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Australia

Travelling to Australia
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Introduction
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Travelling to Australia for business or pleasure can be a most memorable experience and each year many Europeans travel this
route to experience something of life ‘down-under’. Staying healthy and well is essential if you want to enjoy your trip to its fullest extent. Australia is a huge continent and the climatic conditions vary considerably throughout. The main southern cities have a temperate climate similar to North West Europe, Perth enjoys a Mediterranean climate while Queensland and the Northern Territories have a sub-tropical weather pattern.
Preparation
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It is important that all travellers are in good general health before undertaking any long-haul trip. Patients who tire easily on light exercise or who have a significant underlying medical condition will need to take extra care. If you are concerned about this aspect of your proposed trip arrange for a meeting with a doctor at an early stage in your preparations.
Long Haul Flights
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On these long flights you will be travelling across many time zones. You will lose or gain hours depending on the direction of your flight. Your body will take time to adjust to the new time zone and so it is important to allow this to occur naturally. If you arrive during the daylight hours try to stay out in the sun for a period of time as this will help your body release a hormone which counteracts jet lag. (Watch you don’t get sun burnt!) Don’t plan to be too energetic during the first day or two after you arrive. Be sensible. If this is a business trip try not to make any major decisions over the first 24 hours. Even the relatively short flight from South East Asia down to Australia crosses time zones and again it will be important to allow your body to settle.
Stop-Overs in SE Asia
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Frequently travellers will stop-over in Singapore, Bali, Hong Kong or Bangkok on their way to or from Australia. During these short stops it is essential that travellers take all possible precautions to ensure that they rest and are careful about what they eat or drink as contaminated food or water is more common in some of these regions.

Mosquito protection in SE Asia
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Mosquito borne diseases are present depending on the location (Malaria, Dengue Fever, Japanese B Encephalitis etc) One of particular concern is Dengue Fever, which is a viral disease transmitted by the bite of an infected mosquito. These mosquitoes tend to bite during the day time. This is in contrast to the mosquitoes which transmit malaria which mainly bite at night. Many of the main tourist destinations throughout SE Asia are malaria free and so tablets to protect against the disease are not usually required. Those going off the usual routes will need to talk this through in depth before leaving.
Road Traffic Accidents
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Frequently, cars are purchased by tourists to Australia for the duration of their stay. Often the cost is low and the maintenance and safety of the vehicle may be somewhat questionable! Long monotonous driving associated with a lack of concentration can cause serious accidents. Car breakdown in the middle of ‘nowhere’ may lead to the risk of dehydration and potential animal attack (kangaroo, dingos, snakes etc). Make sure you always have sufficient food and water and some means of communication (fully charged mobile phone) before leaving to travel across the continent. Make sure other responsible friends or relations back home know of your intended route and inform them of any changes. Get contact numbers for essential services for your journey.

Health Concerns in Australia
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Many travellers feel that Australia is the same as at home in Europe and so little care with personal health needs be taken. This is not always the case as there are many local health variations throughout the country which should be considered.
Sun Exposure
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The northern European skin is usually unaccustomed to intensity of the sun exposure experienced in many parts of Australia. Unfortunately this regularly leads to sun burn among tourists but, more seriously, it also significantly increases the risk of potentially fatal skin cancers. Always use plenty of adequate sun block, cover exposed areas of your body where possible (especially by wearing a wide brimmed hat) and drink plenty of water. (You may also need to replace salt lost through increased perspiration ~ assuming no underlying blood pressure problem)
Northern Australia
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As mentioned previously, the northern parts of Australia are sub-tropical and mosquito borne diseases are more common. Malaria transmission does not occur and many of the diseases transmitted by mosquitoes or other insects cause mild discomfort. Unfortunately some are which are much more severe and can cause long term difficulties.
Ross River Fever
This viral disease is transmitted by mosquitoes and causes a severe arthritic type condition. The disease is often short lived but in some patients the disease may continue to cause arthritis for months and even years. There is no specific treatment and travellers need to be careful about avoiding bites.
Typhus
This disease occurs in isolated parts of Northern Australia through the bite of infected ticks. The disease can cause a skin rash, fever and general unwellness. Antibiotics can help to ease the symptoms but avoiding bites is essential at all times.
Dengue
This mosquito borne disease also occurs in parts of Northern Australia usually by day-biting mosquitoes. (See Dengue leaflet - TMB)
Other Risks
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The sea waters in parts of Australia are infested by sharks and jelly fish. Always take competent local advice before undertaking any sea activities. Drowning occurs regularly each year among tourists who disregard some of the basic rules of water safety. If in desert regions, take care with disturbing rocks in case you awaken a peaceful snake or scorpion.
Medical Care for Travellers
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If travellers have stopped in South East Asia and then become ill on arrival in Australia, they should make contact with a medical centre dealing with Tropical Medicine. Details of the centres in the major cities throughout Australia are available from the Tropical Medical Bureau.
Vaccinations for Stop-Overs
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Usually travellers will have vaccination cover for Typhoid, Poliomyelitis, Tetanus and Hepatitis A. Malaria prophylaxis may not be required depending on your actual itinerary. There is a higher risk of Hepatitis B in central Australia and so this may need to be considered if the risk of contact (mainly blood following accidents) is thought to be higher than usual. Rabies risk in Australia is almost non existent though obviously contact with all warm blooded animals should be avoided at all times.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Mon, 4 May 2020 08:34:04 +0200 (METDST)
By Neil Sands, with Holly Robertson in Brisbane

Wellington, May 4, 2020 (AFP) - New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern will join an Australian leaders' meeting on Tuesday to discuss establishing a "trans-Tasman bubble" that allows the neighbours to lift bilateral coronavirus travel bans.   With both nations seeing significant drops in new infections, Ardern accepted Australian counterpart Scott Morrison's invitation to join a virtual meeting of the National Cabinet, which brings together Australia's regional and federal leaders.   "The meeting will discuss a number of matters relating to the COVID response on both sides of the Tasman (Sea), including the creation of a trans-Tasman travel bubble," she told reporters, describing her presence at the meeting as unprecedented.   "Both our countries' strong record on fighting the virus has placed us in the enviable position of being able to plan the next stage in our economic rebuild."

Ardern said the two-week quarantine periods both Australia and New Zealand currently impose on international arrivals would be mutually waived under the proposal.   She was reluctant to speculate on when it could take effect but warned: "Don't expect this to happen in a couple of weeks time."   "We need to ensure that we're locking in the gains that all New Zealanders have helped us achieve and make sure we have health precautions in place to make sure we do this safely," she said.   Ardern confirmed the meeting will discuss the countries' respective approaches to battling the novel coronavirus, including contact tracing apps such as Australia's COVIDSafe.   "We continue to do work in this space, but we are not relying on it because there is simply no silver bullet here," she said.

- Integrated economies -
New Zealand, which eased a strict five-week lockdown last week allowing people to return to work, has confirmed 1,137 cases and 20 deaths.   Parts of Australia also began relaxing lockdown rules over the weekend, with some regions allowing more outdoor activities and small gatherings as the country inched past 6,800 cases and recorded 96 deaths.   Most Australian states have gone several consecutive days with few or no new cases, while New Zealand confirmed just one new case on Monday.

New Zealand's Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters said a travel exemption granted to rugby league side Warriors, who arrived in Australia on Sunday ahead of a resumed NRL competition, showed a trans-Tasman bubble could work.   "Australia and New Zealand are two of the most integrated economies in the world," he said.   "The idea of a bubble with Australia was floated two weeks ago, and this is an example of the sort of action that could happen within it, while always ensuring the protection of public health."   Morrison had said last week that the "only exception" to an international travel ban was "potentially with New Zealand, and we have had some good discussions about that".

However, some state borders still closed in Australia would likely need to be reopened before the two countries could allow free movement.   Ardern was cautious about the prospect of allowing Pacific island nations which are free of COVID-19 into the bubble due to the inability of their health systems to deal with even a minor outbreak of the virus.   "That's a conversation we'd need to have directly with them," she said. "There's a huge risk if COVID finds its way into Pacific island nations that are currently untouched."
Date: Fri, 1 May 2020 08:49:27 +0200 (METDST)

Sydney, May 1, 2020 (AFP) - Australia will consider early easing of coronavirus restrictions next week, officials announced Friday, as the number of local cases dwindled and the economic impact of the crisis fell into painful relief.   Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the national cabinet would meet on May 8 -- a week earlier than expected -- to weigh loosening social distancing measures that have kept millions of Australians at home, barred almost all travel and slowed business to a crawl.    "We need to restart our economy. We need to restart our society. We can't keep Australia under the doona," Morrison said, using a local term for a duvet.    "We need to be able to move ahead."    Australia has detected almost 7,000 COVID-19 infections, but new daily ases are now close to single figures. Some parts of the country have not seen
a case in more than a week.

Meanwhile millions of Aussies have seen their work hours cut, an estimated one-in-three have been hurt financially and the unemployment rate is set to roughly double to 10 percent.   Even if businesses are allowed to reopen and restrictions on movement are lifted, the authorities are warning a quick return normal is unlikely.   "There'll continue to be limits on gathering," said chief medical officer Brendan Murphy.   "Wherever you go, however you interact, you'll need to practice distancing, and that is just a long-term adjustment that we all have to make."   Morrison said that any easing would also require more people to download an app that can help track new clusters of the virus.

So far 3.5 million Australians have downloaded the COVIDsafe app since it was launched Sunday evening, an impressive number Morrison said was still not enough.   "That is the ticket to opening up our economy," he said, adding that any decision on easing restrictions would have to be carefully calibrated to avoid a resurgence of COVID-19 and the need to reimpose a lockdown.    "We've got to be like the emblems on our coat of arms, the kangaroo and the emu, they only go forward, and we only want to go forward," Morrison said.   It was less clear whether travel restrictions -- including a virtual ban on international travel -- will be lifted.    Morrison said that he expected net migration to fall by a third this year and 85 percent next year -- delivering a significant hit to an economy that was already expected to go into recession.
Date: Mon, 20 Apr 2020 13:22:37 +0200 (METDST)

Brisbane, Australia, April 20, 2020 (AFP) - Troubled airline Virgin Australia on Monday moved toward voluntary administration, a source and local media said, making the carrier the largest yet to fall victim to the coronavirus pandemic.   The cash-strapped airline had appealed for an Aus$1.4 billion ($894 million) loan to continue operations, but the federal government refused to bail out the majority foreign-owned company.

The source said staff learned of the decision late Monday, leaving about 10,000 pilots, flight attendants and ground crew in limbo.   Local media reported the decision was taken at a board meeting on Monday.   Administrators are now expected to be appointed to try to find a buyer for the company and manage creditors.

Virgin had stood down 8,000 staff, suspended all international routes and scrapped all bar one domestic route after Australia shut its borders to limit the spread of COVID-19 and imposed tough restrictions on movement.   The aviation sector -- dominated by Virgin and flag carrier Qantas -- had received a Aus$715 million bailout from the Australian taxpayer and funding to resume a limited number of flights.

Queensland's government had offered Virgin an additional Aus$200 million on the condition the airline kept its headquarters in the state capital, Brisbane.   New South Wales also tried to lure the airline to Sydney with promises of a cash injection.   However, those offers do not appear to have been enough to keep the airline from collapsing underneath more than Aus$5 billion in debt.   Virgin was already struggling before the crisis, posting an underlying before-tax loss of Aus$71.2 million last year.

The airline is yet to make an official announcement and did not respond to a request for comment.   The Transport Workers' Union urged the government to work with any administrators to save thousands of jobs.   "It is a viable and much-needed business and without it Australia will struggle to get its economy back on track once the crisis abates," said union national secretary Michael Kaine.   There are already concerns about what Virgin's troubles could mean for Australian travellers.

In March, Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) chair Rod Sims told AFP it was vital for the country to have a rival to Qantas.   "Australia went into this crisis with two full-service airlines and it's really important that we come out the other end with two full-service airlines," he said.   Public broadcaster ABC and the Australian Financial Review reported that accounting firm Deloitte has been appointed administrator of the company.   Deloitte said it would not "comment on speculation regarding potential appointments".
Date: Tue, 14 Apr 2020 04:18:07 +0200 (METDST)

Sydney, April 14, 2020 (AFP) - Australia and New Zealand on Tuesday brushed aside calls for an easing of tough restrictions on travel and public gatherings despite their success in curbing the spread of COVID-19.   The number of new coronavirus cases in the neighbouring nations has fallen dramatically in the last two weeks, raising hopes that difficult social distancing measures may be relaxed.

But Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the country was still "many weeks away" from lifting any restrictions.   "Patience has got to be our virtue here," he said, noting that countries like Singapore and South Korea had initial success against COVID-19 but saw a surge in new cases after travel and other restrictions were eased.   Australia registered just 63 new infections on Sunday and Monday, bringing the total number of cases to 6,366 for a population of 25 million.   It was the lowest two-day increase in a month.

New Zealand, a nation of five million, saw just eight new cases on Tuesday for a total of 1,072, its lowest daily increase in more than three weeks.   "We've been relatively successful -- I don't want to squander that success or the sacrifices New Zealanders have made," New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern responded Tuesday when asked when the lockdown will be eased.   "Our goal has to be go early and go hard, so that we get into a position where we can ease up restrictions with confidence," she said, adding that no action would be taken for at least another week.   Both countries have closed their borders to foreigners and imposed 14-day quarantines on returning residents.

New Zealand has enforced a strict stay-at-home lockdown while Australia imposed tight restrictions on movement, gatherings and public activities.   "Australians are doing magnificently, we've seen real progress," Health Minister Greg Hunt said Tuesday, linking the slowdown in new cases to people honouring lockdown rules.   "The rest of the world would, overwhelmingly in a heartbeat, swap positions with Australia."  But the clampdowns have caused significant economic damage, with Australian officials Tuesday predicting unemployment will double to 10 percent despite a massive government spending spree to counter the impact of the pandemic.
Date: Wed, 1 Apr 2020 10:00:47 +0200 (METDST)

Sydney, April 1, 2020 (AFP) - Australian health officials set up a coronavirus testing clinic on Sydney's Bondi Beach Wednesday, as concern grew that COVID-19 was spreading among backpackers in the popular tourist destination.   More than 100 cases of coronavirus have reportedly been identified in the area -- many linked to two massive club parties held in mid-March before the country shut down bars, pubs and other non-essential services.   Photos shared online last week also showed mostly young beachgoers packed together on the sand after outdoor gatherings were curtailed, drawing howls of protest.

That led to sunbathers, surfers and tourists being banned from the beach, with police enforcing the prohibition.   New South Wales Health said the Waverley Council area, which encompasses Bondi, had the highest number of confirmed cases in Sydney.   "A plausible explanation is they have come in contact with an infected backpacker before that backpacker was aware they had COVID-19," said chief health officer Kerry Chant.   Australia has recorded almost 5,000 coronavirus infections and 20 deaths, with almost half of those in New South Wales.
More ...

World Travel News Headlines

Date: Tue, 26 May 2020 09:15:57 +0200 (METDST)

Riyadh, May 26, 2020 (AFP) - Saudi Arabia will end its nationwide coronavirus curfew from June 21, except in the holy city of Mecca, the interior ministry said Tuesday, after more than two months of stringent curbs.   Prayers will also be allowed to resume in all mosques outside Mecca from May 31, the ministry said in a series of measures announced on the official Saudi Press Agency.   The kingdom, which has reported the highest number of virus cases in the Gulf, imposed a full nationwide curfew during Eid al-Fitr, the Muslim holiday that marks the end of the fasting month of Ramadan.

The ministry said it will begin easing restrictions in a phased manner this week, with the curfew relaxed between 6 am and 3 pm between Thursday and Saturday.   From Sunday until June 20, the curfew will be further eased until 8 pm, the ministry added.   The kingdom will lift the lockdown entirely from June 21.   "Starting from Thursday, the kingdom will enter a new phase (in dealing with the pandemic) and will gradually return to normal based on the rules of social distancing," Health Minister Tawfiq Al-Rabiah said on Monday.   Saudi Arabia has reported around 75,000 coronavirus infections and some 400 deaths from COVID-19.

In March, Saudi Arabia suspended the year-round "umrah" pilgrimage over fears of the disease spreading in Islam's holiest cities.   That suspension will remain in place, the interior ministry said.   Authorities are yet to announce whether they will proceed with this year's hajj -- scheduled for late July -- but they have urged Muslims to temporarily defer preparations for the annual pilgrimage.   Last year, some 2.5 million faithful travelled to Saudi Arabia from around the world to participate in the hajj, which Muslims are obliged to perform at least once during their lifetime.
Date: Tue, 26 May 2020 05:52:24 +0200 (METDST)

Santiago, May 26, 2020 (AFP) - Chile registered a new high for coronavirus cases on Monday, with nearly 5,000 infections in 24 hours, including two ministers in President Sebastian Pinera's government.   Health authorities announced 4,895 new infections in the South American country and 43 deaths.

Public Works Minister Alfredo Moreno and Energy Minister Juan Carlos Jobet said they were among those with the disease.   "I have been informed that the COVID-19 test I had a few days ago was positive," Moreno said on Twitter, adding that he had no symptoms so far.   The 63-year-old minister had placed himself in quarantine after one of his staff tested positive.  Jobet also tested positive after starting to quarantine preventatively on Saturday, "when he experienced mild symptoms, which could be associated with the disease," a statement from the Energy Ministry said.

The 44-year-old minister "has had no direct contact with President Sebastian Pinera or other cabinet members in recent days," the statement said, without specifying how he became infected.   Three other ministers, who had self-quarantined after being in contact with infected people, all tested negative and resumed work.

Chile suffered a surge in infections last week, prompting the government to order the lockdown of Santiago.   The capital is the main focus of the pandemic in Chile, with 90 percent of the country's 74,000 cases.   Last week, the Senate was closed after three senators tested positive for the coronavirus. Sessions were held by video conference.
Date: Tue, 26 May 2020 01:15:01 +0200 (METDST)

Quito, May 25, 2020 (AFP) - Demonstrators defied coronavirus restrictions to march in cities across Ecuador on Monday in protest against President Lenin Moreno's drastic economic measures to tackle the crisis.   Moreno last week announced public spending cuts including the closure of state companies and embassies around the world, but trade unions Monday said workers were paying a disproportionate price compared to Ecuador's elite.   "This protest is because the government is firing workers to avoid making the rich pay," Mecias Tatamuez, head of the county's largest union, the Unitary Front of Workers (FUT), told reporters at a march in Quito.

Around 2,000 people marched in the capital, waving flags and banners and shouting anti-government slogans.   The protesters wore masks and respected distancing measures recommended against the spread of the coronavirus that has caused at least 3,200 deaths in the country, making it South America's worst hit nation per capita. Authorities say more than 2,000 further deaths are likely linked to the virus.

Demonstrations took place in several other cities, including Guayaquil, the epicentre of Ecuador's health crisis, where union leaders said hundreds marched through the city.   Moreno ordered the closure of Ecuadoran embassies, a reduction in diplomatic staff and scrapped seven state companies as part of measures designed to save some $4 billion.    He also announced the liquidation of the TAME airline, which has lost more than $400 million over the last five years.

The government says the pandemic has so far cost the economy at least $8 billion.   Public sector working hours have been cut by 25 percent, with an accompanying 16 percent pay cut.   Moreno said on Sunday that 150,000 people had lost their jobs because of the coronavirus.   Ecuador was struggling economically before the pandemic hit, due to high debt and its dependence on oil.   The IMF predicts that the economy will shrink by 6.3 percent this year, the sharpest drop of any country in South America.
Date: Mon, 25 May 2020 22:20:46 +0200 (METDST)

Dublin, May 25, 2020 (AFP) - Ireland recorded no new deaths from the coronavirus on Monday for the first time since March 21.   Prime Minister Leo Varadkar called it a "significant milestone", adding on Twitter: "This is a day of hope. We will prevail."

The announcement came one week after Ireland, which has suffered 1,606 deaths from 24,698 infections, began to ease lockdown measures that had been in place for nearly two months.   Ireland entered lockdown in late March, recording a peak of 77 deaths on a single day on April 20.   "In the last 24 hours we didn't have any deaths notified to us," chief medical officer Tony Holohan said at a daily press briefing.   He warned that the zero figure could be a result of a lag in reporting of deaths over the weekend, but he added: "It's part of the continued trend that we've seen in (the) reduction in the total number of deaths."

Ireland has announced a five-step plan to reopen the nation by August and took the first steps last Monday -- allowing outdoor employees to return to work, some shops to reopen and the resumption of  activities such as golf and tennis.   While the news of no fresh deaths was greeted as progress, officials remain concerned there will be a "second wave" as the lockdown is loosened.   "The number of new cases and reported deaths over the past week indicates that we have suppressed COVID-19 as a country," Holohan added in a statement.   "It will take another week to see any effect on disease incidence that might arise from the easing of measures."
Date: Mon, 25 May 2020 21:59:40 +0200 (METDST)

Luxembourg, May 25, 2020 (AFP) - Luxembourg will ease its coronavirus restrictions on Wednesday, reopening cafes and restaurants and allowing civil and religious ceremonies under strict conditions, the government announced.   The tiny country has so far registered only 3,993 COVID-19 cases, of which 110 have been fatal. Four people are in intensive care and shops were closed on March 18 to slow the spread of the new coronavirus.

Prime Minister Xavier Bettel told a news conference on Monday that eateries could reopen terraces with a maximum of four people at a single table.   Indoor dining in cafes and restaurants will resume on Friday, he said, with social distancing of 1.5 metres (five feet) between groups.   Marriages and funerals will also be allowed if the attendees wore face masks and kept two metres distance from each other.   Bettel however said cafes and restaurants would have to close at midnight.

Francois Koepp, the general secretary of the Horeca federation grouping hotels, restaurants and cafes, welcomed the announcement, saying the sector had "greatly suffered from the confinement".   He said it provided employment to some 21,000 people in this nation of 620,000 inhabitants.   Cinema theatres and gyms will open at the end of the week but children's parks will remain closed.   The government has pledged to give every citizen over 16 a voucher worth 50 euros ( $54) to spend in hotels to provide a boost to the sector.   The vouchers will also be given to some 200,000 cross border workers from Belgium, France and Germany.
Date: Mon, 25 May 2020 20:36:16 +0200 (METDST)

Prague, May 25, 2020 (AFP) - The Czech Republic and Slovakia will reopen their border this week for those travelling to the other country for up to 48 hours, Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis said Monday.   "This will be possible without tests or quarantine" starting Wednesday, he added in a message posted on Twitter.   The Czech Republic and Slovakia formed a single country until 1993. Babis himself was born in the Slovak capital of Bratislava.

Both countries have fared well in the current pandemic, with Slovakia posting the lowest death toll per capita in the EU and the Czech Republic keeping its COVID-19 figures down as well.   The Czech government will also open border crossings with Austria and Germany on Tuesday but will still require negative COVID-19 tests from those entering the country.   "We have negotiated similar conditions on the other side of the border with our German and Austrian colleagues," Interior Minister Jan Hamacek said.   The interior ministry said blanket border checks would be replaced by random ones and added it would still not allow tourists into the country.

Czech Health Minister Adam Vojtech said the government was working on other measures to ease the travel restrictions adopted in mid-March.   "We would like to introduce them next week," he added.   Vojtech said EU citizens could now come to the Czech Republic "on business or to visit their family for a maximum of 72 hours if they submit a negative coronavirus test."

The country is also accessible to non-EU citizens who do seasonal jobs there, on condition they have tested negative.   Czech restaurants, bars, hotels, castles, zoos and swimming pools have been open since Monday, when the government lifted many anti-virus measures.   Czechs also no longer have to wear face masks outside their homes, except in shops and on public transport.
Date: Mon, 25 May 2020 17:45:38 +0200 (METDST)
By Shafiqul ALAM

Dhaka, May 25, 2020 (AFP) - Some 15,000 Rohingya refugees are now under coronavirus quarantine in Bangladesh's vast camps, officials said Monday, as the number of confirmed infections rose to 29.   Health experts have long warned that the virus could race through the cramped settlements, housing almost a million Muslims who fled violence in Myanmar, and officials had restricted movement to the area in April.

Despite this, the first cases in the camps were detected in mid-May.   "None of the infections are critical. Most hardly show any symptoms. Still we have brought them in isolation centres and quarantined their families," Toha Bhuiyan, a senior health official in the surrounding Cox's Bazar area told AFP.   He said narrow roads to three districts of the camps -- where the majority of the infections were detected -- have been blocked off by authorities.

The 15,000 Rohingya inside these so-called blocks faced further restrictions on their movement, he said.   It comes as charity workers expressed fears over being infected in the camps as they worked without adequate protection.   Two of the areas under isolation are in Kutupalong camp, home to roughly 600,000 Rohingya.   "We are trying to scale up testing as fast as possible to make sure that we can trace out all the infected people and their contacts," Bhuiyan said.

Seven isolation centres with the capacity to treat more than 700 COVID-19 patients have been prepared, he said.   Officials hope to have just under 2,000 ready by the end of May, he added.   Mahbubur Rahman, the chief health official of Cox's Bazar, said authorities hoped this week they would double the number of tests being performed daily from 188.   He said further entry restrictions have been imposed on the camp, with a 14 day quarantine in place for anyone visiting from Dhaka.   "We are very worried because the Rohingya camps are very densely populated. We suspect community transmission (of the virus) has already begun," Rahman told AFP.

- 'Very little awareness' -
Bangladesh on Monday notched up a record single-day spike in coronavirus cases, with 1,975 new infections, taking the toll to 35,585 cases and 501 deaths.   In early April authorities imposed a complete lockdown on Cox's Bazar district -- home to 3.4 million people including the refugees -- after a number of infections.

But a charity worker with one of the many aid organisations active in the camps said Monday he and many others were "very worried".   "Fear and panic has gripped aid workers because many of us were forced to work without much protection," he told AFP without wishing to be named.   "Social distancing is almost impossible in the camps. There is very little awareness about COVID-19 disease among the refugees, despite efforts by aid agencies."

The lack of information is exacerbated by local authorities having cut off access to the internet in September to combat, they said, drug traffickers and other criminals.   More than 740,000 Rohingya fled a brutal 2017 military crackdown in Myanmar to Cox's Bazar, where around 200,000 refugees were already living.
Date: Mon, 25 May 2020 15:25:38 +0200 (METDST)

Antananarivo, May 25, 2020 (AFP) - Madagascar's government has announced it will dispatch troops and doctors to an eastern town after several bodies were found in the streets and where two people died from the novel coronavirus.   Madagascar's cabinet held a special meeting on Sunday to discuss the situation in Toamasina, the country's second largest city.   The Indian Ocean island nation has registered 527 infections and two deaths, both in Toamasina.

Since Thursday, more than 120 new cases were confirmed, and several bodies were found in the city's streets though the cause of death was not clear.   "Doctors must carry out thorough examinations to see if these deaths are caused by another illness (...) or if they are really due to severe acute respiratory problems which is the critical form of COVID-19," Professor Hanta Marie Danielle Vololontiana, spokesperson for the government's virus taskforce, said in a national broadcast on Sunday.   The government will send 150 soldiers to reinforce Toamasina, maintain order and enforce measures against the coronavirus such as mask wearing and social distancing.

The cabinet also fired Toamasina's prefect without providing any explanation.    A team was also ordered to distribute a drink based on artemisia, a plant recognised as a treatment against malaria, which the Malagasy authorities claim cures COVID-19.    The potential benefits of this herbal tea, called Covid-Organics, have not been validated by any scientific study.    The cabinet has also announced an investigation into the death of a doctor in Toamasina. According to local press, the victim was hospitalised after contracting COVID-19 and was found dead hanged in his room on Sunday morning.
Date: Mon, 25 May 2020 09:20:17 +0200 (METDST)
By Bhuvan Bagga with Indranil Mukherjee in Mumbai

New Delhi, May 25, 2020 (AFP) - Domestic flights resumed in India on Monday even as coronavirus cases surge, while confusion about quarantine rules prompted jitters among passengers and the cancellation of dozens of planes.   India had halted all flights within the country, and departing and leaving for abroad, in late March as it sought to stop the spread of coronavirus with the world's largest lockdown.   But desperate to get Asia's third-largest economy moving again, the government announced last week that around 1,050 daily flights -- a third of the usual capacity -- would resume on Monday.

Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri said strict rules would include mandatory mask-wearing and thermal screenings, although middle seats on the aircraft would not be kept empty.   The announcement reportedly caught airlines and state authorities off-guard, with several local governments announcing that passengers would have to go into quarantine for two weeks on arrival.   Maharashtra, the Indian state with the highest number of coronavirus cases, capped at 50 the number of departures and arrivals in and out of its capital Mumbai.

Airlines scrapped dozens of flights on Monday while hundreds of passengers cancelled their bookings, reports said.   The NDTV news channel said 82 flights to and from New Delhi had been cancelled and nine at Bangalore airport.   Other flights from cities including infection hotspots Mumbai and Chennai were struck off, many at short notice, reports said.   At Mumbai airport social distancing was forgotten as irate passengers harangued staff after their flights were cancelled at the last minute.

- 'Really scary' -
At New Delhi airport, hundreds of people anxious to get home but apprehensive about the risks queued from before dawn -- all wearing masks and standing at least one metre (three feet) apart.   Security personnel behind plastic screens verified check-in documents and that passengers had the government contact tracing app, Aarogya Setu, on their phones.

"While I'm looking forward (to flying home), the idea of flying is really scary," student Gladia Laipubam told AFP as she stood in line.   "Anything can happen. It's very risky. I don't really know when I'll be able to come back to Delhi now. There is no clarity from the university too at this time."   One female airline employee wearing gloves, a mask and a protective face shield said she and many other colleagues felt "very nervous" about starting work again.   "Dealing with so many people at this time is so risky. I must have interacted with at least 200 people since this morning," she told AFP, not wishing to be named.

Cabin crew on the planes had to wear full protective suits with masks, plastic visors and blue rubber gloves, and many were also confused about the rules, the Press Trust of India reported.   "There is no clarity on whether I need to go into home quarantine for 14 days after returning to my base or show up for duty on Monday," one pilot told PTI.   New coronavirus cases in India crossed 6,000 for the third consecutive day on Sunday, surging to a record single-day spike of 6,767 infections.   The country has recorded almost 140,000 cases and over 4,000 deaths.   Singh has said that international flights could resume in June, although dozens of special flights have in recent weeks brought back some of the hundreds of thousands of Indians stuck abroad.
Date: Fri, 22 May 2020 11:02:28 +0200 (METDST)

Suva, Fiji, May 22, 2020 (AFP) - A huge fire at one of Suva's largest markets blanketed the Fijian capital in thick smoke before it was brought under control Friday, firefighters said.   The blaze engulfed the Suva Flea Market, a major tourist attraction near the waterfront, sending plumes of acrid black smoke into the air.   The National Fire Authority said an adjoining shop was also badly damaged but there were no reports of injuries.   "It's been stopped now and no one was injured but that's all we can say at the moment," a spokesman told AFP.   The said the cause of the fire was being investigated.