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Ghana

Ghana US Consular Information Sheet
23rd September 2008
DESCRIPTION:
Ghana is a developing country on the West Coast of Africa. The capital is Accra. Facilities for tourism are available in the population centers of the greater Accra regio
, Kumasi in the Ashanti region, and in the Cape Coast area of the Central region, but they are limited in the more remote areas of the country. Read the Department of State Background Notes on Ghana for additional information.
ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS:
A passport and visa are required, as is evidence of a yellow fever vaccination. Travelers should obtain the latest information and details from the Embassy of Ghana, 3512 International Drive NW, Washington, DC
20008; telephone (202) 686-4520. Consular services are also available at the Ghana Permanent Mission to the UN at 19 East 47th Street, New York, NY
10017, telephone (212) 832-1300, and the Honorary Consulate of Ghana, 3434 Locke Lane, Houston, TX, telephone (713) 960-8806. Overseas, inquiries should be made at the nearest Ghanaian embassy or consulate. Visit the Embassy of Ghana web site at www.ghanaembassy.org for the most current visa information.
Information about dual nationality or the prevention of international child abduction can be found on our web site.
For further information about customs regulations, please read our Customs Information sheet.
SAFETY AND SECURITY:
Due to the potential for violence, U.S. citizens should avoid political rallies and street demonstrations and maintain security awareness at all times. There will be frequent political rallies across Ghana in the run-up to the presidential and parliamentary elections on December 7, 2008.

For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs’ web site at http://travel.state.gov, where the current Travel Warnings and Travel Alerts, as well as the Worldwide Caution, can be found.
Up-to-date information on safety and security can also be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll-free in the U.S. and Canada, or for other callers, a regular toll line at 1-202-501-4444.
These numbers are available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays).

The Department of State urges American citizens to take responsibility for their own personal security while traveling overseas.
For general information about appropriate measures travelers can take to protect themselves in an overseas environment, see the Department of State’s pamphlet A Safe Trip Abroad.
CRIME:
Pick-pocketing, purse snatching, and various types of scams are the most common forms of crime confronting visitors. U.S. travelers have reported these types of theft at crowded markets, beaches, parks, and tourist attractions. Incidences of violent crime, such as armed robbery, are on the rise, including reports of armed robberies in expatriate residential areas. Victims who resist attackers run a high risk of serious physical injury. Take security measures, such as traveling in groups and avoiding travel at night. Avoid travel in communal taxis. Travelers who limit their display of jewelry and handle their cash discreetly reduce their vulnerability to crime. Travelers are advised to carry limited amounts of cash and only photocopies of key documents.

Use of credit cards in Ghana should be avoided if possible, as a growing number of travelers have been victims of credit card fraud.

In recent years, U.S. citizens have reported substantial financial losses from questionable transactions involving gold and other precious metals. The Government of Ghana maintains strict regulations on these natural resources. All agents must be licensed and all transactions must be certified. (See Special Circumstances below).

Perpetrators of business fraud often target foreigners, including Americans. Such fraud schemes are now prevalent throughout West Africa, including Ghana.
Please refer to the Country Commercial Guide for Ghana at http://www.buyusa.gov/ghana/en/doing_business_in_ghana.html, for further information.

American citizens frequently consult the Embassy regarding questionable business offers sent by people in Ghana. These are scams and typically begin with an unsolicited communication (usually by e-mail) from an unknown individual who describes a situation that promises quick financial gain, often by assisting in the transfer of a large sum of money or valuables out of the country.
A series of “advance fees” must be paid in order to conclude the transaction, such as fees to open a bank account or to pay certain taxes.
In fact, the final payoff does not exist; the purpose of the scams is simply to collect money from the victim.
The Embassy has also received reports of fraudulent charities soliciting contributions through the Internet or direct mail. If you receive such business offers or charity requests, carefully check them out before you commit any funds, provide any goods or services, or undertake any travel. Check with the U.S. Embassy in Ghana at telephone (233-21) 741-100 for an assessment of the offer’s credibility.

Another type of fraud is committed by persons claiming to live in Ghana or who claim to be traveling to Ghana on business, and who profess friendship or romantic interest over the Internet. Once a relationship has been established, the correspondent typically asks the American to send money for living expenses, travel expenses, or visa costs. Sometimes a “hospital” or “doctor” telephones to say that the friend has suffered an “accident” and needs immediate financial assistance to cover medical bills. There are other variations of this scam, but the common goal is to fraudulently obtain as much money as possible from the victim.
Americans have reported losing thousands of dollars through such scams. The anonymity of the Internet means that the victim cannot be sure of the real name, age, marital status, nationality, or even gender of the correspondent. In most cases reported to the Embassy, the correspondent turned out to be a fictitious persona created to lure Americans into sending money.

Visitors to Ghana should also be wary of overly-friendly locals offering tours, discounted lodging or other services that seem too good to be true.
Tourists are often targeted by touts and scam artists.
Some Americans have been the victims of false criminal accusations and have found themselves separated from time, money and trust as they seek to resolve these difficult situations.

For additional information, please see the Department of State brochure International Financial Scams.

INFORMATION FOR VICTIMS OF CRIME:
The loss or theft abroad of a U.S. passport should be reported immediately to the local police and the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate.
If you are the victim of a crime while overseas, in addition to reporting to local police, please contact the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate for assistance.
The Embassy/Consulate staff can, for example, assist you to find appropriate medical care, contact family members or friends and explain how funds could be transferred.
Although the investigation and prosecution of the crime is solely the responsibility of local authorities, consular officers can help you to understand the local criminal justice process and to find an attorney if needed.
Ghana maintains a specialized Domestic Violence Victim Support Unit (DOVVSU) within the Ghana Police Service to assist victims of domestic violence, especially women and children. In addition to its law enforcement responsibilities, the Unit can refer victims to medical providers and counselors, as well as to community support services. Further information is available by following the DOVVSU link at www.ghanapolice.org
The local equivalent to the “911” emergency line in Ghana is: 191
See our information on Victims of Crime.

MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION:
Medical facilities in Ghana are limited, particularly outside Accra, the capital. Travelers should carry adequate supplies of any needed prescription medicines, along with copies of their prescriptions, the generic name of the drugs, and a supply of preferred over-the-counter medications. For information on avian influenza (bird flu), please refer to the Department of State's Avian Influenza Fact Sheet.
Documentation of Yellow fever vaccination is required upon arrival from all countries.
There are no HIV/AIDS entry restrictions for visitors to or foreign residents of Ghana.

Motor vehicle accidents, drownings and water-related accidents due to Ghana’s rough surf, muggings and other violent attacks, and the development of sexually transmitted diseases—including HIV—are
health and safety concerns that have been reported by U.S. citizens and can be at least partially mitigated by using common-sense safety precautions.

Information on vaccinations and other health precautions, such as safe food and water precautions and insect bite protection, may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s hotline for international travelers at 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747) or via the CDC’s web site at http://wwwn.cdc.gov/travel/default.aspx.
For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad consult the World Health Organization’s (WHO) web site at http://www.who.int/en.
Further health information for travelers is available at http://www.who.int/ith/en
MEDICAL INSURANCE:
The Department of State strongly urges Americans to consult with their medical insurance company prior to traveling abroad to confirm whether their policy applies overseas and whether it will cover emergency expenses such as a medical evacuation.
Please see our information on medical insurance overseas.

TRAFFIC SAFETY AND ROAD CONDITIONS:
While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States.
The information below concerning Ghana is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.
Primary roads are generally paved and well maintained. However, some side roads within major cities and roads outside of major cities are in poor condition. The road from Accra to the central region tourist area of Cape Coast continues to be the site of many accidents. Travel in darkness, particularly outside the major cities, is extremely hazardous, due to poor street lighting and the unpredictable behavior of pedestrians, bicyclists and farm animals, particularly goats and sheep. Aggressive drivers, poorly maintained vehicles and overloaded vehicles pose serious threats to road safety.

The safety standards of the small private buses that transit roads and highways are uncertain. Travelers are encouraged to consider this when making travel arrangements.

Travelers are routinely stopped at police checkpoints throughout Ghana, and vehicles and passengers may be searched. Drivers must possess an international driver’s license (available from AAA and the American Automobile Touring Alliance). Foreign nationals should carry documentation of their status, such as a passport and visa.

Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information. Visit the website of Ghana’s national tourist office at http://www.touringghana.com/default.asp and the national authority responsible for road safety at http://www.mrt.gov.gh/
AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT:
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the Government of Ghana’s Civil Aviation Authority as not being in compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards for the oversight of Ghana’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.

Service provided by a number of regional air carriers is reported to be unreliable. The airlines may alter scheduled stops, cancel or postpone flights on short notice, and regularly overbook flights. Travelers may experience unexpected delays even after checking in. Passengers should get the required seat reconfirmation stamped on the ticket, have enough emergency funds for food and lodging in case of unexpected delays, and arrive at the airport at least two hours before the scheduled departure time.

SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES:
Effective July 1, 2007, the Government of Ghana redenominated the local currency, the cedi, introducing new banknotes (Ghana Cedi) and coins (Ghana Pesewa). 10,000 cedis = 1 Ghana Cedi = 100 Ghana Pesewas. The old cedi was taken out of circulation on December 31, 2007, and as of January 1, 2008, can be converted only at commercial banks or the Bank of Ghana. Travelers should be alert to persons who may try to defraud them with the old and new bills. The Government of Ghana established a web site in 2007, www.ghanacedi.gov.gh, to inform the public about the redenomination exercise. The web site includes a useful currency converter.

Visitors arriving or departing Ghana with more than $5,000 in cash are required to declare the amount at the border. Currency exchange is available at most banks and at licensed foreign exchange bureaus, but currency transactions with private citizens are illegal. The Government of Ghana also prohibits departing travelers from carrying more than 5,000,000 cedis (500 Ghana Cedis) out of the country. Ghanaian currency must either be spent or exchanged before departure, or it will be confiscated.

Strict customs regulations govern temporary importation into or export from Ghana of items such as gold, diamonds and precious natural resources. Only agents licensed by the Precious Metals and Mining Commission, telephone (233-21) 664-635 or 664-579, may handle import-export transactions of these natural resources. Any transaction without the commission’s endorsement is illegal and/or fraudulent. All transactions must be completed through the commission at the price set daily by the London exchange. Any transaction that discounts this price, or includes a previously negotiated price, is either illegal or fraudulent. Export of gold dust is rare as it encourages dangerous and environmentally destructive practices, and transactions involving the export of gold dust are probably fraudulent. Attempts to evade regulations are punishable by imprisonment. It is advisable to contact the Embassy of Ghana in Washington, DC, or one of the Ghanaian consulates in the United States, for specific information regarding customs requirements.

In rare instances, visitors arriving in Ghana with sophisticated electronic equipment (video cameras and laptop computers) may have to deposit 17.5 per cent of the item's value with the Customs and Excise office at the airport. To get the deposit refunded, visitors must apply to the Customs and Excise Office in central Accra 48 hours before departure.

Taking pictures near sensitive installations, including military sites and some government buildings, is prohibited. These sites are not always clearly marked and application of these restrictions is subject to interpretation. Permission may be obtained from Ghanaian security personnel. Permission should also be obtained before photographing anyone in uniform (e.g., police officers and military officers). In some cases, film and cameras have been confiscated. For security reasons, taking photographs of the U.S. Embassy is also prohibited.

It is strictly prohibited to wear any military apparel such as camouflage jackets or trousers, or any clothing or items that may appear military in nature.

Please see our Customs Information.

CRIMINAL PENALTIES:
While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country's laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law.
Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses.
Persons violating Ghana laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned.
Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Ghana are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines.
Engaging in sexual conduct with children or using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is a crime, prosecutable in the United States.
Please see our information on Criminal Penalties.

CHILDREN'S ISSUES:
For information see our Office of Children’s Issues web pages on intercountry adoption and international parental child abduction.
REGISTRATION / EMBASSY LOCATION:
Americans living or traveling in Ghana are encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate through the State Department’s travel registration web site so that they can obtain updated information on travel and security within Ghana. 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 No. 24 Fourth Circular Road, Cantonments, Accra; telephone (233-21)741-000. The public entrance to the Consular Section is No. 19 Fifth Link Road, Cantonments, Accra; telephone (233-21) 741-100; fax (233-21) 741-362 or 741-426; after-hours (233-21) 741-775.
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This replaces the Country Specific Information for Ghana dated February 21, 2008, to update sections on safety and security, crime, information for victims of crime, and medical facilities and health information.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Mon, 20 Apr 2020 09:41:12 +0200 (METDST)

Accra, April 20, 2020 (AFP) - Ghana on Monday ended a three-week lockdown on two key regions as the west African nation's leader said testing had improved and the measures were having a "severe" impact on the poor.    President Nana Akufo-Addo announced the lifting of restrictions on movement around the capital Accra and second region Kumasi in a televised address.   He said the move was being taken "in view of our ability to undertake aggressive contact tracing of infected persons, the enhancement of our capacity to test, the expansion in the numbers of our treatment and isolation centres".

"This decision to restrict movement has occasioned a number of severe difficulties for all of us across the country, especially for the poor and vulnerable," he said in the speech late Sunday.   Ghana has so far confirmed 1,042 infections, with nine deaths, from the novel coronavirus.    The country of around 30 million has ramped up testing and checked over 68,000 samples.

Measures including the closure of the country's border, shuttering of schools and limiting of public gatherings remain in force.    Akufo-Addo said people were encouraged "to wear a mask wherever you go" to help contain the spread of the virus.    Countries around Africa have imposed a range of restrictions to try to curb the disease -- ranging from curfews to total lockdowns.    Enforcing draconian limits on movement can be difficult in states where a large number of people living in poverty depend on daily earnings to survive. 
Date: Sat, 28 Mar 2020 09:41:43 +0100 (MET)

Accra, March 28, 2020 (AFP) - Ghana has announced a two-week lockdown in the country's two main regions starting Monday to curb the spread of coronavirus.   The move came as the authorities reported 137 confirmed cases, including four deaths.   President Nana Akufo-Ado said there would be "restrictions on movement of persons in the Greater Accra Metropolitan Area and the Greater Kumasi Metropolitan Area and contiguous districts for a period of two weeks."

He said residents would only be allowed to go out to buy food, water and medicines and to use public toilets.   "There shall be, during this period, no inter-city movement of vehicles and aircrafts for private or commercial purposes.. except for vehicles and aircrafts providing essential services and those carrying cargo," he said.   Ghana has already closed schools, suspended public events and banned large gatherings.
Date: Mon, 16 Mar 2020 11:02:11 +0100 (MET)

Accra, March 16, 2020 (AFP) - Ghana on Monday closed all schools and universities and suspended public events to stop the spread of coronavirus as a string of African nations imposed tighter restrictions to stem the spread of the global pandemic.    President Nana Akufo-Addo announced in an address to the west African nation that the authorities were shutting schools and universities "until further notice".   Public gatherings -- including conferences, religious services, sports matches and political rallies -- have also been suspended for four weeks, he said.

Ghana on Sunday announced it would start barring entry to the country from Tuesday for any non-Ghanaian citizen or resident "who, within the last 14 days, has been to a country that has recorded at least 200 cases".   The move came as the authorities reported a rise in the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 from two to six, with the new cases all arrivals from abroad.   Numerous nations in sub-Saharan Africa -- including Senegal, Kenya and South Africa -- have begun imposing entry restrictions or closing schools as the continent scrambles to halt the spread of the virus.
Date: Thu 9 Jan 2020
Source: All Africa/Ghanaian Times [edited]

A total of 3 cases of poliomyelitis with 2 deaths have been recorded in the Bono, Bono East and Ahafo regions.

The 1st case reported, in the Bono Region, was a 24-month-old girl from Asiri in Goka, a subdistrict in the Jaman North District. The 2nd case was a 33-month-old girl resident in Sissala line in the Techiman West submunicipality in the Bono East Region, and the 3rd case was a 37-month-old boy from Kwasuso in the Asutifi South District of the Ahafo Region.

Poliomyelitis is highly infectious viral disease that mainly affects young children. The virus is transmitted from person to person, spread mainly through the faecal-oral route or less frequently by a common vehicle (via contaminated water or food) and multiplies in the intestine, from where it can invade the nervous system and cause paralysis.

According to the Bono Regional Health Directorate of the Ghana Health Service (GHS), the cases were detected in October and November last year [2019] with the latest one in January 2020.

The Deputy Regional Director of Public Health, Dr. John Ekow Ottoo, who briefed journalists here in Sunyani yesterday [8 Jan 2020], said the 3rd victim, in a critical and paralysed condition, was being treated.

According to Dr. Ottoo, initial symptoms of polio include fever, fatigue, headache, vomiting and stiffness in the neck and pain in the limbs, saying the disease had no cure but could only be prevented by immunisation.

The Deputy Public Health Director stressed the need for the general improvement of sanitation across the country, noting that the virus was in the system due to poor sanitary condition in the affected areas. He said the GHS had deployed staff and volunteers to the affected areas, including the various borders within the jurisdiction for the immunisation exercises.

Dr. Ottoo urged the public to cooperate with the GHS as the immunisation began on Wednesday [8 Jan 2020].  [Byline: Daniel Dzirasah]
====================
[According to the most recent GPEI (Global Polio Eradication Initiative) update, during 2019, Ghana reported 11 cases of cVDPV2 associated disease, with most recent date of onset recorded as 7 Nov 2019 (see Poliomyelitis update (03): global (WPV1 Afghan., Pak., cVDPV2 Zambia), Pakistan http://promedmail.org/post/20200110.6881006). While it is unclear if all 3 of the cases reported in the above media report are newly confirmed cases, this is the 1st report we've seen of a case with onset in January 2020.

More information on these cases would be greatly appreciated with clarification of the situation in Ghana.

A map of Ghana showing new regions after the referendum:

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail maps:
Date: Mon 17 Dec 2019
Source: Peace FM Online [edited]

There has been a surge in the number of polio cases across the country [Ghana] since July this year [2019], and this has been an issue of concern for both the Government and other health partners. Government and donor partners, are therefore, making frantic efforts at addressing the issue while the Ghana Health Service (GHS) and its partners have embarked on a number of measures to contain the situation. In some few years back, the country was nearly declared polio-free as it had chalked a lot of success in eradicating the disease, and so the current trend is disturbing phenomenon for most stakeholders in the health sector.

Briefing journalists on the status of the Polio disease in the country, Dr. Franklin Asiedu-Bekoe, Director, Diseases Control, GHS, "said the new virus started as a case from the environment seen in Tamale and later some cases was seen in humans". He said at now there have been 10 cases reported in humans while some viruses from the environment have been isolated.

Dr. Asiedu-Bekoe was speaking on the side-lines of the 2nd Ghana Field Epidemiology and Laboratory Trainings Programme (GFELTP) and Scientific Conference and Competency Graduation held in Accra where 58 health professionals involving Frontline, Intermediate and Advanced level trainees graduated after going through various levels of training.

He said following the Tamale outbreak, "as an intervention, we have had a number of vaccination exercises in several regions and districts. We have vaccinated the whole of Northern Region, Upper East and Greater Accra and we are going to do some vaccination in Oti and Bono Ahafo Regions come next week." He said hopefully, early next year [2020], the GHS would start a nationwide Polio vaccination campaign to cover the whole country, adding that a lot of work was also being done by the health partners to ensure that there was no complications or minimal effects with the current vaccines. "We are using both the oral and injectable polio vaccines in the country currently."

Explaining the seemingly upsurge in Polio cases, Dr. Asiedu-Bekoe said the world has been polio-free for most countries excerpt for Nigeria, Pakistan and Afghanistan, but until recently, there had been surge of the disease in some African countries including Ghana, Cote d'Ivoire, and Togo. "Apparently, there was a gap that has arisen because some children who were supposed to be vaccinated were not. The thinking was that we thought the global immunity was huge enough to protect us against the disease. Unfortunately some of the children were prone, and they are those who have gotten the disease. And that is why we are going to do this nationwide vaccination campaign to protect all the children who were left out from an earlier planned vaccination exercise, so that the protection will be assured".

He said children from 9 months up to 4 years would be covered in the nationwide campaign while those under 5 would be involved in the oral polio vaccine. He explained that Ghana was now doing a multiple-prone approach to address the threat of Polio, which included "ensuring that our vaccination is intact".

There was also the surveillance system, which was being made very sensitive to be able to comb all the communities and health facilities to detect if the disease was present anywhere while the third approach was ensuring a clean environment.

According to Dr. Asiedu-Bekoe, keeping a clean environment was very important as Polio was a faecal-oral disease and so "we need to make sure that our environment is clean so that children will not go and pick the Polio virus from the soil and put them in their mouths.

"So these are the approach we are to use to make sure that the Polio menace does not get out of hands. But we are certain that we will actually be able to get Polio eradicated globally. He gave the assurance that the combined effort of government and other partners like UNICEF, WHO, Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Rotary Club were all on board in the fight against Polio.

Mr. Fred Osei Sarpong, Immunisation Focal Person, World Health Organisation, said with Polio cases being reported in Angola, Nigeria, Benin and other neighbouring countries, "Ghana isn't safe. The virus is in the sub-region that is why we have to make sure everyone is protected, that is why we will call on all caregivers to make sure they send their kids for vaccination. Once your child is protected you don't have a cause to worry". He said children without protection were going down with the disease so all parents should avail their children to ensure that they were all vaccinated and protected from the virus that was in circulation.
===================
[First, congratulations to Ghana and the FELTP Groups in Ghana for graduating 58 Health Professionals from their Field Epidemiology Training Program initiatives this year (2019).

According to the most recent Global update from the Global Polio Eradication Initiative / WHO data, there had been 9 cases of cVDPV2 associated disease, with a virus genetically related to the Jigawa Nigeria outbreak (Poliomyelitis update (99): global (WPV & cVDPV), Pakistan (KP), Afghanistan (BL) http://promedmail.org/post/20191212.6837355). The above media report mentions there were 10 cases. No further information was provided. More information from knowledgeable sources would be greatly appreciated including verification of this additional case and demographics including age and geographic location of case, and vaccination history as well as virus type.

HealthMap/ProMED map of Ghana: <http://healthmap.org/promed/p/53> - ProMED Mod.MPP]
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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.