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China

General Information
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The People’s Republic of China is the world’s third largest nation in land mass and shares borders with 16 other countries. It is the worlds most populated country. Nowadays many I
ish travellers will be going to China for business or holiday trips. Much of the country is mountainous or semidesert and the country lies almost entirely in the temperate zone. Only portions of the southern-most area - the provinces of Yunnan and Guangdong, and the Zhuang autonomous region of Guangxi - lie within the tropics. The monsoon climate is a major influence in the south, but the north and west have a typical continental climate.
Weather Profile
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During the summer, warm moist maritime air masses bring heavy rains to eastern China, and hot humid summer weather is typical. Winter offers a sharp contrast when Siberian air masses dominate. In late winter and spring strong north winds sweep across north China and hazy days caused by dust storms are common. Beijing’s spring is mostly dry. In July and August the weather turns hot and humid. Autumn is the nicest time of the year with many warm, clear days and little wind usually.
Chest Complaints
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Because of the prevailing dust, increased transportation and the burning of soft coal during the winter, Beijing and other major cities in China have a high rate of pollution. This may exacerbate bronchial and/or sinus complaints. The dust level in Lhasa is also very high and this may lead to respiratory problems.
Safety & Security
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The risk of crime against tourists is low but care of personal belonging should be observed at all times. Maintenance of buildings and general safety precautions may not always be in place and so checking for fire exits (and that they are unblocked) is wise. Use the hotel safety boxes and carry photocopies of any important documents rather than the originals where possible.
Local Medications
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Western brand-name drugs or non-prescription medicines are seldom available locally although some Chinese equivalents are to be found at reasonable prices. Always carry your own medication (well marked) on your person and bring enough for your trip.

Rabies
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Rabies is a serious problem throughout China. Reports indicate that as many as five million people are bitten each year by rabid dogs and that approximately 5,000 of these patients die. Travellers should stay well clear of any warm blooded animals, especially dogs. Any contact (lick, bite or scratch) should be treated seriously and immediately by washing out the wound, applying an antiseptic and then seeking urgent medical attention.
River Boat Travel
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Many of the older river boats in China use untreated river water for washing dishes and in the bathrooms. This increases the risk of illnesses such as traveller’s diarrhoea and a parasitic disease called schistosomiasis (Bilharzia). Also be careful that the ferry is not overcrowded and be aware of any sharp corners or rusty edges due to lack of maintenance.
Altitude Sickness in Tibet
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Virtually all of the Tibetan Autonomous region, much of Quinghai and Xinjiang, parts of Sichuan, Yannan and Gansu are above 13,000 feet in altitude. Some main roads in Tibet, Qinghai and Xinjiand go above 17,000 feet. At these levels the available oxygen is very low and altitude sickness may occur. Travellers may experience severe headaches, nausea, dizziness, shortness of breath or a dry cough. These symptoms usually settle over a few days with rest, but if not travellers should seek medical assistance and, if possible, descend to a lower altitude. Travellers with a history of cardiac problems or respiratory difficulties should avoid such high altitudes where possible.
Insect Bites and Malaria
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During the summer months, carry a supply of insect repellent ointments for your trip and use sensible, light coloured clothing to cover yourself when there are mosquitoes or sandflies about.
The risk of malaria in most of China is limited but prophylactic tablets may be prescribed depending on your actual itinerary. Other serious mosquito borne diseases do occur so these will need to be considered.
Sunlight
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The sunlight during the summer months and in Tibet at high elevations can be intense
so travellers should bring sun screen and sun-glasses and a sensible wide-brimmed hat.

Acupuncture
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Many tourists are tempted to experience this oriental art in its homeland while visiting China. It is essential to ensure that sterile needles are used at all times as otherwise there may be a risk of transmission of a blood borne disease such as the HIV virus or Hepatitis B.
AIDS risk in China
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Official figures suggest that AIDS is a very limited risk in China. Only 707 cases were reported up to October 2000. These very low figures are very difficult to verify and so all travellers should take care not to place themselves at risk where possible.
Customs Regulations
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Never carry any medication for another individual unless they are part of your family. The Chinese authorities have strict drug regulations which may be enforced.
Vaccination Requirements:
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There are no vaccination requirements for entry / exit purposes but travellers on short trips should consider the following ...
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Poliomyelitis (childhood booster)
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Typhoid (food & water disease)
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Tetanus (childhood booster)
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Hepatitis A (food & water disease)
Those planning to spend a longer time in China should consider additional vaccination against conditions like Rabies, Hepatitis B, Japanese B Encephalitis, Meningococcal Meningitis, Diphtheria and Mantoux Test / BCG vaccination.
Summary
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China is teeming with people and a culture very different to ours. It is a land of many contrasts. Travellers generally stay healthy if they follow standard commonsense healthcare advice.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Tue, 12 May 2020 11:39:58 +0200 (METDST)

Wuhan, China, May 12, 2020 (AFP) - Wuhan plans to conduct coronavirus tests on the Chinese city's entire population after new cases emerged for the first time in weeks in the cradle of the global pandemic, state media reported Tuesday.   Officials had been ordered to submit by noon on Tuesday plans to administer nucleic acid tests on all residents in the city of 11 million people, according to an official notice carried by news outlets.

"Each district should make plans and arrangements to conduct nucleic acid tests on the entire population in its jurisdiction within a 10-day time limit," the notice said, although it was unclear when testing would begin.   The planned tests come after Wuhan reported the first cluster of new COVID-19 infections since the city re-opened after a 76-day lockdown on April 8.

Six new cases were reported on Sunday and Monday from a residential compound in Dongxihu District.   But an official from the Dongxihu District epidemic prevention and control commanding office told AFP that they have "not yet received news about this notice".   China has largely brought the virus under control, but it has been on edge about being hit by a second wave as it has lifted lockdowns and restrictions across the country.

Virus clusters have appeared recent weeks in the north-eastern provinces of Jilin and Heilongjiang, which border Russia.   With the virus taking hold in other nations, China has barred most foreigners from entering the country.   Wuhan has reported 3,869 deaths since the novel coronavirus first emerged there in December, accounting for most fatalities in China. Scientists believe the virus jumped from animals to humans at a market that sold wildlife in the city.
Date: Mon, 11 May 2020 09:30:44 +0200 (METDST)

Beijing, May 11, 2020 (AFP) - China reported a new cluster of coronavirus cases in Wuhan Monday after a month without fresh infections at the pandemic's global epicentre, as a northeastern city was placed under lockdown.   The cases added to fears China could be facing a new wave of infections, even as restrictions continued to ease in some other parts of the country.   Five new infections were confirmed in one residential district of Wuhan, the central Chinese city where the virus was initially detected late last year and which emerged from its own lockdown roughly four weeks ago, following dramatically dwindling numbers.

Authorities also issued stay-at-home orders and travel bans in Shulan, a city of around 670,000 people in northeastern China, after three new infections were confirmed there.   The disease first emerged late last year, sweeping through Wuhan city and surrounding Hubei province, killing thousands and sickening many more.   Authorities in Wuhan imposed draconian restrictions on travel and movement in what appeared to have been a successful bid to quash the outbreak.   That lockdown eased in recent weeks as officials said the disease was under control, with travel to and from the city allowed.

But on Sunday authorities acknowledged one person had tested positive for the virus in Wuhan, followed by another five on Monday.   Local authorities said all new cases were from the same residential compound, mostly older people, and an official from the affected district has been dismissed for "insufficient" virus containment efforts.   There were also 11 new "asymptomatic" cases reported in wider Hubei province. China is recording symptomatic and asymptomatic cases separately.   In a stark warning of the dangers of a fresh wave after weeks of declining case numbers, a local cluster of coronavirus cases grew in Shulan.

The city's public transportation -- as well as taxis and trains leaving the city -- was suspended Sunday, with Jilin province raising its emergency alert to the highest level, according to state broadcaster CCTV.   Jilin's provincial capital imposed a 21-day quarantine and mandatory four nucleic acid tests for arrivals from Shulan.   Five new cases were reported Monday in the country's northeast near North Korea, which claims to have no coronavirus cases.

- Students monitored -
The news of new infections at the global ground zero comes as many European nations begin the tricky task of navigating out of lockdowns imposed to halt the spread of the virus.   It also comes as swathes of the US ease restrictions on movement -- despite still rising rates of infection -- and as citizens chafe under rules many say are government overreach.   The virus has now infected more than four million people worldwide -- claiming more than 280,000 lives -- and crippled the global economy.   The total number infected in China is around 83,000, with more than 4,600 dead.

No new deaths have been reported nationwide for nearly a month, with life in China gradually returning to normal after months of disruption.   Shanghai Disneyland reopened Monday, while the national government gave the green light last week for cinemas and sports venues to reopen.   More students returned to school in Beijing on Monday, weeks after senior high school students were allowed to return to campuses in the capital.   China has faced criticism both at home and abroad for downplaying the virus and concealing information about the outbreak when it first emerged in Wuhan. Doubt has also been cast over the official toll.   Beijing has insisted it has always shared information with the World Health Organization and other countries in a timely manner.
Date: Wed, 22 Apr 2020 11:17:05 +0200 (METDST)

Beijing, April 22, 2020 (AFP) - New clusters of coronavirus infections in north-eastern China near the Russian border forced officials Wednesday to tighten restrictions on movement as they seek to prevent a second outbreak of the contagion.   China has largely curbed the spread of the deadly virus, but there are growing fears of a second wave of cases and Heilongjiang province has emerged as a new front in the battle.

The region has seen an influx of imported cases, mostly among Chinese citizens returning home, but domestic infections have also been mounting -- prompting the sacking or punishment of several officials.    In the provincial capital Harbin, where two new coronavirus clusters have been linked to local hospitals, people and vehicles from outside the city are banned from entering residential zones, officials said Wednesday.   Anyone arriving from outside China or other virus hot-spots in the country will be forced to quarantine.

Temperature checks and the wearing of face masks are mandatory for anyone entering residential compounds in the city of more than 10 million. And they must also have a "green" health code on a widely-used phone app, officials said.   Students from Heilongjiang also have been told not to return to schools or universities in other parts of China until further notice.

Officials said last week 35 people who visited or worked at two city hospitals had been infected by an 87-year-old patient who was being treated for a stroke and later tested positive for COVID-19.   As of Wednesday, there were 537 confirmed coronavirus cases in the province, of which 384 were imported, data from the National Health Commission showed.

The seven new domestic infections reported nationwide on Wednesday were all in Heilongjiang.   Harbin's deputy mayor and the head of the local health commission have been "punished" for their "lax" handling of the outbreak, the provincial corruption watchdog said, without giving details of the punishments.

The head of Harbin No 2 Hospital, where one of the clusters was reported, has been sacked and 13 other doctors have been "warned", the Heilongjiang discipline authorities said Friday.   An influx of imported cases from Russia has also led to a fresh lockdown in the border city of Suifenhe -- which had already closed its land border -- and the introduction of two temporary hospitals.   Heilongjiang has also said it is offering cash rewards for help in catching people who illegally cross the border into the province.
Date: Tue, 14 Apr 2020 13:07:00 +0200 (METDST)

Beijing, April 14, 2020 (AFP) - China has approved clinical trials for two more experimental vaccines to combat the novel coronavirus, officials said Tuesday, as the world's scientists race to beat the pandemic.   The vaccines use inactivated coronavirus pathogens, and the approvals pave the way for early-stage human trials, Wu Yuanbin, an official from China's Ministry of Science and Technology told a regular press briefing.   China's state food and drug administration on Monday approved one vaccine developed by a Beijing-based unit of Nasdaq-listed Sinovac Biotech, Wu said.  Another vaccine, being developed by the Wuhan Institute of Biological Products and the Wuhan Institute of Virology, was approved on Sunday, he added.

China now has three different clinical trials for three possible coronavirus vaccines in the works.   Beijing approved the first trial for a vaccine developed by the military-backed Academy of Military Medical Sciences and Hong Kong-listed biotech firm CanSino Bio on March 16.   That day the US drug developer Moderna said it had begun human tests for their vaccine with the US National Institutes of Health.   "Vaccination of subjects during the first phase of clinical trials and the recruitment of volunteers for the second phase of clinical trials began on April 9," Wu said.   "It's the world's first novel coronavirus vaccine to initiate Phase II clinical studies."

There are currently no approved vaccines or medication for the COVID-19 disease, which has killed more than 120,000 people worldwide and infected nearly two million.

Chinese teams were also racing to develop vaccines using other methods including using attenuated influenza virus vectors or injecting specific nucleic acid.   Several of these projects are currently undergoing animal testing and quality inspections, Wu said.   "The vaccines using the above technical methods are expected to be submitted for clinical trials in April and May," he added.   Experts have raised hopes that a vaccine could be ready within 18 months.
Date: Sun 12 Apr 2020 07:30 pm CST
Source: South China Morning Post [edited]

Shrimp farmers in China are watching with growing horror as a mysterious virus decimates aquaculture farms in the southern province of Guangdong, slashing output of the popular seafood and threatening the livelihood of tens of thousands of households.  The virus, known as Decapod iridescent virus 1, or DIV1, was first detected as early as 2014, but came back with a vengeance last spring [2019] and again in February this year [2020], affecting about a quarter of the area under shrimp production, local farmers said.

The spread of the disease, which is not known to be harmful for humans, has left the shrimp industry in Guangdong fretting over whether it will face mass deaths of a similar scale to the African swine fever crisis, which wiped out as much as 60 per cent of China's pig herd.  "The infection rate and lethalness of the virus are terrifying," said Wu Jinhong, a shrimp farmer in Da'ao township in Jiangmen city. "It only takes 2 or 3 days from detecting the 1st infection for all shrimp in the pond to be killed."

The 1st signs of infection are typically when shrimp begin turning a reddish colour, before their shells soften and they sink to the bottom of ponds, local farmers said. The virus does not discriminate between species and infects "big or small, the Pacific white shrimp or giant freshwater prawn," said Zhong Qiang, another shrimp farmer in Zhuhai city. "Once one pond is infected with the virus, there is little our farmers can do given the very high risk of nearby ponds getting infected a few days later," he said.

Scientists from the Chinese Academy of Fishery Sciences first identified the mysterious virus in Pacific white shrimp, the main species farmed in China, in Zhejiang province in December 2014. DIV1 has received little public attention since then, despite grave concern in the industry that it could spread across the country. By 2018, the virus had been found in shrimp farms and breeding operations in 11 provinces, Qiu Liang, a researcher with Yellow Sea Fisheries Research Institute, said.

The most serious outbreak hit aquaculture operations across the Pearl River Delta last year [2019]. In Da'ao township, where nearly 20,000 people -- roughly half of local residents -- are employed on shrimp farms, 2/3 of ponds were infected with the virus in the spring of 2019 and had to be immediately drained, Qiu said. The outbreak eased during the summer and autumn months when temperatures were higher, but made a comeback again in February [2020]. Farmers say that temperatures above 30 deg C [86 deg F] keep the virus at bay.

"This virus is horrifying shrimp farmers, like avian flu did to poultry farmers and African swine fever to those raising pigs," said [DJ], who found out recently his 6 hectares [about 15 acres] of ponds were infected. After he was forced to drain his enclosures, which held about 3700 kg [8157 lbs] worth of shrimp, he was left with only 200 kg [440 lbs] of the crustaceans alive -- something that cost him more than 100 000 yuan (USD14 000). "We can't do anything but remove the shrimp and sell them at dirt cheap prices, then dry out the pond and leave it idle for at least 2 months," [DJ] said.

"Some [other farmers] suffered another hit by the virus after restarting farming in the same pond [too soon]. So I don't dare start over until the end of next month [May 2020], when the weather has warmed up." The source of the virus and how it is transmitted remain unclear, according to industry insiders and experts. Because there is no effective way to prevent it spreading, a growing number of shrimp farmers in Guangdong will not allow outsiders, including friends and family, to get close to their ponds -- similar to the way pig farmers barred people from getting near their farms due to swine fever.

While new infections are thought to occur "mainly through water and the local environment", Qiu said there was a possibility it could be carried onto farms by humans. However, scientists and industry groups admit they know very little about the virus. "As far as we know, besides China, the virus has also appeared in Southeast Asian waters," said Huang Jie, director general of the Network of Aquaculture Centres in Asia-Pacific. He added more attention needed to be paid to it given the threat it poses to shrimp production in China. "A widespread outbreak could be possible if there isn't enough concern in the industry and among the relevant [government] departments."

It is difficult to accurately count the losses caused by the virus as there is no official or 3rd-party data. Usually, a shrimp pond can raise about 4 batches of shrimp per year, so if one becomes infected with the virus, it means that the annual output of the pond would be reduced by at least a quarter. As living standards rise in China, demand for shrimp, prawns, lobsters, and crayfish has surged in recent years. But domestic output of some crustaceans has been affected by DIV1.

The disease contributed to a decline in the annual output of Pacific white shrimp, for instance, to 1.2 million tonnes in 2018 from 1.5 million tonnes in 2013, the 2019 China Fishery Statistical Yearbook said.  [Byline: He Huifeng]
========================
[Viral diseases have been acknowledged as an enormous threat to the shrimp aquaculture industry, including crustacean farms. Decapod iridescent virus 1 (DIV1) belongs to the new genus _Decapodiridovirus_. DIV1 is considered to be the same agent as the previously named _Cherax quadricarinatus_ iridovirus and Shrimp hemocyte iridescent virus, isolated from red claw crayfish and white leg shrimp, respectively. DIV1 mainly infects the hematopoietic tissue and hemocytes in gills, hepatopancreas, pereiopods, and muscle.

Since 2014, DIV1 has been detected in China in farmed _Penaeus vannamei_, _P. chinensis_, _P. japonicus_, _Cherax quadricarinatus_, _Procambarus clarkii_, _Macrobrachium nipponense_, and _M. rosenbergii_, indicating that DIV1 is a new important threat to the shrimp farming industry.

Portions of this comment were extracted from

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map of China:
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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.