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.
May 19, 2008
Rwanda is a landlocked developing country in central Africa which has made considerable progress in rebuilding its infrastructure and establishing security since the 19
ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS: A passport and evidence of yellow fever immunization are required. Visas are not required for American citizens entering Rwanda for less than 90 days. U.S. citizens planning on working in Rwanda should apply for a work permit at the Directorate of Immigration as soon as possible after arrival in Rwanda. Detailed entry information may be obtained from Rwanda’s Directorate of Immigration at: http://www.migration.gov.rw/ or from the Embassy of the Republic of Rwanda, 1714 New Hampshire Avenue NW, Washington DC 20009, telephone 202-232-2882, fax 202-232-4544, web site http://www.rwandaembassy.org. Overseas, inquiries may be made at the nearest Rwandan Embassy or Consulate.
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:
There are currently no travel restrictions in place within Rwanda, but travelers should use caution when traveling near or crossing the border into Burundi, eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), and Uganda.
In March 2005, the Congo-based Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), comprising ex-Rwandese Armed Forces, Interahamwe, and other extremists, announced it would end its armed struggle against the Government of Rwanda, but thousands of combatants are estimated to remain in eastern Congo. The combatants currently are not well-organized or funded, nor do they pose a serious threat to Rwandan security. However, in early March 2007, in Gisenyi Province (near the Volcanoes National Park in northwestern Rwanda) they launched a mortar round and rocket into Rwandan territory. There were no casualties, and it appears to have been an isolated incident. While visitors may travel freely to Volcanoes National Park, they are not permitted to visit the park without permission from Rwanda's Office of Tourism and National Parks (ORTPN). ORTPN stipulates that the park can only be used for gorilla tours and nature walks. Since December 2006, all restrictions have been lifted in the Nyungwe Forest near the Burundian border in southwestern Rwanda. In the past, the FDLR infiltrated Rwanda from Burundi through the Nyungwe Forest, but the last reported incident in the park was in November 2003. However, FDLR rebel factions are known to operate in northeastern DRC, Burundi, Tanzania, and Uganda, including near the popular tourist area of Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park. For information on travel to those and other countries, and for the latest security information, American citizens 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.
From time to time, travel by U.S. Embassy personnel may be restricted based on changing security conditions. Visitors are encouraged to contact the appropriate U.S. Embassy Regional Security Office or Consular Section for the latest security information, including developments in eastern Congo, Uganda and Burundi. (See Registration/Embassy Location section below.)
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.
CRIME: Pick-pocketing in crowded public places is common, as is petty theft from cars and hotel rooms. Although violent crimes such as carjacking, robbery, and home invasion occur in Kigali, they are rarely committed against foreigners. Americans are advised to remain alert, exercise caution, and follow appropriate personal security measures. Although many parts of Kigali are safe at night, walking alone after dark is not recommended since foreigners, including Americans, have occasionally been the targets of robbery.
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.
See our information on Victims of Crime. The U.S. Embassy provides some information on its web site about criminal justice in Rwanda at http://rwanda.usembassy.gov/criminal_justice_in_rwanda.html.
MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION: Medical and dental facilities are limited, and some medicines are in short supply or unavailable. Travelers should bring their own supplies of prescription drugs and preventive medicines. In Kigali, Americans may go to King Faisal Hospital, a private facility that offers limited services and dental facilities. There is also a missionary dental clinic and a few private dentists. American-operated charitable hospitals with some surgical facilities can be found in Kibagora, in southwestern Rwanda, in Ruhengeri, near the gorilla trekking area, and in Rwinkavu, near the entrance to Akagera National Park. The U.S. Embassy maintains on its website a current list of healthcare providers and facilities in Rwanda at http://rwanda.usembassy.gov/medical_information.html; this list is also included in the Consular Section’s welcome packets for American citizens. There are periodic outbreaks of meningitis in Rwanda. Yellow fever can cause serious medical problems, but the vaccine, required for entry, is very effective in preventing the disease. Malaria is endemic to Rwanda. All visitors are strongly encouraged to take prophylactic medications to prevent malaria. These should be initiated prior to entry into the endemic area. Because of possible counterfeit of antimalarial medications, these should be obtained from a reliable pharmaceutical source. Multiple outbreaks of ebola have been reported in neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo and Uganda in the past year, but none within Rwanda.
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 website at http://wwwn.cdc.gov/travel/default.aspx. For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad consult the World Health Organization’s (WHO) web site at http://www.who.int/en. Further health information for travelers is available at http://www.who.int/ith/en.
MEDICAL INSURANCE: The Department of State strongly urges Americans to consult with their medical insurance company prior to traveling abroad to confirm whether their policy applies overseas and whether it will cover emergency expenses such as a medical evacuation. Please see our information on medical insurance overseas.
TRAFFIC SAFETY AND ROAD CONDITIONS: While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. The information below concerning Rwanda is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.
Due to safety concerns, the use of motorbikes or van taxis for transportation is not recommended. Regulated orange-striped (along the base of the vehicle) sedan auto taxis are safer, but be sure to agree on a fare before beginning the trip. Public transportation can be dangerous due to overloading, inadequate maintenance, and careless drivers.
While the main roads in Rwanda are in relatively good condition, during the rainy season many side roads are passable only with four-wheel drive vehicles. Nighttime driving, particularly outside major cities, is hazardous and is discouraged. Often, roadways are not marked and lack streetlights and shoulders. Many sections have deteriorated surfaces. Due to possible language barriers and lack of roadside assistance, receiving help may be difficult. Travelers may be stopped at police roadblocks throughout the country, where their vehicles and luggage may be searched. Service stations are available along main roads.
In Rwanda, as in the U.S., traffic moves on the right-hand side of the road. Cars already in a traffic circle have the right of way. Until 2004, cars entering traffic circles had the right-of-way. Drivers should exercise caution at traffic circles, since some drivers might forget this change. Excessive speed, careless driving, and the lack of basic safety equipment on many vehicles are hazards on Rwanda's roads. Many vehicles are not well maintained, and headlights are either extremely dim or not used. Drivers also tend to speed and pass other cars with little discretion. Some streets in Kigali have sidewalks or sufficient space for pedestrian traffic; others do not, and pedestrians are forced to walk along the roadway. With the limited street lighting, drivers often have difficulty seeing pedestrians. Drivers frequently have unexpected encounters with cyclists, pedestrians and livestock.
Third-party insurance is required and will cover any damages from involvement in an accident resulting in injuries, if one is found not to have been at fault. The driver’s license of individuals determined to have caused an accident may be confiscated for three months. Causing a fatal accident could result in three to six months' imprisonment. Drunk drivers are jailed for 24 hours and fined Rwandan Francs 20,000 (approximately $35). In the city of Kigali, contact the following numbers for police assistance in the event of an accident: Kigali Center, 08311112; Nyamirambo, 08311113; Kacyiru, 08311114; Kicukiro, 08311115; Remera, 08311116. Ambulance assistance is very limited. Wear seat belts and drive with care and patience at all times. In case of an emergency, American citizens can contact the Embassy duty officer at 0830-0345.
For specific information concerning Rwandan driving permits, vehicle inspection, road tax, and mandatory insurance, please contact the Rwandan Office of Tourism and National Parks, B.P. 905, Kigali, Rwanda, telephone 250-76514, fax 250-76512.
Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information. Visit the web site of the country’s national tourist office and national authority responsible for road safety at http://www.gov.rw/.
AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT: As there is no direct commercial air service to the United States by carriers registered in Rwanda, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not assessed Rwanda’s Civil Aviation Authority for compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards. For more information, travelers may visit the FAA’s web site at http://www.faa.gov/safety/programs_initiatives/oversight/iasa.
In recent months, Rwandair, which charters aircraft to fly its routes, has had difficulties maintaining its schedule, resulting in delayed and cancelled flights which have left passengers stranded for extended periods.
Telephone communication to and from Rwanda is generally reliable. Cellular telephones and Internet connections are available in Kigali and large towns.
Non-biodegradable plastic bags have been banned in Rwanda, and travelers carrying them upon arrival at the Kayibanda International airport may have them confiscated and have to pay approximately $4 for a reusable cloth replacement.
International ATMs are not available in Rwanda. The Rwandan franc is freely exchangeable for hard currencies in banks and the Bureaux de Change. Several Kigali banks can handle wire transfers from U.S. banks, including Western Union. Credit cards are accepted at only a few hotels in Kigali and only to settle hotel bills. Hotels currently accepting credit cards for payment include the Kigali Serena (formerly Intercontinental) Hotel, the Hotel des Mille Collines, the Novotel Umubano, Stipp Hotel and the Kivu Sun Hotel. Note that there may be an added fee for using a credit card. Travelers should expect to handle most expenses, including air tickets, in cash.
Traveler's checks can be cashed only at commercial banks. Because some travelers have had difficulty using U.S. currency printed before the year 2000, the Embassy recommends traveling with newer U.S. currency notes.
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 Rwandan laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned. Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Rwanda 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.
The U.S. Embassy provides some information on its website about criminal justice in Rwanda.
CHILDREN'S ISSUES: For information see our Office of Children’s Issues web pages on intercountry adoption and international parental child abduction. Both foreigners and Rwandans taking Rwandan children to live outside Rwanda, e.g., after adoption, must obtain an exit permission letter from the Ministry of Family and Gender located within the Primature complex at P.O. Box 969, Kigali, Rwanda; Tel: 011-250-587-128; Fax: 011-250-587-127.
REGISTRATION / EMBASSY LOCATION:
Americans living or traveling in Rwanda 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 Rwanda. 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 2657 Avenue de la Gendarmerie; the mailing address is B.P. 28, Kigali, Rwanda; tel. (250) 596-400,; fax: (250) 596-591. The Consular Section’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. The Embassy's web site is http://rwanda.usembassy.gov/. American Citizen Services hours are Tuesdays from 9:00 -17:00 and Fridays from 9:00 - 12:00 except on U.S. and Rwandan holidays.
* * *
This replaces the Country Specific Information for Rwanda dated October 4, 2007, to update sections on Country Description, Entry/Exit Requirements, Safety and Security, Information for Victims of Crime, Medical Facilities and Health Information, Traffic Safety and Road Conditions, Aviation Safety Oversight, Criminal Penalties, Children’s Issues, and Registration/Embassy Location.
Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS
Kigali, May 7, 2020 (AFP) - Floods have left 65 dead in Rwanda and heavy rains swept away scores of houses, several bridges and farms, the government said Thursday, as similar scenes played out across East Africa. In Kenya, floods and landslides have killed nearly 200 people in the past month, while Uganda's Lake Victoria has overflown, submerging houses, a hospital and bridges and displacing thousands.
"Heavy rains that poured Wednesday night caused a number of disasters," Rwanda's ministry of emergency management said in a statement on Thursday. "Up until midnight, 65 death cases had been registered due to floods. The rains also led to damage of infrastructure like roads, 91 houses, 5 bridges and several farms were swept away by the floors," said the statement.
In April 20 people were killed in flooding in Rwanda. In Kenya, four teenagers drowned on Thursday after a river burst its banks, a day after the government announced 194 people had been killed due to floods and landslides since the rainy season began in April, and large areas of farmland and water infrastructure destroyed.
Uganda's President Yoweri Museveni on Thursday wrote on Twitter that Lake Victoria was near record levels. "Encroachers on Lake Victoria and (its) river banks should vacate before they are swallowed by the water because you're in its way" he said. The Red Cross issued a statement Thursday saying thousands were displaced in Uganda after two rivers burst their banks, and a major hospital in western Kasese had partly been submerged by water.
Ugandan MP Alex Byarugaba from Isingiro, a border district with Tanzania, told AFP Thursday: "We lost four people after the heavy rains in last four days pounded the district. Some were buried by the flash floods which have displaced over 5,000 people". Somalia has also experienced flooding in several areas, with six people killed in northeastern Puntland last month.
Kigali, May 4, 2020 (AFP) - Kigali traders eagerly resumed work on Monday as Rwanda partially lifted strict lockdown measures adopted six weeks ago to curb the spread of the coronavirus. Businesses in the capital were flooded with customers hurrying to finish their shopping before an 8:00 pm curfew.
Rwanda imposed one of Africa's first total shutdowns on March 22, closing non-essential shops, shuttering schools, suspending public transport and banning all "unnecessary travel" outside the home. The measures have had a heavy economic impact in the poor east African country. Jane Mutoni, a waitress at a small restaurant in Kigali, said two of her male colleagues were let go. "We are now two waitresses," she told AFP, adding: "It has been really good to return to work because we had no other source of income." In the markets, only half the shops were allowed to reopen.
Hair salons in particular have benefited from the easing of restrictions, although measures have been taken to prevent them from becoming overcrowded. "We are going back to work slowly. Usually we are eight people working as a team here. But today we work in shifts at only three at a time to respect the social distancing," said John Sibomana, a Kigali hairdresser. "After three hours, a colleague will replace me. We don't earn much, but it is still better than staying at home," he said, adding that life had been "very hard" during the lockdown.
Residents were also happy to resume physical activity in the streets, which had been forbidden. "You know, it's been 40 days without practising and touching a ball and most of the young guys here do sports every day," said Bonfils Rukundo, who lives in a Kigali suburb, after going for a run in the capital. Bus stations were full Monday, with masks mandatory in all public places. Buses were allowed to operate only at half capacity and only within Kigali. Rwanda has officially registered 259 cases of coronavirus and no deaths.
Kigali, May 1, 2020 (AFP) - Rwanda will partially lift its virus lockdown from next week and allow people to move freely during the day more than six weeks after being confined, the prime minister's office said Friday. Rwanda was one of the first to impose strict lockdown measures in Africa, on March 22, when it had only 19 cases, and to date has officially recorded 225 cases and zero deaths.
From Monday May 4, citizens will be allowed to move freely from 5am to 8pm, and will need permission to do so later in the evening, the prime minister's office said in a statement. Businesses, manufacturing and construction operations will be allowed to resume with essential workers, while markets will be allowed to open with no more than 50 percent of traders operating.
According to the statement hotels and restaurants will be allowed to operate but must close by 7pm. People will be allowed to exercise in open spaces but sports facilities will remain closed. No more than 30 people will be allowed to attend funerals, and schools, churches, gyms and bars will remain closed. Transport between different provinces is still banned, borders remain closed and mass gatherings prohibited. "Masks must be worn in public at all times," said the statement.
Kigali, April 2, 2020 (AFP) - Rwanda has extended a national lockdown for another two weeks in a bid to curb the spread of coronavirus, which has so far infected 82 people, according to a government statement issued late Wednesday.
Rwanda was among the first nations in Africa to impose a lockdown, banning all "unnecessary movements" outside the home, shutting down schools, shops, and public transport. "To further contain the outbreak, Cabinet extended the existing measures for an additional two weeks, until 23:59 on Sunday 19th April, 2020," read the statement issued after an extraordinary cabinet meeting via video conference chaired by President Paul Kagame.
Rwanda has the second highest number of infections in East Africa after Mauritius which stands at 154, although Kenya is rapidly catching up after a leap saw an increase to 81 on Wednesday. Africa, which has lagged behind the global curve, has nearly 6,400 recorded cases, of which 234 have been fatal, according to a continent-wide tally compiled by AFP.
Rice brings about USD 64.8 million of revenue to Rwanda annually. And although the country relies heavily on domestic rice production, they still have to import some. The government's goal is to be self-sufficient by 2050. As part of their efforts to expand farming, the government often rents parcels of land to farming cooperatives to exploit, and farmers get a cut of what they harvest.
United States of America
Updated: 25 July 2002
Most visits to the United States are trouble-free. However, visitors should continue to be vigilant about their personal security.
SAFETY AND SECURITY<
If staying in a hotel, do not leave your door open at any time.
Do not wear ostentatious jewellery and avoid walking in obviously run down areas.
If arriving at night, take a taxi to your hotel and collect your hire car the next day.
If departing on an evening flight avoid leaving luggage and souvenirs in view in your hire car during the day. Thieves are targeting these vehicles and stealing the contents.
Drive on main highways and use well-lit car parks.
Do not stop if your car is bumped from behind. Instead, indicate to the other driver to follow you to the nearest public area and call for police assistance.
Do not sleep in your car on the roadside or in rest areas.
LOCAL LAWS AND CUSTOMS
Travellers wishing to visit Canada during their stay should contact the Canadian Consulate and US Immigration and Naturalisation Service for entry clearance requirements. If travellers have 90 day visa waiver for US, they should not wait until the end of their stay to travel between US and Canada. Travellers must not overstay past expiration date of their visa as they may risk being denied entry in either country or be deported. Travellers need to carry passports, round trip airline tickets showing their confirmed departure for return from US or Canada to country of origin, and they may need to show proof of sufficient funds to cover their stay.
Travellers should be aware that the age of consent varies from state to state in the US, as does the age at which someone may legally buy and consume alcohol.
Foot and Mouth Disease:
Travellers are prohibited from carrying into the US any agricultural products, particularly animal products – including dairy products – that could spread FMD. (Some hard cheeses and canned meats are permitted. If you are in any doubt, you must check with a US customs or US Department of Agriculture (USDA) official immediately on arrival in the airport terminal). Passengers are required to tick the appropriate box on the US Customs declaration form if they have recently visited a zoo, or been on a farm or in contact with livestock. Passengers are specifically required to identify any farm contacts to US Customs and USDA officials. All luggage is subject to inspection. Penalties for not declaring farm visits or prohibited items can run to $1,000.
All US ports of entry and airports are on heightened alert to ensure that passengers, luggage and cargo are checked as appropriate. This includes placing additional inspectors and dog teams at airports to check incoming flights and passengers.
USDA are saying that soiled shoes, clothing or luggage will be disinfected on arrival. Food products and any other items suspected of potentially carrying the FMD virus will be confiscated and destroyed.
Medical treatment can be very expensive; there are no special arrangements for British visitors. The British Embassy and Consulates-General cannot assist with medical expenses.
Travellers who are HIV-positive
Travellers to the United States who are HIV-positive are not eligible, under current United States visa law, to travel visa free under the Visa Waiver Programme. They are required to apply for a visa and a waiver of the ineligibility before travelling. US immigration authorities state applicants’ details will remain confidential and an applicant’s HIV status will not/not be declared on their passport. For more details contact the US Embassy in London.
Comprehensive travel and medical insurance is essential.
Visitors to the United States will be aware of reports of large-scale wild and forest fires throughout the country. Those travelling to affected areas should be particularly vigilant and pay attention to advice from local authorities and press and radio announcements about personal safety and how to avoid starting fires. Further information can be obtained from the National Interagency Fire Centre, 3833 S. Development Avenue, Boise, Idaho, 83705-5354; tel: +1 208 387 5512; Website: www.nifc.gov
Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS
Los Angeles, May 17, 2020 (AFP) - Eleven firefighters were injured, three of them critically, in downtown Los Angeles when a fire in a commercial smoke shop sparked a major explosion and spread to nearby structures on Saturday evening, officials said.
Crews had entered the building to battle what was initially thought to be a minor blaze when they noticed that the smoke pressure was escalating and decided to evacuate, Los Angeles Fire Department chief Ralph Terrazas told reporters. He said the blast occurred as the firefighters were leaving the building from the roof and the ground floor. "A witness account is that our firefighters came down the aerial ladder from the roof with their turnout coats on fire," Terrazas said.
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said three firefighters had critical but not life-threatening injuries and another had serious injuries, while the remainder had varying degrees of burns. "There are no symptoms of blast injuries but there's potential evidence of chemical inhalation," Garcetti said. "Good news is, everybody's gonna make it," he added. Terrazas said firefighters saw butane canisters inside the building and outside on the street but it was unclear what caused the blaze. "Everything is under investigation by our arson team, all I can say at this point is that the cause is under investigation," he said.
Some 230 responders battled the blaze as it spread to other buildings in the area before it was extinguished around two hours after it began. Fire officials said the building where the blast occurred housed a business -- Smoke Totes Wholesale Distribution -- that sold smoking and vaping paraphernalia and supplied other businesses that make butane honey oil, a highly flammable resin used for inhaling marijuana. Several storefronts in the area were blackened by the force of the blast while one fire truck had a scorched roof and was covered with debris. Thick smoke from the blaze was visible from miles away.
By Catherine TRIOMPHE
New York, May 6, 2020 (AFP) - For the first time since 1904, New York's famed subway has halted its all-night service as the coronavirus outbreak brings "the city that never sleeps" to its knees. The closures from 1:00 am to 5:00 am are aimed at eliminating traces of the potentially fatal virus from the subway's 6,500 wagons -- using every cleaning technique from basic sanitizer to ultra-violet lamps. Authorities say conditions in New York -- the epicenter of the pandemic, with more than 19,000 confirmed or probable deaths -- are slowly improving, but that it's too soon to relax confinement measures.
For Gary Dennis, a New York tour guide in love with his city, its 424 subway stations and their gray carriages -- clunky and loud but as iconic as the Statue of Liberty or the bright yellow taxis -- the state of the transit system is a thermometer for the health of the metropolis. Dennis, a 59-year-old who lives on Manhattan's Upper West Side, said the city's decision to shutter service overnight left him "upset." "This is a 24-hour town," he told AFP. "It's not designed to be empty, it's designed to be crowded." "Without the subway, this town would die." Mayor Bill de Blasio also describes the complex train system that snakes through the city as a "lifeline" that keeps New York's 8.6 million residents chugging along.
Since the pandemic hit the city, ridership has plummeted by more than 90 percent, according to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority that manages the network, to less than 500,000 passengers a day. Normally some 5.5 million people take the subway every day. With many white-collar workers logging into the office from home, most riders are now "essential" workers -- some 800,000 employees of hospitals, supermarkets, repair personnel and delivery workers, many of them black or Latino, some undocumented migrants. And controversy has grown over homeless people seeking overnight shelter in train cars. The city hopes closure will encourage them to find alternative shelter, but many advocacy groups have warned it will worsen the homeless crisis.
- 'Giant vectors of this virus' -
Witnessing the deserted subway stations leaves Will Ramos, a plumber and handyman, mourning the loss of "culture within the stations." "You meet a lot of talent down here," the 33-year-old said at the Union Square station, one of the network's largest. But the pandemic has transformed the underground into "giant vectors of this virus," in the words of conductor Sujatha Gidla, who contracted the COVID-19 illness. In a scathing open letter published this week in The New York Times, Gidla denounced precautions taken to protect MTA workers as too little too late, saying "essential" staff were treated as "expendable." According to the MTA's president Patrick Foye, 109 of 50,000 workers have died after contracting the virus.
The subway system -- much of it devastated by Superstorm Sandy in 2012 -- was already undergoing costly renovations, a project deemed urgent after years of negligence. Now experts estimate the transit authority could lose $4-8 billion due to the pandemic. Both the city and state of New York have seen tax revenues in free fall as the economy stalls and unemployment soars -- and few expect Donald Trump's White House to take pity on the transportation system of his home city. "The funding challenge will be huge," said Bruce Schaller, the former deputy commissionner for traffic and planning at city's transportation department. "It is very daunting."
But the public transit consultant doesn't doubt the subway will weather the storm. In the 1970s the transportation network was in dire condition, wracked with crime. But Schaller says the city is far from that situation, when the city "as a whole was badly ailing." Today, the question is "not about the longer-term vitality" for the subway, but about getting through the pandemic, he said. And emerging is vital, according to Schaller: "The fundamental assumption in New York is that you have mass transit."
Washington, May 6, 2020 (AFP) - The US coronavirus death toll climbed by 2,333 in the past 24 hours, a tally by Johns Hopkins University showed Tuesday, more than twice as many as the day before. The Baltimore-based university said as of 8:30 pm (0030 GMT Wednesday) that the country had suffered a total of 71,022 deaths. On Monday, the United States recorded its lowest daily balance in a month, with 1,015 fatalities.
By Cyril JULIEN
Washington, May 5, 2020 (AFP) - Despite more than a month of stay-at-home orders, the Washington region has become a coronavirus hotspot -- and the African-American and Latino populations of the US capital have been particularly hard hit. Washington and the neighbouring states of Maryland and Virginia now have more than 50,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and there have been some 2,300 deaths. Maryland Governor Larry Hogan predicted in early April that the area would see the next major outbreak and was about two weeks behind New York, the epicentre of the pandemic in the United States.
Despite the closure of schools and non-essential businesses and a lockdown since the end of March, the number of infections, hospitalizations and deaths has continued to rise in the region. "We are a highly populated area with a high density," said Travis Gayles, chief of public health services in Maryland's Montgomery County, which borders Washington. "We still have a high number of essential workers that have to go to work and are subject to exposure there," Gayles told AFP. Montgomery County, to the north of the US capital, has about one million residents. As of Tuesday, it had 5,541 confirmed coronavirus cases and 292 deaths.
Maryland as a whole has reported around 26,400 cases and more than 1,300 deaths. Many of the area's essential workers are African-American or Hispanic, and their infection and death rates are considerably higher than those of the white population. "It is not uncommon that two families share a two-bedroom apartment," said Gayles. "When one is positive, it spreads quickly, and it is much more difficult to isolate." Other factors contributing to the high fatality rate among minorities are underlying health conditions such as high blood pressure and diabetes, and a lack of insurance coverage.
- 'Social distancing fatigue' -
There have been more than 5,300 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Washington, which has a population of around 700,000, and 264 deaths. African-Americans account for slightly less than half of the population of Washington -- but 80 percent of the virus deaths. "This virus has not left the District," Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser said Monday. "We are where we thought we would be in having peak experiences during the month of May."
Amanda Castel, a professor in the epidemiology department at George Washington University, said the rise in the number of cases is due -- to some extent -- to increased testing capacity. "People should not be alarmed that the numbers continue to go up," Castel told AFP, adding they should instead be "reassured that social distancing is working." "There are more test kits and more testing sites," she said. "We are building capacities to test more individuals. "It means we will identify more people who are positive," she said. "It's a good thing."
Castel said it was important to ensure that those who test positive "go into isolation and that their contacts are also screened for symptoms and put into quarantine." She cautioned against the dangers of "social distancing fatigue." "Over the weekend, there was a lot more movement," she said. "That's concerning -- people are tired." Gayles said he was hopeful the region may be approaching the peak, although to "calculate the peak is tricky." "I'm optimistic we are in the area of it," he said.
Several US states have already begun reopening despite not having met federal guidelines that call for a 14-day decline in the number of new virus cases before doing so. Ralph Northam, the governor of Virginia, has said he may partially ease restrictions from May 15 -- a move not yet embraced by Hogan or Bowser. "Guidance was clear for states to prepare to reopen -- a 14-day decline in cases, capacity for widespread testing, hospitals in place," Castel said. "If you can't tick all the boxes, it makes it premature to reopen." Virginia has reported around 19,500 COVID-19 cases and nearly 700 deaths.
Los Angeles, May 5, 2020 (AFP) - Some retailers in California, including bookstores, flower shops and clothing stores, will be allowed to reopen for business at the end of the week, the state's governor announced on Monday. "Millions of Californians answered the call to stay home and thanks to them, we are in a position to begin moving into our next stage of modifying our stay at home order," Governor Gavin Newsom said. "But make no mistake -- this virus isn't gone. It's still dangerous and poses a significant public health risk."
His announcement came following protests across the state last week to demand the lifting of restrictions that have kept the majority of Californians at home and crippled the state's economy, one of the largest in the world. Under the second phase of the reopening process outlined by the governor, some retail stores can open on Friday for pickup only, while manufacturing and logistics businesses will also be able to get back to work.
Newsom said other sectors that fall into this second phase, such as offices and dine-in restaurants, will open at a later date. The Democratic governor said that some counties can move quickly through Stage 2, but they must first prove that they meet the state's readiness criteria for hospital beds, testing kits and contact tracing.
Other counties in the Bay Area, which were the first in the country to order lockdowns and which have experienced a high rate of infection, will likely start lifting restrictions at a later date, Newsom said. He said Stage 3 of lifting restrictions would begin in months and include the reopening of hair salons, nail bars, gyms and sports competitions without fans.
The final stage would amount to the lifting of all restrictions and allow for the opening of movie theatres and sporting events. That stage, however, is not expected before a vaccine is discovered and made widely available. California as of Monday had recorded nearly 55,000 cases of COVID-19 and 2,211 deaths. Los Angeles County alone has recorded nearly 26,000 cases and 1,229 deaths.
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.