positive after starting to quarantine preventatively on Saturday, "when he experienced mild symptoms, which could be associated with the disease," a statement from the Energy Ministry said.
The 44-year-old minister "has had no direct contact with President Sebastian Pinera or other cabinet members in recent days," the statement said, without specifying how he became infected. Three other ministers, who had self-quarantined after being in contact with infected people, all tested negative and resumed work.
Chile suffered a surge in infections last week, prompting the government to order the lockdown of Santiago. The capital is the main focus of the pandemic in Chile, with 90 percent of the country's 74,000 cases. Last week, the Senate was closed after three senators tested positive for the coronavirus. Sessions were held by video conference.
Quito, May 25, 2020 (AFP) - Demonstrators defied coronavirus restrictions to march in cities across Ecuador on Monday in protest against President Lenin Moreno's drastic economic measures to tackle the crisis. Moreno last week announced public spending cuts including the closure of state companies and embassies around the world, but trade unions Monday said workers were paying a disproportionate price compared to Ecuador's elite. "This protest is because the government is firing workers to avoid making the rich pay," Mecias Tatamuez, head of the county's largest union, the Unitary Front of Workers (FUT), told reporters at a march in Quito.
Around 2,000 people marched in the capital, waving flags and banners and shouting anti-government slogans. The protesters wore masks and respected distancing measures recommended against the spread of the coronavirus that has caused at least 3,200 deaths in the country, making it South America's worst hit nation per capita. Authorities say more than 2,000 further deaths are likely linked to the virus.
Demonstrations took place in several other cities, including Guayaquil, the epicentre of Ecuador's health crisis, where union leaders said hundreds marched through the city. Moreno ordered the closure of Ecuadoran embassies, a reduction in diplomatic staff and scrapped seven state companies as part of measures designed to save some $4 billion. He also announced the liquidation of the TAME airline, which has lost more than $400 million over the last five years.
The government says the pandemic has so far cost the economy at least $8 billion. Public sector working hours have been cut by 25 percent, with an accompanying 16 percent pay cut. Moreno said on Sunday that 150,000 people had lost their jobs because of the coronavirus. Ecuador was struggling economically before the pandemic hit, due to high debt and its dependence on oil. The IMF predicts that the economy will shrink by 6.3 percent this year, the sharpest drop of any country in South America.
Dublin, May 25, 2020 (AFP) - Ireland recorded no new deaths from the coronavirus on Monday for the first time since March 21. Prime Minister Leo Varadkar called it a "significant milestone", adding on Twitter: "This is a day of hope. We will prevail."
The announcement came one week after Ireland, which has suffered 1,606 deaths from 24,698 infections, began to ease lockdown measures that had been in place for nearly two months. Ireland entered lockdown in late March, recording a peak of 77 deaths on a single day on April 20. "In the last 24 hours we didn't have any deaths notified to us," chief medical officer Tony Holohan said at a daily press briefing. He warned that the zero figure could be a result of a lag in reporting of deaths over the weekend, but he added: "It's part of the continued trend that we've seen in (the) reduction in the total number of deaths."
Ireland has announced a five-step plan to reopen the nation by August and took the first steps last Monday -- allowing outdoor employees to return to work, some shops to reopen and the resumption of activities such as golf and tennis. While the news of no fresh deaths was greeted as progress, officials remain concerned there will be a "second wave" as the lockdown is loosened. "The number of new cases and reported deaths over the past week indicates that we have suppressed COVID-19 as a country," Holohan added in a statement. "It will take another week to see any effect on disease incidence that might arise from the easing of measures."
Luxembourg, May 25, 2020 (AFP) - Luxembourg will ease its coronavirus restrictions on Wednesday, reopening cafes and restaurants and allowing civil and religious ceremonies under strict conditions, the government announced. The tiny country has so far registered only 3,993 COVID-19 cases, of which 110 have been fatal. Four people are in intensive care and shops were closed on March 18 to slow the spread of the new coronavirus.
Prime Minister Xavier Bettel told a news conference on Monday that eateries could reopen terraces with a maximum of four people at a single table. Indoor dining in cafes and restaurants will resume on Friday, he said, with social distancing of 1.5 metres (five feet) between groups. Marriages and funerals will also be allowed if the attendees wore face masks and kept two metres distance from each other. Bettel however said cafes and restaurants would have to close at midnight.
Francois Koepp, the general secretary of the Horeca federation grouping hotels, restaurants and cafes, welcomed the announcement, saying the sector had "greatly suffered from the confinement". He said it provided employment to some 21,000 people in this nation of 620,000 inhabitants. Cinema theatres and gyms will open at the end of the week but children's parks will remain closed. The government has pledged to give every citizen over 16 a voucher worth 50 euros ( $54) to spend in hotels to provide a boost to the sector. The vouchers will also be given to some 200,000 cross border workers from Belgium, France and Germany.
Prague, May 25, 2020 (AFP) - The Czech Republic and Slovakia will reopen their border this week for those travelling to the other country for up to 48 hours, Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis said Monday. "This will be possible without tests or quarantine" starting Wednesday, he added in a message posted on Twitter. The Czech Republic and Slovakia formed a single country until 1993. Babis himself was born in the Slovak capital of Bratislava.
Both countries have fared well in the current pandemic, with Slovakia posting the lowest death toll per capita in the EU and the Czech Republic keeping its COVID-19 figures down as well. The Czech government will also open border crossings with Austria and Germany on Tuesday but will still require negative COVID-19 tests from those entering the country. "We have negotiated similar conditions on the other side of the border with our German and Austrian colleagues," Interior Minister Jan Hamacek said. The interior ministry said blanket border checks would be replaced by random ones and added it would still not allow tourists into the country.
Czech Health Minister Adam Vojtech said the government was working on other measures to ease the travel restrictions adopted in mid-March. "We would like to introduce them next week," he added. Vojtech said EU citizens could now come to the Czech Republic "on business or to visit their family for a maximum of 72 hours if they submit a negative coronavirus test."
The country is also accessible to non-EU citizens who do seasonal jobs there, on condition they have tested negative. Czech restaurants, bars, hotels, castles, zoos and swimming pools have been open since Monday, when the government lifted many anti-virus measures. Czechs also no longer have to wear face masks outside their homes, except in shops and on public transport.
By Shafiqul ALAM
Dhaka, May 25, 2020 (AFP) - Some 15,000 Rohingya refugees are now under coronavirus quarantine in Bangladesh's vast camps, officials said Monday, as the number of confirmed infections rose to 29. Health experts have long warned that the virus could race through the cramped settlements, housing almost a million Muslims who fled violence in Myanmar, and officials had restricted movement to the area in April.
Despite this, the first cases in the camps were detected in mid-May. "None of the infections are critical. Most hardly show any symptoms. Still we have brought them in isolation centres and quarantined their families," Toha Bhuiyan, a senior health official in the surrounding Cox's Bazar area told AFP. He said narrow roads to three districts of the camps -- where the majority of the infections were detected -- have been blocked off by authorities.
The 15,000 Rohingya inside these so-called blocks faced further restrictions on their movement, he said. It comes as charity workers expressed fears over being infected in the camps as they worked without adequate protection. Two of the areas under isolation are in Kutupalong camp, home to roughly 600,000 Rohingya. "We are trying to scale up testing as fast as possible to make sure that we can trace out all the infected people and their contacts," Bhuiyan said.
Seven isolation centres with the capacity to treat more than 700 COVID-19 patients have been prepared, he said. Officials hope to have just under 2,000 ready by the end of May, he added. Mahbubur Rahman, the chief health official of Cox's Bazar, said authorities hoped this week they would double the number of tests being performed daily from 188. He said further entry restrictions have been imposed on the camp, with a 14 day quarantine in place for anyone visiting from Dhaka. "We are very worried because the Rohingya camps are very densely populated. We suspect community transmission (of the virus) has already begun," Rahman told AFP.
- 'Very little awareness' -
Bangladesh on Monday notched up a record single-day spike in coronavirus cases, with 1,975 new infections, taking the toll to 35,585 cases and 501 deaths. In early April authorities imposed a complete lockdown on Cox's Bazar district -- home to 3.4 million people including the refugees -- after a number of infections.
But a charity worker with one of the many aid organisations active in the camps said Monday he and many others were "very worried". "Fear and panic has gripped aid workers because many of us were forced to work without much protection," he told AFP without wishing to be named. "Social distancing is almost impossible in the camps. There is very little awareness about COVID-19 disease among the refugees, despite efforts by aid agencies."
The lack of information is exacerbated by local authorities having cut off access to the internet in September to combat, they said, drug traffickers and other criminals. More than 740,000 Rohingya fled a brutal 2017 military crackdown in Myanmar to Cox's Bazar, where around 200,000 refugees were already living.
Antananarivo, May 25, 2020 (AFP) - Madagascar's government has announced it will dispatch troops and doctors to an eastern town after several bodies were found in the streets and where two people died from the novel coronavirus. Madagascar's cabinet held a special meeting on Sunday to discuss the situation in Toamasina, the country's second largest city. The Indian Ocean island nation has registered 527 infections and two deaths, both in Toamasina.
Since Thursday, more than 120 new cases were confirmed, and several bodies were found in the city's streets though the cause of death was not clear. "Doctors must carry out thorough examinations to see if these deaths are caused by another illness (...) or if they are really due to severe acute respiratory problems which is the critical form of COVID-19," Professor Hanta Marie Danielle Vololontiana, spokesperson for the government's virus taskforce, said in a national broadcast on Sunday. The government will send 150 soldiers to reinforce Toamasina, maintain order and enforce measures against the coronavirus such as mask wearing and social distancing.
The cabinet also fired Toamasina's prefect without providing any explanation. A team was also ordered to distribute a drink based on artemisia, a plant recognised as a treatment against malaria, which the Malagasy authorities claim cures COVID-19. The potential benefits of this herbal tea, called Covid-Organics, have not been validated by any scientific study. The cabinet has also announced an investigation into the death of a doctor in Toamasina. According to local press, the victim was hospitalised after contracting COVID-19 and was found dead hanged in his room on Sunday morning.
By Bhuvan Bagga with Indranil Mukherjee in Mumbai
New Delhi, May 25, 2020 (AFP) - Domestic flights resumed in India on Monday even as coronavirus cases surge, while confusion about quarantine rules prompted jitters among passengers and the cancellation of dozens of planes. India had halted all flights within the country, and departing and leaving for abroad, in late March as it sought to stop the spread of coronavirus with the world's largest lockdown. But desperate to get Asia's third-largest economy moving again, the government announced last week that around 1,050 daily flights -- a third of the usual capacity -- would resume on Monday.
Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri said strict rules would include mandatory mask-wearing and thermal screenings, although middle seats on the aircraft would not be kept empty. The announcement reportedly caught airlines and state authorities off-guard, with several local governments announcing that passengers would have to go into quarantine for two weeks on arrival. Maharashtra, the Indian state with the highest number of coronavirus cases, capped at 50 the number of departures and arrivals in and out of its capital Mumbai.
Airlines scrapped dozens of flights on Monday while hundreds of passengers cancelled their bookings, reports said. The NDTV news channel said 82 flights to and from New Delhi had been cancelled and nine at Bangalore airport. Other flights from cities including infection hotspots Mumbai and Chennai were struck off, many at short notice, reports said. At Mumbai airport social distancing was forgotten as irate passengers harangued staff after their flights were cancelled at the last minute.
- 'Really scary' -
At New Delhi airport, hundreds of people anxious to get home but apprehensive about the risks queued from before dawn -- all wearing masks and standing at least one metre (three feet) apart. Security personnel behind plastic screens verified check-in documents and that passengers had the government contact tracing app, Aarogya Setu, on their phones.
"While I'm looking forward (to flying home), the idea of flying is really scary," student Gladia Laipubam told AFP as she stood in line. "Anything can happen. It's very risky. I don't really know when I'll be able to come back to Delhi now. There is no clarity from the university too at this time." One female airline employee wearing gloves, a mask and a protective face shield said she and many other colleagues felt "very nervous" about starting work again. "Dealing with so many people at this time is so risky. I must have interacted with at least 200 people since this morning," she told AFP, not wishing to be named.
Cabin crew on the planes had to wear full protective suits with masks, plastic visors and blue rubber gloves, and many were also confused about the rules, the Press Trust of India reported. "There is no clarity on whether I need to go into home quarantine for 14 days after returning to my base or show up for duty on Monday," one pilot told PTI. New coronavirus cases in India crossed 6,000 for the third consecutive day on Sunday, surging to a record single-day spike of 6,767 infections. The country has recorded almost 140,000 cases and over 4,000 deaths. Singh has said that international flights could resume in June, although dozens of special flights have in recent weeks brought back some of the hundreds of thousands of Indians stuck abroad.
Suva, Fiji, May 22, 2020 (AFP) - A huge fire at one of Suva's largest markets blanketed the Fijian capital in thick smoke before it was brought under control Friday, firefighters said. The blaze engulfed the Suva Flea Market, a major tourist attraction near the waterfront, sending plumes of acrid black smoke into the air. The National Fire Authority said an adjoining shop was also badly damaged but there were no reports of injuries. "It's been stopped now and no one was injured but that's all we can say at the moment," a spokesman told AFP. The said the cause of the fire was being investigated.