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Greece

Background
Greece offers a great variety of attractions for the international traveller. A beautiful climate linked with great beaches, a vibrant nightlife and historical monuments to rival any other location throughout the world. All of this located
within western Europe and a short flight away from many of the cooler northern destinations - like Ireland. Travellers from these regions descent on Greece in very significant numbers each year and for the vast majority of them they will have a splendid and healthy time. However for some this may not be the case and serious illness and accidents are regularly reported. Following some commonsense rules would go a long way to avoiding disaster and ensuring that this trip is truly one to be remembered for all the right reasons.
Climate
Situated in southern Europe the country enjoys mild winters but very hot summers. There may be occasional cool breezes (meltemia) but these can serve only to fool the traveller into thinking that they are unlikely to burn. Rain is very uncommon during the height of summer (July and August) and all travellers should be advised to use very adequate sun-block lotion at all times.
Slip, Slop, Slap
Following the Australian mantra of Slip, Slop and Slap makes perfect sense. Slip on a shirt, slop on sunscreen and slap on a hat when out and about during the day and this should help protect against the intense suns rays. Nevertheless, despite all their best intentions, travellers get burnt. This is particularly a problem in the first few days after their arrival when they do not realise the intensity of the suns rays and how easily they can be exposed. Falling asleep beside the hotel's swimming pool or on the beach is a very common problem and must be avoided against. The tips of the ears, shoulders (especially along the bra-strap line, ankles and behind the knees are commonly exposed and forgotten areas.
After Sun care
To treat significant sunburn it is important to increase fluid intake but also to take extra salt on your food (unless medically contraindicated for some specific condition like high blood pressure etc). Soothing water soluble lotions (especially ones containing a mild anaesthetic and/or steroid cream) are probably best but certainly avoid any of the ones which paste the skin with a thick layer - which is almost impossible to remove without causing serious pain! The more severe sunburn cases may need medical care and even hospitalisation which really ruins a holiday.
Food & Water
As a European destination Greece has a good level of food and water hygiene. Unfortunately this can vary - especially as you move away from the main tourist destinations and also as the summer temperatures rise and food goes 'off' more quickly. Eating hot food, avoiding cold foods (side-salads, lettuce etc) and never eating undercooked bivalve shellfish (mussels, oysters, clams etc) makes perfect sense. Eating food or taking fruit juice drinks from street vendors is a risk just not worth taking.
Insect bites
There may be both mosquitoes and sandflys about so having good repellents (DEET based ones) is worthwhile. The biggest problem will be early in the morning and towards the end of the daylight hours. However sitting in the shade while having lunch may be nice and cool but it is also often a place where these insects tend to hover looking for their next meal. Just don't allow that meal to be the blood in your unguarded ankle!
Seeing the Monuments
As mentioned previously Greece is covered with ancient monuments and these attract many thousands of tourists each year. The ruins are often not the most hospitable places for sun-sensitive tourists so taking care against the suns rays is essential - especially while standing carefully listening to the tour guide explain some complicated piece of history while the back of your legs get roasted! The other issue, for those trekking through the ruins, is the distinct possibility of a nasty twisted ankle.
Laser Night shows
Many of the ancient sites have beautiful night shows which depict something of the past splendour and are definitely worth seeing. However it is wise to wear good shoes as stumbling across loose stones is a particular problem at night and also bring a small torch, if possible, to guide your way. Getting separated from your travelling companions, or not being able to find your return bus, can lead to some understandable panic so listen carefully to any instructions and look out for some land marks before you get too far away into the night time crowd.
Animal bites
Some tourists may forget that rabies is a problem in many countries throughout the world and, even though Greece is regarded as rabies-free', there is always a problem if someone should get bitten. The possibility that this animal could have been recently smuggled into the country cannot be out ruled and so many would advise full post exposure treatment should this contact occur. Children may be at particular risk due to their inquisitive nature.
Swimming
Sunburn and swimming go hand in hand but drowning can also occur all too frequently within this region. Strong currents, swimming after meals (or alcohol) and the ever popular romantic midnight swim are all serious risk factors. Also children running around the deep end of the pool may lose their footing and topple in without warning. Unfortunately a very small child sinks instantly with very little sign of the emergency to those close by. Parents need to keep aware of this risk at all times.
The summer working holiday
Many of our students head towards Greece for 2 to 3 months during the summer to work. The attractions are obvious but commonsense and sensible life-style choices are needed throughout their stay to lessen the risk of illness or them returning home with an infection they had not bargained for. Unfortunately many return home with life-long illnesses which have been contracted from a single unprotected sexual contact.
Vaccinations for Greece
As a general rule the usual travel vaccines are not recommended for most short-term travellers to this region. However for the student planning to spend a more prolonged period it would be sensible to consider cover against both Hepatitis A and Hepatitis B and also to check that their Tetanus cover is up-to-date.
Summary
This is still one of the most popular destinations for northern European travellers and, in the vast majority of cases, they will have a fantastic time with only good memories. Unfortunately some less prepared folks will end up with serious sunburn and other illnesses or diseases which perhaps are frequently associated with their own lack of care and protection rather than anything specific to this beautiful country.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Tue, 7 Apr 2020 12:55:32 +0200 (METDST)

Athens, April 7, 2020 (AFP) - Hundreds of Greek healthcare workers demonstrated on Tuesday to protest at working conditions and lack of manpower and equipment in public hospitals during the coronavirus pandemic.   The demonstrations were staged to coincide with World Health Day, according to the federation of hospital personnel.   "You only saw us when we covered our faces," proclaimed a poster printed by hospital trade unions, bearing a picture of doctors wearing anti-coronavirus masks.    Demonstrators at the large Evangelismos hospital in central Athens held up signs demanding job hiring, virus testing and hospital equipment.

Police tried to enter the hospital courtyard where the rally was taking place before being forced back by demonstrators, an AFP photographer said.   A similar protest was held at the main hospital in Larissa in central Greece, according to images from public television ERT.    Despina Tossonidou, president of the doctors' union at Voula hospital in southern Athens, said that in addition to the hiring of medical staff, intensive care units in private clinics should be requisitioned "to overcome the shortcomings of the public sector" during the virus crisis.   Health care in Greece was drastically affected by the country's 2010-2018 financial crisis and tough austerity required by creditors in exchange for bailouts.

As part of its measures to deal with the pandemic, the government has offered clinics 30 million euros ($32.6 million) and announced the hiring on short-term contracts of 2,000 doctors and 2,000 nursing staff.    "These measures are just a drop in the ocean," said Tossonidou, a radiologist.    "The hospital system needs 30,000 additional permanent doctors," she said, also citing the lack of protective equipment and COVID-19 testing in hospitals.    "The majority of tests are currently carried out in private hospitals at costs ranging from 150 to 300 euros ($163-326)," said Tossonidou.    Greece, a country of around 10.7 million people, has suffered relatively less than other European nations in the pandemic, recording 81 deaths out of 1,755 cases.
Date: Sun, 22 Mar 2020 18:02:51 +0100 (MET)

Athens, March 22, 2020 (AFP) - Greece will impose a nationwide lockdown to stem the spread of the coronavirus, limiting people to their homes except for essential outings, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said Sunday.    "I have given orders that all appropriate action be taken to enforce the ban on all unnecessary movement across the country," Mitsotakis said in a televised address to the nation.   The restrictions will come into force from 6:00 am local time (0400 GMT) on Monday, and will require citizens to carry proof of identity to leave their homes. 

Outings are only permitted for people "going to work, the doctor, or to visit someone who needs help, or those who are buying food or medication", the prime minister said.    Citizens are also permitted to leave the house to walk their pets or exercise outdoors alone or with one other person.

There are 15 recorded deaths and 624 infections from the coronavirus in Greece, which has a population of 11 million.    Since reporting its first death from the virus on March 12, the country has gradually rolled out measures to limit gatherings and non-essential travel along with closing schools, shops and entertainment venues.
Date: Sat, 21 Mar 2020 10:59:18 +0100 (MET)

Athens, March 21, 2020 (AFP) - A strong 5.6 magnitude earthquake struck early Saturday in northwest Greece, damaging property in the city of Parga, authorities said.   The quake struck at 0049 GMT (0249 local time), with the epicentre 11 kilometres (around six miles) from Parga in Kanalaki district, and 316 kilometres northwest of Athens, the Athens geodynamic observatory said.   "No casualties have been reported at the moment," Parga mayor Nikolas Zacharias told AFP by telephone.

"Some old abandoned houses in Kanalaki collapsed and some houses suffered significant damage in this district of 2,500 inhabitants," Zaharias said, adding the temblor was strong throughout the area.   Landslides partially damaged the region's roads, he added.   Greece lies on major fault lines and is regularly hit by earthquakes, but they rarely cause casualties.   In 2017, a 6.7-magnitude earthquake killed two people on the island of Kos in the Aegean sea, causing significant damage.   In 1999, a 5.9-magnitude quake left 143 people dead in Athens and the region northwest of the capital.
Date: Wed, 26 Feb 2020 09:33:48 +0100 (MET)

Athens, Feb 26, 2020 (AFP) - Greece has announced a broad shutdown of public areas and travel restrictions, to be activated in case of a coronavirus outbreak.   The measures, formalised in a decree late on Tuesday, include temporary travel bans to and from countries with a large number of infections.

The decree also permits the requisitioning of beds in hotels and private clinics.   It also foresees the temporary closure of "indoor public gathering areas" such as schools, places of worship, cinemas, theatres, sports halls and businesses.   "We are ready to do whatever is necessary to protect public health," government spokesman Stelios Petsas told reporters.   The country has so far registered no confirmed cases of the virus.   Greece's health ministry has earmarked 13 hospitals nationwide equipped to handle virus cases.

A health ministry spokesman earlier this week noted that owing to the virus' long gestation period, health checks at ports and airports had minor chances of success.   On Monday, the Greek Olympic Committee said it had discussed alternative plans for the Olympic Flame lighting ceremony for the Tokyo 2020 Games in case of a virus outbreak.

The flame for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics is scheduled to be lit on March 12 in ancient Olympia and, following a torch relay on Greek soil, will be handed to the Tokyo organisers at a ceremony on March 19 at the Panathenaic Stadium in Athens.
Date: Tue, 18 Feb 2020 09:07:42 +0100 (MET)

Athens, Feb 18, 2020 (AFP) - Greece was hit with a 24-hour strike Tuesday over a pension reform encouraging people to stay longer in the workforce.   The labour action paralysed public transport in Athens, intercity trains and ferry ship services.   Civil servants are also walking off the job and journalists will stage a three-hour work stoppage against the pension reform.   "This bill is practically the continuation of (austerity) laws introduced in 2010-2019," civil servants' union ADEDY said.

Unions will hold street protests in Athens, Thessaloniki and other major cities later in the day.   The new conservative government says the reform, to be voted by Friday, will make the troubled Greek pension system viable to 2070.   The labour ministry says the overhaul -- the third major revamp in a decade -- will contain pension increases and reduce penalties for pensioners still working.

Successive governments have attempted to reform the pension system, whose previously generous handouts are seen as one of the causes of the decade-long Greek debt crisis.   Chronic overspending and the inaccurate reporting of the budget deficit spooked creditors in 2010, and required three successive bailouts by the European Union and the International Monetary Fund to avert a Greek bankruptcy.   In return for billions of euros in rescue funds, Greece had to adopt unpopular austerity reforms and pension cuts.
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Romania

Romania US Consular Information Sheet
March 02, 2009
COUNTRY DESCRIPTION:
Romania joined NATO in 2004 and the European Union in 2007.
Read the Department of State Background Notes on Romania for additional information.

ENTR
/EXIT REQUIREMENTS:
A valid passport is required.
U.S. citizen visitors are granted 90 days of stay without a visa within a given six-month period.
For stays longer than 90 days, an extension of stay may be obtained in Romania from the Romanian Immigration Office in the area of residence.
An exit visa must be obtained in cases of overstay.
The Romanian Government is enforcing visa regulations more vigorously and a record of visa overstay can result in the assessment of large fines and the denial of entry without a visa for a specified time.
Visit the Embassy of Romania web site for the most current visa information or contact the Romanian Embassy at 1607 23rd St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20008, telephone number (202) 232-4747, or the Romanian Consulates in Los Angeles, Chicago, or New York City.
.

Foreigners are required to carry identification documents at all times. Americans who obtained a temporary or permanent stay permit must be able to present the document upon the request of any “competent authorities.”
Foreigners who do not have a stay permit should present their passports.
(The Embassy recommends carrying a copy of the relevant document).

U.S. visa information for Romanians and other foreign citizens can be found on the web site of the U.S. Embassy in Bucharest
or the Department’s travel website.

Information about dual nationality or the prevention of international child abduction can be found on our web site.
For further information about custom regulations, please read our Customs Information sheet.

SAFETY AND SECURITY:
American citizens are reminded to exercise caution, remain vigilant with regard to their personal security, and monitor media reports.
Prior police notice is required for public demonstrations and police oversight is routinely provided.
Nonetheless, even demonstrations intended to be peaceful can turn confrontational and possibly escalate into violence.
American citizens are therefore urged to avoid the areas of demonstrations if possible, and to exercise caution if within the vicinity of any demonstrations.
Information on specific demonstrations can be found on the Embassy web site on the demonstration notices page.

For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs’ web site, where the current Travel Warnings and Travel Alerts, including the Worldwide Caution, can be found.

Up-to-date information on safety and security can also be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll free in the U.S. and Canada or, for callers outside the U.S. and Canada, a regular toll line at 1-202-501-4444.
These numbers are available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays).

The Department of State urges American citizens to take responsibility for their own personal security while traveling overseas.
For general information about appropriate measures travelers can take to protect themselves overseas, see the Department of State’s A Safe Trip Abroad.

CRIME:
While most crimes in Romania are non-violent and non-confrontational, crimes do occur in which victims suffer personal harm.
Crimes against tourists, including robbery, mugging, pickpocketing and confidence schemes, remain a problem in Romania.
Organized groups of thieves and pickpockets, sometimes including minors, operate in train stations and on trains, subways, and buses in major cities.
A number of thefts and assaults have occurred on overnight trains, including thefts from passengers in closed compartments.
The Embassy recommends using the highest class available for train travel, and suggests traveling with at least one other person. As is always the case, travelers should never leave personal belongings unattended, maintaining control over them at all times.

The Embassy has received reports of bar/night club scams.
These scams involve unsuspecting patrons being charged exorbitant prices when they receive their bar bills.
Another scam involves patrons of “adult” establishments (strip clubs) who are charged for the female worker’s drinks or time while talking to the customers.
Because strip clubs frequently are fronts for organized crime, the Embassy recommends avoiding these establishments.
Patrons may be forced to pay the bills or risk physical confrontation.
If you find yourself in this situation, you should pay the bill and make a police report once the incident is over.

Money exchange schemes targeting travelers are common in Romania.
Some of these ploys have become rather sophisticated, involving individuals posing as plainclothes policemen, who approach the potential victim, flash a badge, and ask for the victim's passport and wallet.
In many of these cases, the thieves succeed in obtaining passports, credit cards, and other personal documents.

Credit card and Internet fraud remain among the most common crimes affecting foreigners in Romania.
Romania is largely a "cash only" economy.
While an increasing number of businesses accept credit cards, travelers are advised to use cash for goods and services rendered due to the prevalence of credit card fraud.
Vendors have been known to misuse credit card information by making illegal purchases on a customer’s account.
To make a credit card purchase, a PIN is usually required.
There are an increasing number of ATMs located throughout major cities, and increasingly sophisticated identity theft rings are targeting them.
Travelers should try to use ATMs located inside banks and check for any evidence of tampering with the machine before use.
Travelers' checks are of limited use but may be used to purchase local currency at some exchange houses.

Americans should exercise caution when traveling to Romania to meet individuals known only through contact over the Internet.
A significant number of confidence scams have been uncovered involving Romanians who contact their prospective American victims through chat rooms or personal advertisements. They generally identify themselves as young Romanian women and develop a “relationship” with their victim over time.
Variations of this scam have emerged but money extortion remains the ultimate goal.
Americans who suspect they may have fallen victim to this kind of scam should contact American Citizens Services at the U.S. Embassy.

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 the 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 understand the local criminal justice process and find an attorney if needed.

The local equivalent to the "911" emergency line in Romania is: 112.
English speaking operators are available.
Please see our information on Victims of Crime, including possible victim compensation programs in the United States.

CRIMINAL PENALTIES:
While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country's laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law.
Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses.
Persons violating Romania’s laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned.
Penalties for possession or use of, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Romania 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 Romanian law, engaging in sexual conduct with a minor under the age of 15 or a minor between the ages of 15 and 18 where the adult has abused the minor’s trust or had influence/authority over the minor is a crime punishable with a 3-10 year prison sentence.
Engaging in illicit sexual conduct with someone who has a physical or psychological disability is punishable with a 3-12 year prison sentence.
Distribution of obscene materials depicting minors is a crime punishable with a 1-5 year prison sentence.
Prostitution is illegal in Romania, regardless of the age of the participants.

SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES:
Abandoned dogs are commonplace in Romania and generally tolerated.
Strays are often fed and are seen frequently on a daily basis especially in or near parks.
Some statistics report one dog bite hourly in Bucharest, the capital city. Because the immunization status of stray dogs is unknown, precautions to prevent rabies are recommended.
See the CDC’s web site for more details.
If you encounter dogs that appear aggressive, it is best to change your path to avoid contact with them.

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

Romania's customs authorities may enforce strict regulations concerning temporary importation into or export from Romania of items such as firearms, antiquities, and medications.
Romanian law allows travelers to bring cash into or out of Romania; however, sums larger than 10,000 Euros or the equivalent must be declared.
Travelers are advised to contact the Embassy of Romania in Washington or one of Romania's consulates in the United States for specific information regarding customs requirements.

DISASTER PREPAREDNESS:
Romania is situated in a seismically active region and has a history of devastating and deadly earthquakes.
While responsibility for caring for disaster victims, including foreigners, rests with Romanian authorities, disaster preparedness is also a personal responsibility.
Additional information is available from the U.S. Embassy in Bucharest.
General information about natural disaster preparedness is available from the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION:
Medical care in Romania is generally not up to Western standards, and basic medical supplies are limited, especially outside major cities.
Some medical providers that meet Western quality standards are available in Bucharest and other cities but can be difficult to identify and locate.
Travelers seeking medical treatment should therefore choose their provider carefully.
A list of hospitals and physicians is available on the website of the U.S. Embassy in Bucharest.
Information regarding health threats or other medical issues affecting visitors to Romania can also be found at this site. The U.S. Department of State is unaware of any HIV/AIDS entry restrictions for visitors to or foreign residents of Romania.

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.
For
information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad, consult the World Health Organization’s (WHO) website
Further health information for travelers is available from the WHO.

MEDICAL INSURANCE:
The Department of State strongly urges Americans to consult with their medical insurance company prior to traveling abroad to confirm whether their policy applies overseas and whether it will cover emergency expenses such as a medical evacuation.
Please see our information on medical insurance overseas.

Americans who wish to extend their stay in Romania must present proof of health insurance that applies overseas for the duration of their intended stay in Romania.
Useful information on medical emergencies abroad, including overseas insurance programs, is provided on the Department of State's web page, Medical Information for Americans Traveling Abroad.
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 Romania is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.

Traffic accidents are arguably the single most dangerous threat for American citizens visiting Romania. The World Economic Forum ranks Romania 126 out of 134 states for road quality.
Currently Romania has a total of only 270 kilometers of freeways.
While major streets in larger cities and major inter-city roads are generally in fair to good condition, many other roads are in poor repair, unpaved, badly lighted, or narrow, or lack marked lanes.
Part of the problem is that the infrastructure has failed to keep pace with the dramatic increase in motor vehicles since 1990.

Roads, especially in the mountains, can be particularly dangerous when wet or covered with snow or ice.
Pedestrians, animals, cyclists, and horse-drawn carts share many roads with motor vehicles and can be extremely difficult to see, particularly at night in rural areas.
Vehicles often block sidewalks, forcing pedestrians to walk in the streets.
Maintain vigilance when driving to avoid hitting those who are walking in the streets.
Cross the street only in crosswalks and always look both ways before crossing.
Crosswalks are generally poorly marked and drivers may ignore crosswalks even if there is a traffic light.

Driving practices in Romania can be aggressive and/or inattentive.
Combined with the substandard road conditions noted above, the result is a significant traffic mortality rate.
According to the European Union Road Federation, Romania has the highest per vehicle rate of traffic fatalities of any country in the E.U.
It is essential for drivers to practice defensive driving techniques.


Romanian traffic laws are very strict.
The traffic police can confiscate any form of driver's license or permit for 1-3 months, and payment of fines may be requested at the time of the infractions.
Some examples when this might occur are failure to yield the right of way, failure to stop at a red light or stop sign, or failure to yield to pedestrians at crosswalks.
While, in theory, drivers must yield to pedestrians at all marked pedestrian crosswalks, many of these are poorly maintained, difficult to see, and sometimes located in unexpected places for foreign drivers.
Pedestrians must take extreme caution when crossing any road.

Romanian traffic laws provide for retention of a driver’s license by the police and possible imprisonment for driving under the influence of alcohol or for causing an accident resulting in injury or death.
There is zero tolerance for driving under the influence of alcohol and police are required to give breathalyzer tests on the scene to all drivers involved in an accident.
Refusal to take a breathalyzer test will result in criminal penalties regardless of whether or not alcohol was involved.

U.S. driver's licenses are only valid in Romania for up to 90 days.
Before the 90-day period has expired, U.S. citizens must either obtain an international driving permit in addition to their U.S. driver's license or a Romanian driver's license.
Wearing a seat belt is mandatory.
Children under 12 years of age may not be transported in the front seat.

Unless otherwise marked with road signs, speed limits are as follows:
·


Inter-city traffic on highways

o
130 km/hr for cars and motorcycles (80 miles/hr)

o
110 km/hr for vans (65 miles/hr)

·


Urban traffic - 50 km/hr (30 miles/hr)

·


Express and European roads

o
100 km/hour for cars and motorcycles (60 miles/hr)

o
90 km/hour for vans (55 miles/hr)

·


All other roads

o
90 km/hr for cars and motorcycles (55 miles/hr)

o
80 km/hr for vans (50 miles/hr)

·


Motor vehicles with trailers and drivers with less than one year of driving experience have speed limits 20 km/hr (or 12 miles) slower than those listed above.

Inter-city travel is generally done via trains and buses, which vary in terms of quality, safety, cost, and reliability.
Pickpockets pose a danger on night trains and in train stations.
Inter-city travel by taxi is much more expensive, and safety depends on the quality of the driver.
Many older taxis are not equipped with seat belts.
To avoid being overcharged, passengers should request the taxi by phone through a reputable company and make sure the taxi has an operational meter or agree upon a price before entering the taxi.
The meter rate per km is posted on both sides of the taxi vehicle.

The host country authority responsible for road safety is the Traffic Police of the Romanian Ministry of Interior.
Emergency roadside help and information may be reached by dialing 9271 for vehicle assistance and towing services.
For ambulance services, fire brigade, or police, dial 112.

Please refer to our Road Safety page and the Bucharest Metropolitan Police Department web site for more information.
Also visit the website of Romania’s national tourist office.

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

CHILDREN'S ISSUES:
For information see our Office of Children’s Issues web pages on intercountry adoption and international parental child abduction.
In 2005, Romania banned intercountry adoptions except by biological grandparents.

REGISTRATION / EMBASSY LOCATION:
Americans living or traveling in Romania are encouraged to register with the U.S. Embassy through the State Department’s travel registration website, and to obtain updated information on travel and security within Romania.
Americans without Internet access may register directly with the U.S. Embassy.
By registering, American citizens make it easier for the Embassy to contact them in case of emergency.
The U.S. Embassy is located at Strada Tudor Arghezi 7-9, telephone (40) 21-200-3300.
In emergencies, an after-hours duty officer may be reached by calling (40) 21-200-3433.
Consular services for U.S. citizens are performed at the Consular Section located at Strada Filipescu 26 (formerly Strada Snagov), one block from the U.S. Embassy at the corner of Strada Batistei.
The Consular Section can be reached through the Embassy operator at (40) 21-200-3300, and faxes can be sent to (40) 21 200-3381 or 200-3578.
*

*

*
This replaces the Country Specific Information sheet dated July 18, 2008 to update the information on Safety and Security, Crime, Traffic Safety and Road Conditions, Special Circumstances, and Disaster Preparedness.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Tue, 7 Apr 2020 13:46:16 +0200 (METDST)

Bucharest, April 7, 2020 (AFP) - A Romanian maternity unit was being investigated on Tuesday after 10 new-borns tested positive for the novel coronavirus, with the suspicion they contracted the virus from healthcare staff.   "The mothers tested negative, but the babies tested positive so we have to consider their contacts with medical staff," Health Minister Nelu Tataru said in an interview with the Antena 3 TV station late on Monday.   The babies have no symptoms and all but one of them, together with their mothers, have gone into self-isolation at home.   Tataru pointed to the "failures in the activities of both maternity officials and the local public health directorate (DSP)" and promised severe measures if necessary.

The local DSP chief has already been dismissed.    "For the past two days I have felt like I am living in a horror film," one of the mothers told the local pressalert.ro website.    "The staff were not wearing masks," she said, adding that the mothers had heard on Wednesday through unofficial channels that there was a case of coronavirus in the hospital.   "On Thursday the hospital was disinfected with us inside," she said.   The unit in the western Romanian city of Timisoara was briefly placed under quarantine on March 31 but was reopened the next day on the orders of the local DSP, which insisted at the time that there was "no risk of infection for patients or doctors" even though 13 members of staff had already tested
positive.

The latest case adds to worries about how Romania's system is coping with the epidemic.    Medical staff have spoken out in recent weeks over insufficient equipment for those on the frontline.   There are more than 4,400 confirmed cases in Romania so far and 180 people have died.    Around 700 of those infected are healthcare workers.
Date: Sat, 21 Mar 2020 23:05:17 +0100 (MET)

Bucharest, March 21, 2020 (AFP) - Romania's government barred most foreigners from entering the country on Saturday and tightened restrictions on movement inside the country to try to limit the spread of the new coronavirus.   "Foreign citizens and stateless persons are banned from entering Romania through all border points," Interior Minister Marcel Vela said during a national address.

Exceptions would be allowed for those transiting through Romania using corridors to be agreed with neighbouring states, he added.   Vela cited the example of neighbouring Hungary, which this week also barred entry to foreign nationals but has allowed Romanians returning from Western Europe to transit its territory.

Exceptions to the new ban will also be made for diplomats, people who need to travel for work purposes, those who have immediate Romanian family and those in humanitarian need.   The government also announced further restrictions to those adopted after President Klaus Iohannis declared a state of emergency on Monday.

As of Saturday evening, dental clinics were closed, people were forbidden to attend church services and any public gathering of more than three people was also forbidden.   Weddings and funerals are to be limited to eight people.   Between 10:00 pm and 6:00 am people are not to leave the house unless necessary for work reasons.   Romania has confirmed 367 cases of the novel coronavirus, but has so far reported no deaths.
Date: Wed, 26 Feb 2020 23:18:10 +0100 (MET)

Bucharest, Feb 26, 2020 (AFP) - Romania reported its first confirmed case of the novel coronavirus on Wednesday -- a man who was in contact with an Italian who visited the country last week.    "The patient, who is in good health and is showing no symptoms, will be transferred to Bucharest's hospital of infectious diseases," Health Minister Victor Costache told a press conference.

Seven other people who live at the same address as the man in the south-eastern Gorj county have all tested negative but will be quarantined for 14 days as a precaution, emergency department official Raed Arafat said.   The Italian believed to be the source of Romania's first diagnosis tested positive for the deadly virus upon returning to Italy after a four-day visit to Gorj.

New cases have been emerging across Europe, many linked to the continent's coronavirus hotspot in northern Italy.    Several governments have advised against travel to Italy, which has now recorded 400 cases and 12 deaths.   The COVID-19 outbreak has killed over 2,700 people and infected more than 80,000 in 34 countries, although the vast majority of cases remain in China, according to the World Health Organization.
Date: Sun 12 Aug 2018
Source: Outbreak News Today [edited]

In a follow-up on the West Nile virus (WNV) situation in Romania, the National Center for Communicable Disease Surveillance and Control reported (computer translated) since the start of surveillance on [2 May 2018], 23 meningitis/meningo-encephalitis have been reported due to West Nile virus infection and a death in the case of a 79-year-old patient who had comorbidities.

Officials say the cases in Romania are sporadic and there is currently no risk of an epidemic.

In addition to Romania (23), in 2018, as of [9 Aug 2018], the EU Member States reported 231 human cases. Italy reported 123 cases, Greece 59 cases, Hungary 23 cases, and France 3 cases. The EU neighbouring countries reported 104 human cases. Serbia reported 102 cases and Kosovo reported 2 cases.

To date, a total of 17 deaths due to West Nile fever have been reported by Serbia (9), Italy (3), Greece (3), Kosovo (1), and Romania (1).
=======================
[In view of the increase in number of WNV cases, the Ministry of Health has advised Romanians to avoid exposure to mosquitoes, to wear shirts and long pants, and to use special window nets so as to minimise the danger of mosquitoes accessing their homes, at the same time maximising their personal health security measures. - ProMED Mod.UBA]

[A HealthMap/ProMED-mail map showing Romania and the other countries mentioned in the report above can be seen at
<http://healthmap.org/promed/p/122>. - ProMed Sr.Tech.Ed.MJ]
Date: 27 Jul 2018
Source: Balkaneu [edited]

Five citizens in Romania have been diagnosed with meningitis caused by the West Nile virus.  The Romanian Ministry of Health recommends to local authorities to take pest control measures as soon as possible to prevent the spreading of the virus, stiri.tvr.ro reported, adding that 80 percent of the people that were infected or get infected have no symptoms.

The only signs and tangible proof that something might be seriously wrong are high fever and headaches. In this case, specialists suggest an immediate visit to the nearest clinic, hospital, or local health centre.

Romanians are advised to avoid exposure to mosquitoes, to wear shirts and long pants, and to use special window nets so as to minimise the danger of mosquitoes accessing their homes, and at the same time, maximize their personal health security measures.  [Byline: Lida Filippakis]
========================
[West Nile virus (WNV) is a significant human, equine and wild bird health problem in the Americas, Europe and the Middle East.

Most WNV infections in people are asymptomatic, and only one infected person in 5 develops fever, headache, body aches, joint pains, vomiting, diarrhoea, or rash. Most individuals recover completely, but fatigue and weakness can last for weeks or months. About one person in 150 will develop neurological disease affecting the central nervous system such as encephalitis or meningitis, and some die [<https://www.cdc.gov/westnile/symptoms/index.html>].

Suspected outbreaks of West Nile virus (WNV) infection have been reported in Romania since the 1950s. Outbreaks of encephalitis, which were serologically confirmed to be caused by WNV infection, were recorded in 1955 in central Transylvania, followed by an outbreak in 1964 in Banat county (central Romania). The largest outbreak of WNV infection in Europe to date was in Romania, when in 1996, over 800 clinical cases of neuro-invasive disease were reported, 393 of which were confirmed for WNV. A total of 17 deaths were reported in this outbreak. The majority of cases were resident (and probably infected) in the capital, Bucharest.

Following this outbreak, Romania implemented a surveillance system for WNV infection. The epidemiological situation until 2009 was characterised by sporadic cases reported from the southern part of the country (south of the Carpathian Mountains). Data from studies conducted between 1997 and 2000 show that 39 confirmed cases were detected. National surveillance data indicate that between 1997 and 2004, a total of 82 neuroinvasive cases were reported in this area (unpublished data; Romanian National Institute of Public Health). Another major outbreak was reported in 2010  [<https://ecdc.europa.eu/sites/portal/files/media/en/publications/Publications/1104_MIR_West_Nile_outbreak_Romania.pdf>].

There have been studies in Romania that provide evidence that wild birds are involved in local West Nile disease enzootic and epizootic cycles. This, in turn, allows virus maintenance and spread and also enhances the chance of new outbreaks [<https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26824796>]. This indicates that the virus is in circulation in the country, resulting in periodic outbreaks among humans similar to the one reported above. - ProMED Mod.UBA]

[HealthMap/ProMED map available at:
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Zimbabwe

General
**********************************************
This southern African country is a popular destination for travellers from Ireland. Victoria Falls must be one of the main tourist attractions but many other visitors will explore the rich s
fari parks and many other attractions, which Zimbabwe has to offer. Unfortunately the stability throughout the country has decreased considerably during the past two years and it will be essential that travellers stay within well defined itineraries agreed with recognised tour operators.
Safety & Security
**********************************************
The level of petty crime is increasing throughout the country as stability decreases. Muggings and pickpocketing occur too often in the main urban areas and especially in the capital - Harare. Care should be taken when getting money from ATM’s or when leaving the banks. Try to have a companion with you and avoid busy market places and crowded local transport. Use hotel safe boxes and don’t leave personal belongings on view where possible. Avoid flaunting personal wealth, only use authorised taxis and take care if visiting late-night bars etc. Credit care fraud is becoming more common so ensure that your card never leaves your sight.
Travel in Zimbabwe
**********************************************
Hiring cars or motorbikes is unwise as the number of serious accidents involving tourists is considerable. Many hazards occur along the roads including unlit abandoned trucks, stray livestock and pedestrians and poor fuel supplies. Many roads are in a poor state of repair and those requiring assistance may have to wait many hours in a deserted location. Car jacking and theft from cars is increasing. If driving long distances you should ensure that you have sufficient fuel and adequate supplies of food and water in case of emergency. A torch and sensible medical kit are also prerequisites.
Health Facilities
**********************************************
Outside of the main urban centres of Harare and Bulawayo the level of healthcare for tourists may be very limited. Even in the cities shortages of some main medications may lead to inadequate treatment and evacuation to South Africa may become necessary. Any tourist on personal medication (asthma, diabetes, contraceptive pill etc) should make certain that they have sufficient supplies with them to complete their journey through Zimbabwe.
Rabies
**********************************************
The risk of rabies occurs throughout the country for those exposed to infected warm-blooded animals. This will be mainly following a bite from an infected dog but cats and monkeys and many other animals also carry the disease. Returning to Harare and possibly to South Africa will be essential to ensure adequate early treatment.
Playing Golf in Zimbabwe
**********************************************
Many tourists visiting Zimbabwe will play golf on some of their many courses. Golf tends to be played during the hours soon after dawn and towards dusk when mosquitoes may abound. They should be aware that there is an increased risk of malaria from mosquito bites (in infected regions) but also of wandering into the rough to retrieve a ball and being bitten by snakes or ticks or stung by scorpions. Avoiding the rough is a wise precaution!

White Water Rafting & Bungee Jumping
**********************************************
Many tourists to the Zambezi region partake of adventure sports including white water rafting and bungee jumping. Check whether of not your travel insurance covers these activities and be aware that both activities can carry significant risks. The bungee jump at Victoria Falls is recognised as one of the highest in the world at 111 metres. Generally the safety and security is good but accidents do occur. The risks of serious injury from white water rafting are also present both from direct trauma (eg bruising, drowning, fractures etc) and also from exposure to Schistosomiasis in the calm fresh water regions along the Zambezi. This parasitic disease is more common in those who swim in Lake Malawi but does occur in Zimbabwe. Serious long-term effects are regularly reported in those returning after fresh water contact in Africa.
Food & Water Facilities
**********************************************
Despite the diminishing security situation throughout the country and the food shortages which have been reported among the local population, the main tourist hotels are still receiving sufficient supplies. This situation may change and travellers should be aware that the level of service may be affected. Lettuce and cold foods may not be adequately treated and should be avoided. Unpeeled fruits should be fine but tap water should not be used for brushing your teeth unless you can easily smell chlorine.
Insect & Mosquito Bites
**********************************************
The Zambezi valley region (including Victoria Falls) is probably the single highest risk region for tourists developing malaria throughout the world. It is essential that adequate malaria prophylaxis is used at all times of the year for those visiting this region. Those remaining in the central highlands (cities of Harare and Bulawayo) will not need prophylaxis as the risk of this mosquito borne disease is very small. Tsetse flies transmit sleeping sickness and this may be a risk for those visiting some of the safari parks. Good repellent and adequate light coloured clothing is essential.
Sun Exposure & Dehydration
**********************************************
It is important to increase your intake of fluids and salt while perspiring significantly in a hot climate. Wearing a wide-brimmed hat is also important.
Vaccines for Zimbabwe
**********************************************
There are no essential vaccines for entry into Zimbabwe from Ireland. However those crossing into Zambia at Victoria Falls (and having their passport stamped) may find that the authorities demand evidence of cover against Yellow Fever before re-entry. Otherwise most tourists are advised to consider adequate cover against:
*
Poliomyelitis (childhood booster)
*
Tetanus (childhood booster)
*
Typhoid (food and water disease)
*
Hepatitis A (food and water disease)
Those planning a longer or more rural trip will also need to consider cover against diseases like Hepatitis B and Rabies.
Summary
**********************************************
The majority of tourists visiting Zimbabwe will remain very healthy and well providing they remain conscious of the prevailing local uncertainty and follow some simple precautions against food and water disease, mosquito bites, and accidents.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Tue, 7 Apr 2020 16:21:31 +0200 (METDST)

Harare, April 7, 2020 (AFP) - Zimbabwean doctors have filed a lawsuit aimed at compelling the government to beef up coronavirus protection for public hospitals and healthcare workers.   In an application filed to the High Court on Sunday, the doctors said the government had failed to set in place "measures to ensure that health practitioners across the country, who include nurses, nurse aides and pharmacists among others, are adequately protected".   The case is being led by the Zimbabwe Association of Doctors for Human Rights (ZADHR).   The doctors, according to a statement on Tuesday by country's human rights lawyers, said there was a "dire shortage" of ventilators, oxygen tanks, biohazard suits and N95 facemasks.   Doctors and nurses staged a walkout last month in protest over a lack of protective clothing to care for coronavirus patients.

Zimbabwe has so far recorded 10 cases of infection, including one fatality.   In their case, the doctors also raise concerns over the scarcity of quarantine and isolation facilities, which they say are only found in the capital Harare and the country's second largest city, Bulawayo.   The ZADHR also complained about inadequate screening of people for coronavirus symptoms across the country.   Zimbabwe has only one COVID-19 test centre, situated at a government hospital in Harare.   The public healthcare system in the country already faces shortages of basic drugs and lacks essential equipment and even running water.   A hearing date is yet to be set. The health ministry could not be immediately reached for comment.
Date: Mon, 30 Mar 2020 11:21:42 +0200 (METDST)

Harare, March 30, 2020 (AFP) - Zimbabwean authorities on Monday began enforcing a three-week lockdown in its fight against the spread of coronavirus after the disease left one person dead and infected six others.   President Emmerson Mnangagwa declared a 21-day "total" lockdown from Monday curtailing movement within the country, shutting most shops and suspending flights in and out of Zimbabwe.    Police mounted checkpoints on routes leading to Harare's central business district, stopping cars and turning away pedestrians who had no authorisation to be in the area.

Elsewhere truckloads of metropolitan and national police armed with batons were on patrol, ordering people back to their homes.   "We don't want to see people here on the streets. We don't want to see people who have no business in town just loitering," a policewoman said through a loud hailer. "Everyone to their homes."   Her colleagues, in riot gear, dispersed people standing in small groups at the Copacabana minibus terminus, which is usually abuzz with people including foreign currency dealers.    In the township of Mbare, the usually bustling  terminus for long-distance buses was deserted with only municipal street cleaners sweeping the empty bus ranks.   A traditionally busy downtown area of Harare referred to as "The Third World" resembled a ghost town with few people on the streets. Most shops had their shutters down.

For many of the country's 16 million people, who are already suffering a grim economic recession, the lockdown means even tougher hardship.   With unemployment rate estimated at around 90 percent, most Zimbabweans have informal jobs to eke out a living and few have substantial savings.   Some were trying to leave the city for rural villages.   "We would rather spend the 21 days at our rural home, where we don't have to buy everything. I can't afford to feed my family here when I am not working," said Most Jawure.   "We have been waiting here for more than two hours but there are no buses," Jawure told AFP while standing with his wife and daughter beside a bulging suitcase.
Date: Fri, 20 Mar 2020 20:48:53 +0100 (MET)

Harare, March 20, 2020 (AFP) - Zimbabwe on Friday reported its first coronavirus case, a man who returned to his home in the tourist resort town of Victoria Falls from Britain at the weekend.   "The is the first case of Covid-19 in Zimbabwe," said Health Minister Obadiah Moyo on state television ZTV.    "The patient is a 38-year-old Caucasian man... who had travelled to Manchester in the UK on the 7th of March and returned to his home in Victoria Falls on the 15th of March via South Africa," he said.

The Zimbabwean government on Tuesday announced a raft of steps to prevent the virus from spreading - including the cancellation of public and sporting events, and constraints on gatherings. Schools will close on Tuesday.   The country's public health system, meanwhile, has been suffering for years from a lack of equipment and drugs.   It came under further strain last year when hundreds of junior doctors at state hospitals staged a three-month strike over conditions and pay - which then was less than $200 a month.
Date: Wed 18 Mar 2020
Source: All Africa [edited]

Mahusekwa villagers who are into cattle farming told 263Chat how they have been losing cattle on a daily basis due to anthrax adding that they are no longer consuming beef due to the outbreak. "You eat beef in Harare because you don't know the real situation here. Cattle are dying daily when the situation was bad, you could wake up only to find 5 or 6 cattle lying down in the kraal. Butchery owners would then come, and sometimes dig it up, skin it and carry the meat to Harare, that is the meat you are eating in butcheries," said one of the farmers who referred to himself as Chihota.

TM, another cattle farmer who is only left with one cattle out of 27 said that he is frustrated, even worse that there is no one who is helping them and giving them information on steps to take when finding your cattle dying. "It was so devastated to watch my cattle dying, I had invested everything. If I notice a sick cattle, I now call the butchery owners who come to buy, they do not pay much but at least I get to recover something to feed my family," said TM.

He added that some of the butchery owners used to come and ask them to show where they had buried their cattle, then dig it up and skin the meat for sale in Harare. "We had a buyer with a yellow bus, and another one with a blue truck who only wanted dead cattle because they said it was cheap and profitable, but these days they buy those ones in the early stage of sickness," added TM.

Anthrax is a life-threatening infectious disease caused by bacteria that normally affects animals, especially ruminants such as cattle, but being a bacteria, it is easily treatable with antibiotics if detected in time. Zimbabwe usually experiences anthrax outbreaks during the rainfall season because rains wash away the topsoil and expose spores that can remain dormant in the soil for over 40 years. Livestock, particularly cattle, take up anthrax bacteria while grazing on contaminated land. People get infected when they handle or eat anthrax-infected meat.

During this season, anthrax outbreaks have been recorded in Gokwe, Nkayi, Gutu, Bikita, Marondera, Mazowe, Chegutu, Makonde and Sanyati. In Makonde, there was an unconfirmed report of one person having died while 64 were hospitalized after eating beef from infected cattle.

Acting director for the Division of Veterinary Field Services Dr. Wilmot Chikurunhe said anthrax was being detected in traditional outbreak areas and not affecting the whole districts. "Cattle owners in anthrax areas should ensure their cattle are vaccinated against the disease once a year before the rain season. The department comes in to prevent massive outbreaks, but the primary responsibility for disease prevention lies with the owner," said Chikurunhe.

He urged cattle farmers to dispose of carcasses of cattle in a manner that does not leave the bacteria exposed to air. The best method is to burn the carcasses in a pit, then bury the ashes.  [Byline: Shorai Murwira]
=====================
[There has been some criticism in Zimbabwe when pictures of dead cows being loaded into trucks were being circulated. But the good news is that this authoritative report by a journalist has been published, and we might expect some action resulting. But obviously this is not a new phenomenon and street markets have been profiting with significant public risk and cost.

The government veterinary service can publicise this risk along with the public health services, but I suspect that the most cost-effective way of getting farmers to report unexpected deaths would be to reward them for confirmed anthrax cases by paying them a sum minimally equivalent to what they are getting from these itinerant butchers. This will certainly not be equivalent to an auction value of a live animal but a mere fraction, two2 digits, not 3. Back in the day in the mid-1960s the Canadian Dept of Agriculture turned anthrax from being a suspect but invisible disease into real numbers by paying C$500 per case. It has been probably the major cause why this disease has been controlled in Canada. Match plus what the itinerant butchers are paying, and then get the cattle at risk vaccinated pdq. Deeds are more effective than words. - ProMed Mod.MHJ]

[HealthMap/ProMED map available at:
Date: Sun 23 Feb 2020
Source: ZBC News [edited]

Mbire, Mashonaland Central Province has been affected by an outbreak of anthrax prompting the Veterinary Services Department to place an embargo on the movement of cattle from the province.

The acting provincial coordinator, Richard Chipfuwa, said 34 beasts had so far succumbed to the disease in the remote district, which sits on the border with Mozambique and Zambia. "These (the 34) are the reported cases, but we suspect there could be many more that were not reported. We have since mobilized vaccines to the district's 5 dip tanks: Nyatsengwa, Masomo, Tengu, Bonga and Sapa, so that farmers can have the remaining herd saved," he said.

But a poor road network in the district is making it difficult for veterinary officials to access some of the dip tanks, a situation made worse by the ongoing rains. The officials, in addition to treating infected animals, are also educating communities against consuming meat from dead animals, because this could pose health risks to people.

The anthrax outbreak in Mbire, an arid district rich in an assortment of wildlife, is suspected to have been passed on to livestock by infected wild animals such buffaloes, which are typical carriers of the disease. Last year [2019], the province lost nearly 1300 cattle due to anthrax and other livestock diseases.
=====================
[For a description of Mashonaland, go to: <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mashonaland>. It is in northern Zimbabwe and is made up of 3 provinces, East, West, and Central. For a map showing the location of Mashonaland Central Province go to: <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mashonaland_Central_Province>.

In these hard to reach areas, it is a constant concern knowing what is happening where. And this goes a long way as to why some 34 animals are reported affected and probably more. And why it is so important to get the necessary volumes of vaccine out to these communities as soon as possible. We wish the provincial veterinary service well and all the luck that they enjoy. - ProMED Mod.MHJ]

[HealthMap/ProMED map available at:
Mashonaland Central Province, Zimbabwe:
More ...

World Travel News Headlines

Date: Thu, 9 Apr 2020 07:30:18 +0200 (METDST)
By Mary Lyn Fonua

Nuku'alofa, Tonga, April 9, 2020 (AFP) - A resurgent Tropical Cyclone Harold flattened tourist resorts in Tonga Thursday, extending a week-long trail of destruction across four South Pacific island nations that has claimed more than two dozen lives.   The cyclone gathered pace as it bore down on the tiny island kingdom, which declared a state of emergency, warning residents to seek shelter from destructive winds and massive sea surges.

By early Thursday it had again become a scale-topping Category Five superstorm -- surprising meteorologists after signs earlier in the week that its intensity was dropping.   Packing winds of up to 260 kilometres per hour (160 miles per hour), it cut power in parts of the country and police said at least three tourist resorts north of the capital Nuku'alofa had been reduced to rubble.

The cyclone killed 27 people in the Solomons late last week before barrelling southeast to directly hit Vanuatu as a Category Five, obliterating entire towns in the northern provinces.   There have been no reports of deaths in Vanuatu, Fiji or Tonga, with emergency workers saying residents in the hardest hit areas took shelter early.   "It appears that many buildings and crops have been destroyed and some people in the most affected areas have lost everything," Red Cross Vanuatu secretary general Jacqueline de Gaillande said.

Harold weakened slightly to a still-formidable Category Four as it lashed Fiji on Wednesday but hopes the storm was dissipating were dashed as it regathered momentum heading towards Tonga.   "It's been a tricky one to predict," meteorologist Bill Singh from New Zealand's Metservice told AFP.   "We knew the track it was going to take but initially everyone thought it was just going to be Cat 3 or 4, but as it progressed over open warm waters it deepened."

- Closed borders -
The storm is expected to head away from Tonga onto the open ocean late Thursday but WeatherWatch.co.nz head forecaster Philip Duncan said there were no certainties.   "It's almost unheard of to see a cyclone tracking south away from the equator, weakening, then suddenly returning back to Cat 5 so far south," he said.

The COVID-19 pandemic has complicated disaster relief efforts, with Vanuatu reluctant to open its international borders as it seeks to remain one of the few countries without any confirmed virus cases.   "No foreign personnel are being brought to Vanuatu for response efforts at the present time, this will be an internally run operation," Vanuatu's National Disaster Management Office said.

Fiji has 15 virus cases and Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama said the virus and cyclone meant "our economy and our people have been dealt two body blows to start the year".   "This storm must not compromise our coronavirus containment efforts, lest we risk damage far more painful than the aftermath of any cyclone," he said.

Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne said an air force plane carrying essential supplies such as tents and water containers was on its way to Vanuatu, while assistance had also been offered to other impacted nations.   "We are acutely conscious that this comes on top of the impact and difficulties created by COVID-19 for those countries," she said.   Vanuatu said any supplies that came into the country would be handled with protective equipment and the air crews delivering them would be isolated in transit areas.
Date: Wed, 8 Apr 2020 18:07:06 +0200 (METDST)

London, April 8, 2020 (AFP) - Britain on Wednesday reported a record 938 new COVID-19 deaths in its daily update, 152 more than its previous highest toll, as the total number of deaths passed 7,000.    "As of 5pm on 7 April, of those hospitalised in the UK who tested positive for coronavirus, 7,097 have sadly died," the health ministry tweeted, up from 6,159 on Tuesday.
Date: Wed, 8 Apr 2020 16:50:53 +0200 (METDST)
By Sofia CHRISTENSEN

Johannesburg, April 8, 2020 (AFP) - A pride of lions flops lazily across a track at a South African game reserve, enjoying newfound tranquility since last month's closure of all national parks to support an anti-coronavirus lockdown.   Rather than the usual Land Rover, a lone elephant rumbles down the road, causing the felines to scatter into the surrounding bush.   A vehicle stands in the background, live streaming the scene for thousands of people watching the animals from the comfort of their homes.   "Since the lockdown occurred we have seen an amazing explosion in our audience," said Graham Wallington, head of a live safari broadcaster called WildEarth.

As the number of viewers tripled over the last days of March, Wallington noted that the audience -- typically American -- was increasingly from South Africa.   "It just happened overnight because all these kids at home with their families are watching these live safaris," he told AFP.   South Africa is almost two weeks into a 21-day lockdown meant to halt the spread of COVID-19.   The country is the worst-affected in Africa, with more than 1,700 infections recorded so far, including 13 deaths.

WildEarth operates from two vehicles in two private game reserves bordering the internationally famous Kruger National Park.   Guides take viewers along for a virtual game drive, finding wildlife and sharing facts about animals encountered along the way.   The cameras are positioned at the back of the vehicles, where passengers would usually be seated, in order to create a real-life experience.   "There it is," guide James Hendry whispered excitedly to the camera after stumbling across a mother hyena and her newborn cubs.   "Tell me, have you ever seen anything that cute in your life before?"   Participants can also send questions to the guides as they go along.

- Rare species emerge -
"You want to know how much water an elephant drinks in a day?" asked ranger Trishala Naidoo, as she drove along a bumpy bush track.   "Around 100 litres if not more," she answered, before pulling over to show viewers a leopard tortoise crossing the road.   Aside from providing entertainment, Wallington believes virtual safaris are an opportunity to observe how wildlife behave in the absence of tourists.   "It's kind of an interesting time where the animals are being left alone," Wallington said, adding that rare species such as the endangered African wild dogs had started venturing into his areas.   "Wild dogs coming in and hunting almost every day... is unheard of," he exclaimed.    "It's because there is no one else there and they've got the run of the place for themselves."
Date: Wed, 8 Apr 2020 16:44:56 +0200 (METDST)

Monrovia, April 8, 2020 (AFP) - Liberian President George Weah declared a state of emergency in the West African country on Wednesday, with the capital Monrovia set to go into lockdown in a bid to curb coronavirus.    In a televised statement, the president said that all movement between Liberia's 15 counties would be banned from 11:59 pm on Friday, and that all non-essential businesses and government offices would close.

Residents of four counties -- including Monrovia's, which is home to about 1 million people -- must also stay at home for two weeks, he said.    Authorities in those counties will allow people to leave their homes only to buy food or for health reasons.     "We have to ask ourselves why we should abide by these measures. The answer is simple: to save lives," Weah said.

Wednesday's announcement escalates earlier health measures which banned large gatherings as well as flights to and from virus-stricken countries.   As with other poor countries in the region, there are fears that Liberia is ill prepared to handle a large outbreak.

The nation of some 4.8 million has recorded 13 coronavirus cases to date, with three deaths.  But Liberia was badly hit during the West Africa's 2014-16 Ebola crisis, which killed more than 4,800 people in the country.    Weah warned that the coronavirus was the greatest threat facing Liberia since Ebola.    "The horrific scenarios that are beginning to emerge should serve as sufficient warning for every one of us to spring into action," he said.   Coronavirus "has already arrived in Liberia, and confirmed cases are now on the rise," Weah added.   Decimated after back-to-back civil wars from 1989 to 2003, Liberia also suffers economic woes including rampant inflation and fuel shortages.
Date: Wed, 8 Apr 2020 16:42:52 +0200 (METDST)

Cairo, April 8, 2020 (AFP) - Egypt will extend a nationwide night-time curfew by a further two weeks in a bid to slow the spread of the coronavirus, Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouli said on Wednesday.   He told a news conference the measure would be enforced from 8:00 pm (1800 GMT) to 6:00 am and run until April 23.   The curfew would start an hour later, he said, to avoid overcrowding in public transport.   Schools and universities, as well as restaurants and cafes would also remain closed until then, while food outlets would be allowed to offer delivery services only.   To stem the spread of the coronavirus, authorities have also halted air traffic until the end of the month and closed tourist and religious sites.

Penalties against violators including fines of up to 4,000 Egyptian pounds (just over $250) and even prison, the prime minister said.  Madbouli also announced that cabinet members will take a 20 percent salary cut for three months, and allocate that sum to underprivileged Egyptians.   Egypt's health ministry has so far declared 94 fatalities out of 1,450 confirmed cases of COVID-19.   Authorities have in recent weeks carried out sweeping disinfection operations at archaeological sites, museums and other sites across the country.   In tandem, strict social distancing measures were imposed to reduce the risk of contagion among the country's 100 million inhabitants.
Date: Wed, 8 Apr 2020 15:46:57 +0200 (METDST)

Beirut, April 8, 2020 (AFP) - Millions in Lebanon risk food insecurity due to a coronavirus lockdown unless the government provides urgent assistance, Human Rights Watch warned Wednesday.   Lebanon in mid-March ordered residents to stay at home and all non-essential businesses to close to halt the spread of COVID-19, which has officially infected 575 people and killed 19 nationwide.   Before the pandemic erupted, Lebanon was struggling with its worst economic crisis in decades, with 45 percent of the population facing poverty according to official estimates.   Lockdown measures to slow the spread of the virus have made matters worse with "millions of Lebanon's residents... at risk of going hungry", HRW said in a statement.

Lebanon is home to 4.5 million people, and also hosts around 1.5 million Syrians who have fled the nine-year war next door, most of whom rely on aid to survive.   "The lockdown... has compounded the poverty and economic hardship rampant in Lebanon before the virus arrived," said HRW senior researcher Lena Simet.    "Many people who had an income have lost it, and if the government does not step in, more than half the population may not be able to afford food and basic necessities."

The economic crisis since last year had already caused many people to lose their jobs or take salary cuts, and stay-at-home measures to counter the virus have now prevented even more from earning a wage.   Media has carried reports of a taxi driver who set his car on fire after security forces fined him for breaking the lockdown rules.   And an unemployed Lebanese construction worker unable to afford rent offered to sell his kidney, in an image widely shared online.   HRW Lebanon researcher Aya Majzoub said many families are struggling due to a lack of savings.

The government has said it will pay out 400,000 Lebanese pounds (less than $150 at the market rate) to the most vulnerable.   HRW said the government should also consider suspending rent and mortgage payments throughout the lockdown.   Majzoub said Syrian refugees were also affected.   "Many of them were seasonal workers -- they worked in agriculture, they worked in the service industry -- and they're not able to do that anymore," she said.   But their ability to cope will depend largely on international aid, as before the pandemic.

The World Bank last week said it had re-allocated $40 million from its support to Lebanon's health sector to fight the virus, including for tests and ventilators.   And it has also been discussing "assistance to help mitigate the impact of the economic and financial crisis on the poor through emergency social safety nets", World Bank spokeswoman Zeina El-Khalil told AFP in March.    On Monday, Lebanon's President Michel Aoun urged the international community to provide financial assistance to back economic reforms.
Date: Wed, 8 Apr 2020 15:13:03 +0200 (METDST)

Dublin, April 8, 2020 (AFP) - Irish police set up nationwide traffic checkpoints on Wednesday, armed with new powers to enforce a lockdown designed to stem the spread of the coronavirus.   Emergency legislation passed in the Irish parliament two weeks ago allows the government to curb non-essential travel during the crisis.

People violating the ban risk a fine of up to 2,500 euros ($2,700) and/or six months in prison.   "The regulations now are in effect," Garda -- Irish police -- commissioner Drew Harris said at a press conference.   "People only should be moving if they have an essential reason to move throughout country. What we'll be doing is making sure that movement is essential."

Over 2,500 officers will be involved in the operation at any one time as it runs from noon Wednesday until midnight on Sunday, with an extension possible.   "It will involve thousands of checkpoints every day," police said in a statement. The roadblocks have been put in place ahead of Easter holidays, traditionally used as an occasion for travel in Ireland.

Harris said nationwide compliance with the ban on movement -- which allows for exercise within two kilometres of home -- had been strong.   But there is a "small minority and perhaps... an increasing number" in breach of the government order.   There have been 210 COVID-19 related deaths and 5,709 confirmed cases of the virus in Ireland according to health department figures released Tuesday.
Date: Wed, 8 Apr 2020 13:24:23 +0200 (METDST)

Tehran, April 8, 2020 (AFP) - Iran on Wednesday reported 121 new deaths from the novel coronavirus, bringing its overall number of fatalities to 3,993.   In the past 24 hours, 1,997 new cases of COVID-19 infection were detected in Iran, state news agency IRNA quoted health ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour as saying.   That put the number of confirmed cases at 64,586, he added.

Iran, which announced its first COVID-19 cases on February 19, is by far the worst hit by the pandemic in the Middle East, according to official tolls.   But there has been speculation abroad that the real number of deaths and infections in the country could be higher.   Jahanpour said that while 3,956 patients were in critical condition, those who recovered had reached 29,812.   The spokesman added that Iran had carried out 220,975 COVID-19 tests to date, according to IRNA.   In a bid to halt COVID-19, Iran has ordered the closure of non-essential businesses and imposed inter-city travel bans, while refraining from a lockdown.

Iran's President Hassan Rouhani said a "second wave" of the fight against the coronavirus would start from Saturday, and that it would be more difficult.   "Low-risk" businesses would be allowed to reopen from Saturday, he said, because "we want to continue economic activities as much as possible while fighting coronavirus at the same time".   The decision to reopen businesses has drawn criticism from health experts and even some government officials.   But Rouhani said "there is no other way".
Date: Wed, 8 Apr 2020 13:14:26 +0200 (METDST)
By Robbie COREY-BOULET

Addis Ababa, April 8, 2020 (AFP) - Ethiopia on Wednesday declared a state of emergency to fight the coronavirus pandemic, which has so far infected 55 people and resulted in two deaths there.    It is the first state of emergency announced under Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who came to power in 2018 and won last year's Nobel Peace Prize in part for expanding political freedoms in the authoritarian nation.    "Because the coronavirus pandemic is getting worse, the Ethiopian government has decided to declare a state of emergency under Article 93 of the constitution," Abiy said in a statement.     "I call upon everybody to stand in line with government bodies and others that are trying to overcome this problem," he added, warning of "grave legal measures" against anyone who undermines the fight against the pandemic.

It was not immediately clear how the state of emergency would affect day-to-day life in Ethiopia.   The government has so far refrained from imposing a lockdown similar to those in effect elsewhere in the region, including in Rwanda, Uganda and Mauritius.

According to the country's constitution, under a state of emergency the Council of Ministers has "all necessary power to protect the country's peace and sovereignty" and can suspend some "political and democratic rights".    The constitution also says lawmakers need to approve a state of emergency, which can last for six months and be extended every four months after that.

Wednesday's decree is likely to "beef up security operations with a greater role for the ederal government, including the military," said William Davison, Ethiopia analyst for the International Crisis Group, a conflict-prevention organisation.    "While this approach is understandable given the situation, it is critical that there is transparency over the government's extra powers and that there is adequate monitoring of implementation," Davison said.

-Opposition challenges move-
Since reporting its first COVID-19 case on March 13, Ethiopia has closed land borders and schools, freed thousands of prisoners to ease overcrowding, sprayed main streets in the capital with disinfectant, and discouraged large gatherings.    But Abiy said over the weekend that a harsher lockdown would be unrealistic given that there are "many citizens who don't have homes" and "even those who have homes have to make ends meet daily."    Jawar Mohammed, a leading opposition politician, said Wednesday this called into question why a state of emergency was necessary.   "Officials have been saying the country is too poor to stop population movement. So why do you need a state of emergency if you are not planning to impose stricter rules?" Jawar told AFP.

During consultations with Abiy earlier this week, the opposition Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) voiced worries that a state of emergency would lead to human rights abuses -- a well-documented problem under previous states of emergency imposed during several years of anti-government protests that swept Abiy to power.    "We explained our concern that the state of emergency has been initiated several times and it has been abused to violate the rights of citizens and other political activists," OLF chairman Dawud Ibsa told AFP.   It's also unclear how the state of emergency might affect planning for hotly-anticipated general elections in Ethiopia.

The country's electoral board announced last week that voting planned for August would need to be postponed because of the pandemic.    It did not provide a timeline for when the elections would ultimately be held, and lawmakers' constitutional mandates expire in October.   Davison, with the International Crisis Group, said the state of emergency could be used "to formally postpone elections" past that deadline, though such a move risks sparking opposition backlash.    "It is therefore essential that the government works with opposition parties on managing this constitutionally sensitive period and making new electoral arrangements," Davison said.
Date: Wed, 8 Apr 2020 13:08:25 +0200 (METDST)

Madrid, April 8, 2020 (AFP) - Spain recorded Wednesday a second successive daily rise in coronavirus-related deaths with 757 fatalities, lifting the total toll in Europe's second-hardest-hit country after Italy by 5.5 percent to 14,555.   The number of new infections rose by 4.4 percent to 146,690, the health ministry said, as Spain has ramped up its testing for the disease.   The number of daily deaths, which peaked on Thursday at 950, rose for the first time on Tuesday after falling for four straight days.

But the rate of increase in both deaths and new infections on Wednesday was largely in line with that recorded the previous day, and half of what was recorded just a week ago.   "We have consolidated the slowdown in the spread of the virus," Health Minister Salvador Illa tweeted after the latest figures were published.   The Spanish government on March 14 imposed one of the toughest lockdowns in Europe to curb the spread of the virus, with people allowed out of their homes only to work, buy food and seek medical care.

The pandemic has stretched the country's public healthcare system close to breaking point, with a shortage of intensive care beds and equipments, but in recent days hospitals have said the situation has improved.   "We have observed a de-escalation at this hospital in particular, and I believe at all hospitals," the spokesman for the Hospital Severo Ochoa in Leganes near Madrid, Jorge Rivera, told AFP.   "We can't let down our guard, emergency services are now working below their full capacity and are working well, they are not saturated and overcrowded but it does not mean that we can relax and go to the emergency ward because you have an ailment."