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Finland

Finland - US Consular Information Sheet
January 13, 2009
COUNTRY DESCRIPTION:
Finland is a highly developed democracy with a modern economy.
It is a member of the European Union.
Tourist facilities are widely available.
Read
the Department of State Background Notes on Finland for additional information.
ENTRY REQUIREMENTS:
Finland is a party to the Schengen agreement.
As such, U.S. citizens may enter Finland for up to 90 days for tourist or business purposes without a visa.
The passport should be valid for at least three months beyond the period of stay.
For further details about travel into and within Schengen countries, please see our Schengen fact sheet.

Travelers can contact the Embassy of Finland at 3301 Massachusetts Avenue, N.W., Washington, DC 20008, tel: (202) 298-5800, or the Finnish Consulates General in Los Angeles or New York.
Additional information is available via the Internet at http://www.finland.org.
The U.S. Embassy in Helsinki is not able to assist private U.S. citizens in obtaining any necessary visas for neighboring countries, including Russia and other countries of the former Soviet Union.

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:
Finland remains largely free of terrorist incidents.
However, like other countries in the Schengen area, Finland’s open borders with its Western European neighbors allow the possibility of terrorist groups entering/exiting the country with anonymity.
Elements of organized crime groups operating in the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe are present in Finland, but these do not represent a specific danger to U.S. citizen residents or tourists.
Americans are reminded to remain vigilant with regard to their personal security and to exercise caution.
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 United States and Canada, or for callers outside the United States and Canada, a regular toll line at 1-202-501-4444.
These numbers are available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays).

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

CRIME:
Although the crime rate in Finland is low compared to the U.S. and most European countries, it has increased in recent years; however, Finland remains a relatively safe environment.
Americans visiting Finland are seldom victims of crime, but visitors should not be complacent regarding personal safety or the protection of valuables.
The same precautions employed in the U.S. should be followed in Finland.
Finnish police services are excellent. Travelers should be aware that some police officers speak little English.
Due to the low crime rate, Finland has one of the lowest numbers of police officers of any European nation.
Outside of key sites in major urban centers, they rarely project a visible presence; consequently, response times to crisis situations may be unpredictable.
All forms of public transportation are considered safe.
Street crimes, such as muggings and pick-pocketing, remain uncommon, but do occur.

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, to 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.

Finland has a program to provide financial compensation to victims who suffer serious criminal injuries.
According to existing regulations, the victim must report the incident to the police and file an application for compensation within 10 years of the date of the crime.
Finnish police routinely inform victims of serious crime of their right to seek compensation.
The relevant forms and further information can be obtained from http://www.treasuryfinland.fi.
The local equivalent to the “911” emergency line in Finland is 112.
Please see our additional information for Victims of Crime, including possible victim compensation programs in the United States.

CRIMINAL PENALTIES:
While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country’s laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law.
Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses.
Persons violating Finland’s laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned.
Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Finland are strict and convicted offenders can expect jail sentences and heavy fines.
Engaging in illicit 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
SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES:
Commercial and financial transactions in Finland are increasingly automated and on-line.
Cash is almost always acceptable (the currency is the euro), but most major credit cards are widely recognized.
Automatic Teller Machines are very common and many U.S.-issued bankcards are compatible with them.

MEDICAL FACILITIES and Health information:
In Finland, medical facilities and their staff are generally excellent and are widely available for emergency services.
English is commonly spoken by Finnish medical personnel.
Helsinki is a frequent medical evacuation point for emergency cases from the countries of the former Soviet Union.
The public hospital system and many private hospitals honor foreign credit cards.
Most pharmacies (“apteekki” in Finnish) are open during normal shopping hours and major cities have at least one 24-hour service pharmacy.
If you are a tourist or temporary visitor to Finland and you require immediate emergency medical assistance, you may visit a local medical center or clinic, called “ensiapuasema” (first-aid station) in Finnish.
Usually these stations are located at hospitals and provide a full range of services.
The emergency telephone number, 112, can be used throughout Finland to contact emergency medical services.
For more detailed information on medicines and medical issues, please visit the website of the Finnish Embassy in Washington, DC at http://www.finland.org.
Travelers with special medical needs should consult with their personal physicians and take appropriate precautions, including bringing adequate supplies of necessary medication.
Medicines may be brought into the country as long as they are intended for the traveler’s personal use, however, there are special requirements concerning the quantity.
Medications categorized as narcotics may only be brought into the country to cover the traveler’s personal use for a maximum of 14 days and must be accompanied by a medical certificate stating why the traveler needs them.
For more detailed information, please contact the Finnish Embassy in Washington, DC at http://www.finland.org
In addition, stringent Finnish customs regulations prohibit travelers from receiving drugs from abroad after having arrived in the country.
Travelers may also find local physicians reluctant to prescribe equivalent quantities of dosages.

The U.S. Department of State is unaware of any HIV/AIDS entry restrictions for visitors to or foreign residents of Finland.
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.
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 Finland is provided for general reference only and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.
Finnish roads are comparable to those in the U.S., though secondary roads may be less heavily traveled due to Finland’s sparse population outside the major urban areas.
These secondary routes often narrow to two lanes with a wider shoulder.
Slower vehicles are expected to move onto the shoulder to allow faster moving vehicles to pass.
Finland has an extensive network of highways throughout the country, as well as excellent public transportation services.
A valid U.S. driver’s license may be used while visiting Finland, but drivers must be at least 18 years of age.
Driving in Finland is on the right.
Traffic approaching from the right usually has priority, even if entering a primary roadway from a secondary one.
Road signs use standard international symbols and Finnish text.
Many urban streets have traffic lanes reserved for public transportation only.
Unless otherwise noted on traffic signs, the speed limit is 50 km/h in urban areas, 80 km/h on open roads, and 120 km/h on expressways during summer (reduced to 100 km/h during winter).
Vehicles must use headlights at all times.
Use of seatbelts is mandatory for drivers and all passengers.
Minor children must be seated in approved child or booster seats.

Public transport in Finland is of good quality and is the recommended method of travel.
Passenger trains, intercity buses, and air flights provide regular service over longer distances.
Public transportation in urban centers includes buses, subways, trams, suburban trains, and taxis.
Taxis are more expensive than in major U.S. cities.
Most local residents use public transport in Helsinki as parking can be hard to find and expensive.
The bus, train, and subway systems are relatively safe.
Travelers should be aware that drunk-driving laws are strict and acceptable blood alcohol levels are much lower in Finland than in the U.S.
Police strictly enforce all traffic laws and institute random roadside breath analyzer tests.
Drivers who register .05 or above alcohol content are subject to immediate arrest.
Drivers should be aware that regulations and traffic signs differ significantly from those in the U.S.
Visitors should be familiar with both prior to operating a vehicle in Finland.
Driving in Finland during the winter months can be hazardous.
Daylight hours are very short and one should be comfortable with driving in darkness.
Icy road conditions are common.
If driving in Finland, the vehicle must be winterized with studded snow tires and engine heaters are strongly recommended.
When driving at night, drivers must be alert to moose wandering onto major roadways.
There have been incidents of moose being struck by vehicles, causing severe damage to the vehicle and injury, sometimes fatal, to the occupants.
For real-time updates on road conditions throughout Finland, see the Finnish Road Administration’s travel and traffic information web site at http://www.finnra.fi
Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information.
Visit the website of the country’s national tourist office and national authority responsible for road safety at http://www.mek.fi
AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT:
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the Government of Finland’s Civil Aviation Authority as being in compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards for oversight of Finland’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
Please see our information on customs regulations.

CHILDREN’S ISSUES:
For information, see our Office of Children’s Issues web pages on intercountry adoption and international parental child abduction.

REGISTRATION AND EMBASSY LOCATION:
Americans living or traveling in Finland are encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate through the State Department’s travel registration website, https://travelregistration.state.gov, so that they can obtain updated information on travel and security within Finland.
Americans without Internet access may register directly with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate.
By registering, American citizens make it easier for the Embassy or Consulate to contact them in case of emergency.
The U.S. Embassy is located at Itainen Puistotie 14B.
The telephone number for the American Citizens Services unit is 358-9-616-25-701, 0830 to 1700 Monday to Friday (after hours, 358-9-616-25-0); the fax number is 358-9-616-25-800; e-mail:
HelsinkiACS@state.gov.
The address of the Embassy’s Internet home page is http://www.usembassy.fi
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This replaces the Consular Information Sheet dated May 23, 2008 to update the sections on Information for Victims of Crime and Medical Facilities and Health Information.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Tue, 7 Apr 2020 10:17:01 +0200 (METDST)

Helsinki, April 7, 2020 (AFP) - Finland announced tougher controls on Tuesday to further reduce arrivals from its neighbours including Sweden, where measures to tackle the coronavirus have been less severe and infection rates  higher.   The two countries' land border in Lapland is usually crossed by thousands of workers and families every day, although traffic across the Swedish and Norwegian borders has fallen by 95 percent since the government banned all but essential traffic on March 14, Finland's Interior Minister Maria Ohisalo told a press conference.   "In addition to extending the measures (for a month until May 13), quarantine requirements for arrivals will be tightened," Ohisalo said.

Under the new measures, workers must now carry a permission slip from their employer stating that the border crossing is essential and must remain under quarantine for 14 days on arrival in Finland.    The measures come after a senior Finnish infection specialist called for an end to work-related travel over the Lapland border, where 2,000 border crossings a day were still being made.    "It is a significant risk when so many people are coming through the border every day," Dr Markku Broas of Lapland Central Hospital told Finnish public broadcaster Yle on 29 March.

As of Monday, Sweden had recorded 477 deaths from coronavirus, compared with just 27 in Finland.   But while Finland has imposed emergency laws closing schools, blockading its capital region and forcing restaurants to close, Sweden has taken a notably softer approach with far fewer restrictions than elsewhere in Europe.

On Tuesday, Finland also announced that passenger ferries linking Finland with Germany, Estonia and Sweden would also stop selling tickets from Friday, as all existing restrictions on movement were extended for a further month until May 13.   Ohisalo told the press conference that the measures so far had succeeded in slowing the spread of the virus in Finland and that the government would begin "an exit conversation" in the coming days about when to roll back the restrictions.
Date: Wed, 25 Mar 2020 22:15:06 +0100 (MET)

Helsinki, March 25, 2020 (AFP) - Tough new restrictions banning travel between the Finnish capital and the rest of the country will be introduced from Friday to curb the spread of coronavirus, the country's prime minister said Wednesday.   "Movement into and out of the capital region, Uusimaa, will be forbidden," Finland's prime minister Sanna Marin told a press conference.   "Everybody will however have the right to return home or to their municipality of residence."

She said exceptions will be made for essential travel, including cases such as the death of a relative or under child visitation arrangements.    Goods will also continue to flow under the restrictions which will last for three weeks.    1.7 million people live in the province of Uusimaa, approximately a third of Finland's population.

Ministers stressed that over 500 of the country's 880 confirmed coronavirus cases in Finland, and two of the three recorded deaths, have been in the Uusimaa region.     Not all suspected cases are being tested and authorities have said the real number of infections could be 30 times higher.

On Wednesday the government also submitted a decree to parliament giving lawmakers emergency powers to force qualified health workers under the age of 68 to come into work.  However Marin said she hadn't managed to gain the necessary parliamentary backing to force restaurants to offer only takeaway or delivery services.
Date: Fri 14 Dec 2018
Source: UUTISET [edited]

An unvaccinated individual, who caught the contagious disease in Poland, attended a large church service in Tampere and infected at least 2 other people. Three adults have been diagnosed with measles in Tampere after attending a Catholic parish church event in late November along with more than 100 people, according to the Pirkanmaa Hospital District.

Two of the adults diagnosed have been vaccinated, so they are not contagious. The source of the outbreak is an unvaccinated person, who caught the measles in Poland. But according to the Pirkanmaa Hospital District, further cases may still arise.

In 1975 Finland began to administer a single dose of the measles vaccine to all one-year-olds and by 1982 Finland began administering the vaccine in 2 doses between the ages of 1 and 6. However some people born in the 1970s are among those who received only one jab. MMR is a triple-dose vaccine that provides protection against measles, mumps and rubella.

Measles spread at religious event
---------------------------------
The event in question was Tampere's Pyhan Ristin (Sacred Cross) Catholic Parish church mass on 25 Nov 2018. It was attended by more than 100 people, including children. Pirkanmaa Hospital District doctor Kirsi Valve, a specialist in infectious diseases, confirmed that the infected individual who caught the measles in Poland was at the church event. The cases came to light when 2 vaccinated individuals contracted high fevers and came down with skin rashes. The unvaccinated person, who infected the others, has had more severe symptoms than the vaccinated individuals.

"The individuals quickly got in touch with healthcare services owing to high fevers, and skin rashes that rapidly spread all over their bodies," says Valve. "It was confirmed that on 25 Nov 2018 the unvaccinated individual who caught the measles in Poland and brought it back to Finland was at the parish event and is the source of the outbreak."

As the source of the outbreak is known, healthcare officials are also looking into whether the person could have possibly exposed others.

Measles in the news
-------------------
Measles has been on the agenda this winter after an unvaccinated child in Ostrobothnia took ill with measles. Meanwhile, it also came to light that many adults in Finland may not have been vaccinated against measles during the early 1970s.

Measles is a rare disease. The previous outbreak was 2 summers ago when 4 vaccinated children caught measles in Italy and started showing symptoms after returning to Finland. The Pirkanmaa Hospital District recommends that anyone who attended the Catholic parish event in late November 2018 and exhibits symptoms that suggest measles or anyone who hasn't been vaccinated with the MMR vaccine contact their healthcare centre.

If those who attended the parish event are healthy, but have not been vaccinated, the Pirkanmaa Hospital District recommends that they contact their healthcare centre to be vaccinated. The measles vaccine is free and administered as part of the MMR shot, which also provides protection against rubella and the mumps.
Date: Fri 2 Nov 2018
Source: UUTISET [edited]

Around 1/3 of the ticks in Finland -- mostly found in the south -- carry at least one pathogen, and 2 percent of the persistent arachnids carry several disease-causing agents, researchers at Turku University said.

About 30 percent of common ticks and 24 percent of taiga tick populations have been found to carry one disease pathogen. Common ticks more commonly carry several disease-causing pathogens than taiga ticks, according to the researchers.

The most common pathogen found in the ticks was _Borrelia burgdorferi_, the bacterial species that causes Lyme disease in humans, an illness referred to locally as borreliosis. The pathogen was found in 17 percent of the ticks at the university's growing tick database bank.

Lyme disease cases are treated with aggressive antibiotics without necessarily determining which specific bacterium is responsible for the infection.

Thanks to a growing tick database at the University of Turku, researchers have new insights into the disease pathogens that the tiny, blood-sucking arachnids carry.

New research has revealed that ticks on the south coast carry the most pathogens, but the region is almost exclusively home to the most common ticks: _Ixodes ricinus_, or castor bean ticks).

Both castor bean ticks and taiga ticks [_Ixodes persulcatus_] are now commonly found in areas across central Finland, the researchers said. Even further north, the tick populations are quite similar to ones in central areas, but the taiga has become more common in the north.

About 3 years ago, researchers at the university asked members of the public to send in ticks they had found, and now the institution has received more than 20 000 ticks. The researchers say that they want to take advantage of the significant amount of information they can learn from the specimens.

Examination of those thousands of tiny arachnids have uncovered many types of disease-causing bacteria, and researchers have new insights into the arachnids themselves and the potential illnesses they carry.

The researchers said they hope to learn more about ticks, saying that their research has only begun, and that their study of the ticks will continue for several years. Ultimately, their goal is to find how tick-borne illnesses are transmitted, they said.
======================
[This is an interesting example of how a large group of people, many undoubtedly non-scientists, can contribute to an effort that requires many hours of collection effort. Although _Borrelia burgdorferi_ is endemic in Finland, finding it and possibly other bacterial pathogens in about 1/3 of the 20 000 ticks collected is of public health significance. _Ixodes ricinus_ is also the tick vector of European tick-borne encephalitis virus, but no mention is made of it in the above report. Perhaps it was not tested for. Images of both ticks can be found in the above report. - ProMED Mod.TY]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map:
Date: Thu, 1 Nov 2018 16:46:12 +0100
From: topic@afp.com

Helsinki, Nov 1, 2018 (AFP) - Santa Claus has already begun his preparations in Lapland -- by protecting himself from winter viruses and making sure he hires enough elves.   On Thursday nurse Tiia Kahkonen administered an anti-influenza vaccine to Santa, at his village in the Arctic Circle town of Rovaniemi, northern Finland. 

The jab is likely to be a sensible precaution, as the flu season coincides with the busiest time of the year by far in Lapland.    In December last year 390,000 foreign visitors spent a night in Finnish Lapland, an increase of almost ten percent on the previous Christmas.    By far the largest group of Christmas holidaymakers were Brits, followed by Russian, French and German tourists, according to official statistics.

Meanwhile a recruitment agency in Finnish Lapland, inside the Arctic circle, has put out a call for Christmas elves to look after the hordes of tourists who come to visit Santa in his natural habitat during the winter months.   Prior experience is not essential as the advert, posted by the firm Lapland Staff, promises that training will be provided in "the required elfing and communication skills."   Successful applicants will also be given tips on how to deal with the cold in northern Finland where temeratures rarely rise above zero degrees Celsius, and can drop as low as minus 40.

Although handling Santa's reindeer is not listed among the job's duties, elves will need to herd groups of visitors on and off buses, as well as keep tourists entertained. "Looking after the fireplace and pouring hot juice" are also required, as is supervising the toboggan hill.   Tourism to Lapland has reached an all-time high in recent years, with visitors spending 3.5 million nights in Lapland across the whole year, up from 2.6 million a decade earlier, according to Statistics Finland.    Much of the recent growth has been driven by tourism from Asia.
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."