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American Samoa

Samoa US Consular Information Sheet
January 23, 2008
COUNTRY DESCRIPTION:
Samoa consists of the two large islands of Upolu and Savai’i and seven small islets. The country has a stable parliamentary democracy with a developing economy. To
rist facilities are accessible by bus, taxi and car and are within walking distance of access roads. Infrastructure is adequate in Apia, the capital, but it is limited in other areas. Nearly all Internet connections use a relatively slow dial-up method. Samoa has two digital telephone service providers, and visitors can easily purchase prepaid phones that cover virtually the entire country. The Samoa Tourism Authority, at http://www.visitsamoa.ws/, provides a wide range of information of interest to travelers. Read the Department of State Background Notes on Samoa for additional information.

ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS:
U.S. nationals who are not U.S. citizens, and who are resident in American Samoa, must obtain a visitor permit prior to all travel to Samoa. U.S. nationals have not been permitted to travel to Samoa on certificates of identity since May 2005 except on a case by case basis. (U.S. law distinguishes between individuals who are citizens and those who are nationals. The U.S. passport bio-page shows one’s status as either a citizen or a non-citizen national.) As of March 22, 2006, visitor permits to travel to Samoa can be applied for at the new Samoa Consulate General office in Pago Pago, American Samoa. A valid passport and an onward/return ticket are required for all Americans (both citizens and nationals) to travel to Samoa. Visitor permits are not required for U.S. citizens (only for U.S. nationals) seeking to stay in Samoa for up to 60 days. All visitors are required to pay a departure tax of 40 Tala (approximately 17.50 USD) upon leaving the country. Further information about entry requirements and the departure tax may be obtained from the Samoa Mission to the United Nations at 800-2nd Avenue, Suite 400J, New York, NY 10017, telephone (212) 599-6196, fax (212) 599-0797. Visit the Embassy ofSamoa web site at http://www2.un.int/public/Samoa/ for the most current visa information.

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

SAFETY AND SECURITY:
In Apia and many villages, stray dogs wander the streets. Visitors should not approach or feed them; they can become aggressive in the presence of food or if they feel threatened.

Although there have been no major accidents involving the ferry service linking Upolu and Savai’i, vessels are sometimes overloaded. One of the ferries, a multi-deck automobile ferry, sometimes transports passengers on its automobile deck. Americans who choose to use this ferry are encouraged not to remain in the automobile deck during the crossing and to ride only in the passenger compartment in order to avoid injury from shifting vehicles.

Samoa has numerous “blowholes” (lava tubes open to the sea where wave action produces, often spectacular, geysers). These blowholes are popular tourist attractions. The footing around the mouths of most blowholes is very slippery. To avoid being swept in, visitors should not approach too closely and should never stand between the opening of the blowhole and the sea.

Snorkeling and diving in ocean lagoons is a popular activity for many visitors to Samoa. Tide changes can produce powerful currents in these lagoons. Visitors are encouraged to consult local residents and tour operators about hazards and conditions at a particular location before venturing into the water.

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

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

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

CRIME:
Overall, Samoa is considered a low threat environment. Nevertheless, visitors should remain aware of their surroundings, lock their doors at night, and not leave their belongings unattended. Incidents of petty theft/robberies of personal effects are common. Some such incidents have involved residential break-ins. While rare, violent assaults, including sexual assaults have occurred in Samoa. No specific groups have been targeted, nor have there been any racially motivated or hate crimes against Americans. Police responsiveness in Apia is generally good. Because of the very limited police presence elsewhere in Samoa (where order is maintained primarily by local village authorities), police responsiveness elsewhere is problematic.

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.

MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION:
Health care facilities in Samoa are adequate for routine medical treatment, but are limited in range and availability; complex illnesses and life-threatening emergencies generally need to be treated elsewhere. Dental facilities do not meet U.S. standards, but good dental treatment and some emergency care can be obtained nearby at the LBJ Tropical Medical Center in Pago Pago, American Samoa. The national hospital and a small private hospital are located in Apia, and there are several small district hospitals on Savai'i and in outlying areas of Upolu. There are no hyperbaric chambers on any of the islands for the treatment of scuba diving related injuries. Serious cases of decompression sickness are evacuated to the nearest treatment center in Suva, Fiji, or Auckland, New Zealand. Serious medical conditions and treatments that require hospitalization and/or medical evacuation to the United States can cost thousands of dollars. Travelers should carry emergency evacuation insurance. Doctors and hospitals often expect immediate cash payment for health services. There is no reported incidence of malaria or rabies in Samoa. Occasional outbreaks of typhoid and non-hemorrhagic dengue do occur.

Information on vaccinations and other health precautions, such as safe food and water precautions and insect bite protection, may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s hotline for international travelers at 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747) or via the CDC’s web site at http://wwwn.cdc.gov/travel/default.aspx. For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad consult the World Health Organization’s (WHO) web site at http://www.who.int/en. Further health information for travelers is available at http://www.who.int/ith/en.

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

Safety of public transportation and rural road conditions in Samoa, are considered fair, while urban road conditions/maintenance is considered good. Taxis in particular are widely available and used by Samoans and visitors alike; buses are slow, generally crowded and uncomfortable, and rarely utilized by visitors. Rental cars can also be obtained. No roadside assistance is available. Most major roads are tar-sealed, but secondary roads are predominantly dirt and gravel and may be overgrown with vegetation. A four-wheel drive vehicle is recommended for travel on these roads. Travelers should be aware that vehicle safety regulations are rarely enforced and traffic violations occur routinely. Roads outside Apia are often narrow, winding, relatively steep, with narrow or no shoulders, and poorly lighted. Pedestrians as well as vehicles and livestock regularly travel these roads. Due to poor and deteriorating road conditions, night driving on unlit rural roads can be dangerous and should be avoided if possible. Roads in Samoa often traverse small streams. Drivers are urged to exercise extreme caution when fording these streams, which can become swollen and dangerous with little warning. Vehicles should never enter a stream if the roadbed is not visible or if the water’s depth exceeds the vehicle’s clearance.

Speed limits in Samoa are 25 miles per hour in the Apia area and 35 miles per hour outside Apia, with certain exceptions. At unmarked intersections, traffic on the left has the right of way. As in the United States, vehicular traffic moves on the right side of the road; although right-hand-drive vehicles (mainly from New Zealand) do exist in Samoa. Importing right hand drive vehicles to Samoa is currently legally forbidden.

Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information. Visit the web site of the country’s national tourist office at Samoa Tourism Authority at http://www.visitsamoa.ws/.

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

SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES:
Some overseas treatment centers, known as Behavior Modification Facilities, operate in Samoa. Though these facilities may be operated and staffed by U.S. citizens, the Samoan government is solely responsible for compliance with local safety, health, sanitation and educational laws and regulations, including all licensing requirements of the staff in country. These standards, if any, may not be strictly enforced or meet the standards of similar facilities in the U.S. Parents should be aware that U.S. citizens and non-citizen nationals 14 years of age and older have a right to apply for a passport and to request repatriation assistance from the U.S. government, both without parental consent. Any U.S. citizen or non-citizen enrollee has the right to contact a representative from the U.S. Embassy. For further information, consult the Department of State's Fact Sheet on Behavior Modification Facilities, available via the Bureau of Consular Affairs home page. Parents may also contact the U.S. Embassy in Apia or the country officer in the Office of American Citizens Services, Bureau of Consular Affairs at 202-647-5226.

Financial Transactions:
Although some businesses (especially those in Apia or those frequented by tourists) do accept credit cards, many (including gas stations) do not. Major credit cards (Visa, Master Card, and American Express) are accepted at major hotels and some restaurants and stores. Samoan currency can be obtained from ATMs, which are located in Faleolo Airport and in many locations in Apia. For more information on ATM locations and banking services see ANZ web site at http://www.anz.com/samoa/overview.asp and WESTPAC web site at http://www.westpac.com.ws/pacific/publish.nsf/Content/PFSA+HomePage.

Disaster Preparedness: Samoa is located in an area of high seismic activity. Although the probability that a major earthquake would occur during an individual trip is remote, earthquakes can and will continue to happen. Major cyclones have occurred in the past and are always a concern. Strong winds and very heavy rains are common, especially during the rainy season from November to April. During this period, Samoa receives most of its annual average of over 130 inches of rain. General information about natural disaster preparedness is available via the Internet from the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) web site at http://www.fema.gov/.

Customs: Samoa customs authorities may enforce strict regulations concerning temporary importation into or export from Samoa of items such as firearms, fruits, pets and other animals, and drugs. It is advisable to contact the Samoan Mission to the United Nations at 800 2nd Avenue, Suite 400J, New York, NY 10017, telephone (212) 599-6196 for specific information regarding customs requirements. 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 Samoa’s laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned. Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Samoa are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines. Engaging in sexual conduct with children or using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is a crime, prosecutable in the United States. Please see our information on Criminal Penalties.

CHILDREN'S ISSUES:
Samoa is not a member of the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. 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 Samoa are encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate through the State Department’s travel registration web site so that they can obtain updated information on travel and security withinSamoa. 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 in the Accident Compensation Board (ACB) Building, Fifth Floor, Apia. The Embassy is open to the public from 8:15 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Monday - Friday. The Embassy's mailing address is U.S. Embassy, P.O. Box 3430, Apia, Samoa 0815. The telephone numbers are (685) 21436/21631/22696 and 21452. The fax number is (685) 22030. An Embassy officer can be reached after hours in an emergency involving the welfare of a U.S. citizen or non-citizen national at (685) 21514 or (685) 777-1776. Visit the U.S. Embassy’s web site at http://samoa.usembassy.gov/.
* * *
This replaces the Consular Information Sheet (now known as Country Specific Information) dated May 21, 2007, to update sections on Country Description and Crime.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

American Samoa. 8 Mar 2017.
(susp) as of mid-February 30 cases of Dengue.

A HealthMap/ProMED-mail map showing the location of American Samoa in the Pacific can be accessed at <http://healthmap.org/promed/p/380>
and a map of the island at <http://www.nationsonline.org/maps/tutuila-island-map.jpg>. - ProMED Mod.TY
Date: Sat 20 Sep 2014
Source: Radio New Zealand [edited]

Latest figures from Samoa's Ministry of Health show an increase of suspected and confirmed cases of chikungunya [virus infections] from 400 to 626 since the outbreak of the acute fever, rash and joint pain disease was reported in July [2014].

However, the ministry says so far presentation of the main signs and symptoms of those affected have largely been mild.

The highest number of people affected is recorded in the districts of Vaimauga west in the urban area with 151 cases; Faleata east, 139 cases; and 113 in Faleata west.  The majority of patients is young.

In American Samoa, the chikungunya outbreak is on the wane. Health officials say there are now 823 probable cases of the mosquito-borne illness, with 15 people requiring hospital care.
===========
[The chikungunya outbreak continues to grow in Samoa, from 269 cases reported on 25 Aug 2014 to 433 reported on 8 Sep 2014 and now to 626 cases. One hopes that a prompt and aggressive clean up of breeding sites will reduce the vector mosquito population enough to halt, or at least reduce, transmission.

On 26 Jul 2014, it was reported that American Samoa had about 100 cases, with 3 laboratory confirmed as chikungunya virus infections (see ProMED-mail archive no. 20140727.2638925). This is a sharp outbreak, with over 700 cases in a little over one month, apparently peaking at 823 probable cases reported above. Once introduced into American Samoa, spread of the virus is not surprising, because it has had dengue virus transmission in the past, and the same mosquitoes that transmit dengue viruses can transmit chikungunya virus as well.

A map showing the location of Samoa in the Pacific Ocean can be accessed at <http://www.worldatlas.com/webimage/countrys/oceania/wsnewz.gif>. A HealthMap/ProMED-mail map showing the location of both Samoa and American Samoa in the Pacific Ocean can be accessed at <http://healthmap.org/promed/p/380>. - ProMed Mod.TY]
Date: Mon 9 Sep 2014
Source: Radio New Zealand [edited]
<http://www.radionz.co.nz/international/pacific-news/253977/chikungunya-related-cases-reach-over-700-in-american-samoa

The latest reports from American Samoa reveal that chikungunya-related [febrile] cases have now reached over 700, and there is now one probable case in Ofu, Manua. The virus was discovered in the territory in July 2014, but there have been no reported cases in Manua until now.

Health officials are urging residents not to travel to Manua if they have chikungunya, and testing is being done to determine whether the case in Ofu is due to the virus. Since July 2014, there have been 11 hospitalisations with the virus but no deaths.

Health officials continue to urge those with symptoms to drink plenty of fluids, get a lot of rest, and visit the emergency department if symptoms become serious.
=======================
[On 26 Jul 2014, it was reported that American Samoa had about 100 cases, with 3 laboratory confirmed as chikungunya virus infections (see ProMED-mail archive no. 20140727.2638925). This is a sharp outbreak, with over 700 cases in a little over one month. Once introduced into American Samoa, spread of the virus is not surprising, because it has had dengue virus transmission in the past, and the same mosquitoes that transmit dengue viruses can transmit chikungunya virus as well.

A HealthMap/ProMED-mail map showing the location of American Samoa in the Pacific Ocean can be accessed at
Date: Tue 5 Aug 2014
Source: Radio New Zealand International [edited]

The American Samoan Department of Health says there are now more than 300 confirmed cases of chikungunya or 'chik' virus in the territory.

The Health Director Motusa Tuileama Nua says his department and LBJ hospital have confirmed the outbreak of fever, rashes, and joint pains among people on the main island of Tutuila is due to chikungunya.

He says there have been 343 recorded cases, with 6 patients hospitalised and no deaths, since the beginning of July [2014].

He recommends those who are ill with fever and body aches do not travel off island.
--------------------------
Communicated by:
Roland Hubner
Superior Health Council
Brussels
Belgium
===============
[CHIKV has been circulating in Pacific islands this year (2014).

Maps showing the location of American Samoa in the Pacific Ocean can be accessed at
<http://healthmap.org/promed/p/380>. - ProMed Mod.TY]
****************************
American Samoa: confirmed
Date: Fri 8 Aug 2014
Source: Samoa News [edited]

The American Samoa Department of Health and the LBJ hospital have created a 24 hour a day hotline for the CHIK virus. The CHIK hotline number is 731-7511.

The Health Alert issued yesterday [7 Aug 2014] confirms chikungunya (CHIK) virus as the cause of fever, rash, and joint pains outbreak on Tutuila and there have been more than 390 recorded cases, with 7 patients hospitalized and no deaths since 1 Jul 2014.

According to the health alert, there is no cure for CHIK virus [infection, and] it can usually be treated at home by drinking lots of fluids, taking pain medicine like Tylenol, ibuprofen, or Aleve as needed but only as much and with cautions as recommended on the package.

The health alert urges not to work while your joints are painful, let them rest and apply ice or cold packs on the joints and this may protect against prolonged joint pain.

DOH notes you should go to the Emergency Room to see a doctor if symptoms persist more than 10 days, or if you have bleeding from any part of the body or bruised skin. Call the hotline "or come to the ER or clinic if you are worried about your condition getting worse."

The alert once again urges that people stay indoors in air-con, behind screens, or under bed nets while you are ill, because if you are bitten by mosquitoes while you are ill, you can spread the disease to your family and neighbors.

For travelers, the DOH urges those who are ill not to travel off island, including to Manu'a. "If you travel and become ill when you arrive, tell the doctor who sees you that you may have been exposed to the CHIK virus."  [Byline: B. Chen]
----------------------------------
Communicated by:
Roland Hubner
Superior Health Council
Brussels
Belgium
-----------------------------------
[Interestingly, the 5 Aug 2014 report above indicated that there were 343 reported cases, and in the subsequent report of 8 Aug 2014 above, that number has increased to 390 cases, indicating that transmission of CHIK virus is continuing. - ProMed Mod.TY]
******
Samoa: suspected cases
Date: Fri 8 Aug 2014
Source: Island Business [edited]

Samoa's Ministry of Health has reported 2 deaths from acute fever and rash, saying it is now an outbreak. A press statement from the Director General, Leausa Toleafoa Dr Take Naseri, says there have been 21 recorded cases as of earlier this week with 4 people hospitalised.

The cases are suspected to be chikungunya virus, similar to dengue fever, but results are yet to be confirmed and 3 children and one man have been admitted to the intensive care unit.

The ministry says collaboration with other government agencies, and media campaigns, aim to raise awareness of the outbreak and help its containment.

Samoa has also sought assistance from the Ministry of Health's development partners including the Secretariat of the Pacific Community and the World Health Organisation.

In neighbouring American Samoa, there have been more than 300 confirmed cases of chikungunya.
======================
[This is the 1st ever ProMED-mail report of a chikungunya outbreak in Samoa. Concerning the current outbreak, it would be unusual to have 2 deaths from chikungunya virus infections of a total of 21 recorded cases. One explanation for the high proportion of fatal cases could be significant underreporting of non-fatal cases. No mention is made indicating that there were contributory underlying medical conditions in these 2 fatal cases. ProMED-mail will be interested in receiving results of the laboratory tests when they become available.

Maps showing the location of Samoa in the Pacific Ocean can be accessed at
at <http://healthmap.org/promed/p/2>. - ProMed Mod.TY]
Date: Wed 14 May 2014
Source: Radio New Zealand International [edited]

Health officials in American Samoa are warning the public about an amoebic dysentery outbreak which has so far affected 26 people, half of which have been admitted to the LBJ hospital. A Pacific Island Health Officers' Association Epidemiologist, Mark Duran, says the department of health is leading an investigation into the source of the parasite.

Dr Duran says amoebic dysentery is spread through contamination of human waste. "It especially attacks the intestines and invades its way into the wall of the intestines; it causes abdominal pain, it causes bloody diarrhoea, fever." Dr Duran says in serious cases the parasite can travel through the body and cause abscesses especially in the liver.
===================
[Maps of American Samoa can be seen at
<http://healthmap.org/promed/p/380>. - ProMed Sr.Tech.Ed.MJ]
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."