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Gambia

General
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The Gambia is situated on the coast of West Africa and is a common tourist destination. It enjoys a tropical climate with a rainy season between May to October each year. Harmattan winds can be experienced
during the dry season.
Stability throughout the country has been in question since a coup in 1994 but generally tourists remain unaware of any particular difficulty in this regard. Civilian rule has been in place since 1996. There is a successful tourist industry and the majority of travellers will remain in the resort regions along the coast.
Safety & Security
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It is uncommon to hear of attacks against tourists but it is considered unwise to flaunt personal wealth. Thus wearing valuable jewellery or watches should be avoided. Use the hotel safety deposit boxes for storing items of value and keep an eye on personal belongings while on the beach, on ferries or walking through market places. Many of the main tourist beaches have police or hotel security but there would be a risk if visiting some of the more isolated areas along the coast.

Road Transport
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In the main tourist regions road transport is perfectly reasonable but travelling throughout the country, particularly during the rainy season, is much more difficult. Paved roads exist in the capital, Banjul, but pedestrians still need to take care while out walking. If leaving the main tourists resorts it is essential to travel with a recognised guide. If driving, take care to stop at all check points and never reverse to avoid a road checkpoint. It is safer to use a taxi where possible (green ones for tourists). Avoid travelling to the Casamance region in Senegal (close to Gambia border), as this area is quite unstable at present. The region around Ziguinchor has also unexploded mines and armed bandits and so it would be wise to avoid.
Ferry Risks
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Taking the Banjul to Barra ferry may involve safety risks as the boat is frequently overcrowded and does not carry enough life belts etc for the number of passengers. All the engines for the ferry do not always work and it may be wiser to consider travelling 150km upriver and use the Yelitenda to Bambatenda ferry.
Health Facilities
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The level of medical facilities varies greatly throughout the country. The Medical Research Council facility in Banjul offers excellent healthcare but travellers are advised to carry sufficient supplies of any personal medication they may require while abroad.
Food & Water Facilities
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The main tourist resorts offer a good standard of food for tourists. However, it is wise to ensure that all food is fresh and well cooked. Avoiding bivalve shell fish (oysters, mussels, clams etc) is essential as these foods are frequently associated with illness among those who partake. The tap water supply may not always be regularly maintained and so it is safer to use sealed mineral water for both drinking and brushing your teeth while in The Gambia. Ice in drinks will be made from tap water and so best avoided. Food and fluids should not be purchased from street vendors except in the case of fruit, which you will then peel yourself. Tinned drinks may be safe but be careful to clean the lip before drinking straight from the can.
Malaria & Mosquitoes
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The risk of malaria in The Gambia is generally between June to December each year. Tourists have seldom been at significant risk up until recently when there has been a significant increase in the numbers of cases returning to Europe with the disease. Malaria prophylaxis should be used throughout the year. Mosquitoes mainly bite between dusk and dawn but other species can bite at any time of the day.
Rabies Risk
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There is an ever-present risk of Rabies in Africa and The Gambia is no exception. The disease is mainly transmitted to humans through the bite of an infected dog but other animals also pose a risk including cats and monkeys. The disease can also be transmitted through licks and scratches’ so avoiding all contact with animals is a wise precaution.
Sun Exposure & Dehydration
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The heat and radiation from sunlight in The Gambia can be very significant especially for fair skinned Irish travellers. Make sure you use a wide brimmed hat and keep covered from the suns rays. Dehydration and salt depletion are also common and you will need to increase the amount of fluid (and salt, unless there is a contraindication) while in this climate.
Local Laws & Customs
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The Gambian authorities take strong action against those involved in any drug trade and so take care not to carry any item for another person at any time. It is a predominantly Muslim country and so care should be taken to respect their customs for example by dressing modestly particularly when away from the main tourist regions. Never take photographs or videos of any police or military installations.
Vaccinations
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If travelling to The Gambia you are advised to consider vaccination cover against the following;
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Yellow Fever (mosquito borne viral disease)
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Poliomyelitis (childhood booster)
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Tetanus (childhood booster)
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Typhoid (food & water borne disease)
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Hepatitis A (food & water borne disease)
Occasionally travellers are advised to also consider protection against diseases like Hepatitis B, Rabies and Meningitis.
Malaria prophylaxis is essential at all times of the year for your personal protection.
Summary
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Tourist holidays to The Gambia are increasing after a lull following the unrest of the mid 90’s. However, the recent increase in malaria during December 2000 among European tourists shows how travel to tropical Africa must be treated with the respect it deserves. The majority of travellers who follow sensible guidelines will travel healthy and well.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Tue, 17 Mar 2020 23:24:13 +0100 (MET)

Banjul, Gambia, March 17, 2020 (AFP) - The Gambia has recorded its first case of coronavirus, the country's health minister said on Tuesday, after the government also announced measures to contain its spread.    In a televised statement, Health Minister Ahmadou Lamin Samateh said officials in the tiny West African state had confirmed an infection in a young woman who had recently travelled from the United Kingdom.

She went into self-isolation after feeling feverish, before being confirmed as a positive case.   "All passengers who came in the same flight or in contact with the confirmed case will be traced and undergo isolation," the minister said.    Samateh's announcement came straight on the heels of a televised statement from President Adama Barrow, who announced anti-virus measures on Tuesday before The Gambia had a single confirmed case.   The president announced a ban on public gatherings and the closure of schools for three weeks from Wednesday.    Travellers from affected countries will also be isolated for two weeks, the president said. 
Date: Thu 22 Nov 2018
From: Vanessa Field vanessa.field@nhs.net

Dr. Bram Goorhuis and Dr Martin Grobusch of the GeoSentinel Surveillance Network site, Center for Tropical & Travel Medicine, AMC, Amsterdam, have reported a patient with confirmed yellow fever (YF) after travel to the Gambia and Senegal. The patient is a 26-year-old male, with no significant medical history, and previously unvaccinated against YF, who had travelled, together with his girlfriend, to the Gambian coastal region, Mansa Konko (14 days) and the Niokolo Park game reserve, Senegal (3 days). He had exposure to insect bites, but not tick bites, and did not have contact with fresh water or animals. He did not take malaria chemoprophylaxis.

On 17 Nov [2018], whilst on his flight home to Amsterdam, Netherlands, he developed a fever, chills, photophobia, and some transient gastrointestinal complaints (frequent liquid stools and abdominal discomfort). On 20 Nov [2018], he was transferred to the Center for Tropical and Travel Medicine, Amsterdam, from a peripheral hospital, with fulminant hepatitis (AST 22,000 U/L; ALT 12,500 U/L) and signs of liver failure. He tested negative for malaria and dengue; yellow fever PCR showed a very high viral load of 3.82 x 109/L. Due to an evolving encephalopathy, and a potential need for liver transplantation, the patient has now been transferred to the Erasmus Medical Center, a GeoSentinel site (Dr. Jan Nouwen and Dr. Perry van Genderen), Rotterdam, Netherlands. More follow-up is pending.

The last reported case of yellow fever in a traveller from the Gambia was in 2001 in a 47-year-old unvaccinated Belgian woman, who acquired yellow fever during a one-week vacation and subsequently died. Ref. Colebunders R et al.: A Belgian Traveler Who Acquired Yellow Fever in the Gambia. Clinical Infectious Diseases. 2002. 35(10): e113-e116. doi: <https://doi.org/10.1086/344180>.

The Ministry of Health in Senegal last notified the WHO in 2001 of 3 cases of yellow fever in K'dougou and Saraya Health districts, near the border with Mali and Guinea Conakry. A mass vaccination campaign followed. There have been no official reports to the WHO from the Gambia.

Ref: WHO Disease Outbreak News

In 2017, there were major yellow fever (YF) outbreaks in Brazil and Nigeria. These outbreaks were not marked by the rapid urban spread seen in 2016 in Angola and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), yet they illustrate the increased risk of YF and urban outbreaks with international spread. The "Eliminate Yellow Fever Epidemics" (EYE1) strategy was developed with the goal to reduce the risk of YF through a continuum ranging from outbreak detection and response to prevention. The YF surveillance network also identified suspected cases in several other high-risk countries including Congo, DRC, and Liberia.
Ref: World Health Organization (WHO) Weekly epidemiological record, 10 Aug 2018, No. 32, 2018, 93, 409-416; Yellow fever in Africa and the Americas, 2017.
<http://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/handle/10665/273782/WER9332.pdf?ua=1>.

World Health Organization (WHO) data suggest that the rate of yellow fever transmission is increasing, especially in sub-Saharan Africa. The WHO estimates that, after adjustment for underreporting, about 200 000 cases of yellow fever occur each year. In most of west Africa, with the exception of the Gambia, yellow fever vaccination coverage is low, and there are regular epidemics of yellow fever that fluctuate according to the sylvatic cycle. Since the mid-1990s, epidemics have been reported from Ghana, Gabon, Liberia, Senegal, Benin, and Ivory Coast.

Yellow fever remains endemic in west Africa. Even urban yellow fever has recently been detected in Abidjan, Ivory Coast. Many countries in areas of endemicity in Africa (such as the Gambia) and South America (such as Venezuela) do not require travelers to undergo yellow fever vaccination. International guidelines for travellers recommend vaccination against yellow fever for persons traveling to these countries, but vaccination is not required by the countries themselves.
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Communicated by:
Davidson Hamer, MD (GeoSentinel PI)
Professor of Global Health and Medicine
Boston University School of Public Health and School of Medicine
Boston, MA USA
and
Vanessa Field, MD
Chair, GeoSentinel Tracking and Communication Working Group
International Society of Travel Medicine
=======================
[Drs. Hamer and Field are thanked for this report of the Netherlands case and the overview of the YF situation in endemic countries. The Netherlands case is another example of failure of travellers to receive YF vaccination at least 10 days prior to arrival in an endemic country. Although the Netherlands case presents no risk of initiation of ongoing YF virus transmission, it does illustrate the fact that viremic individuals can travel long distances and, should their destination be an area that could support transmission, such as Central America or south/southeast Asia, can initiate an outbreak in a population that is overwhelmingly unvaccinated. - ProMED Mod.TY]

[Map of the Netherlands:

Maps of Senegal and the Gambia:
Date: Wed, 18 Jan 2017 17:50:39 +0100

Banjul, Gambia, Jan 18, 2017 (AFP) - Gambian President Yahya Jammeh looked determined to cling to power on Wednesday as his mandate came to an end, prompting neighbouring Senegal asking the UN to back regional actions against him.   Jammeh has announced a state of emergency which he said was necessary due to interference of foreign powers in the West African country's December 1 election, which the president of 22 years lost to opponent Adama Barrow.

Barrow, who is currently sheltering in Senegal, maintains his inauguration will go ahead on Thursday on Gambian soil, putting the country on a collision course.   Senegal on Wednesday presented a draft resolution to the UN Security Council seeking support for west African efforts to press Jammeh to step down, diplomats said in New York.   But the text does not explicitly seek council authorisation to deploy troops to The Gambia, they added.   Jammeh's declaration immediately triggered travel advisory warnings by Britain and the Netherlands, with around 1,000 British tourists expected to leave on special flights on Wednesday alone.   The 15-nation Economic Community Of West African States (ECOWAS) has repeatedly urged Jammeh to respect the outcome of the vote and step aside, a call backed unanimously by the international community.

The exact location of the inauguration was "in the hands of ECOWAS," said James Gomez, the inauguration's head organiser who said he had spoken with Barrow twice on Tuesday.   Gomez said that plans for the transfer of power in a huge stadium outside the capital Banjul were now cancelled, but added "there will be a big celebration" despite the state of emergency.   A source at Nigeria's military HQ told AFP a deployment to Senegal, whose territory surrounds The Gambia, would happen "very soon", ramping up expectations of a possible military intervention.   Under the Gambian constitution a state of emergency lasts up to 90 days if the national assembly confirms it -- which the legislature did late Tuesday.   The country's vice-president Isatou Njie-Saidy resigned Wednesday, family sources said, along with environment minister Pa Ousman Jarju, the latest in a mass string of cabinet members deserting Jammeh's government.

- Tourist disappointment -
Tourists were streaming out of the country, leaving the small airport near Banjul struggling to handle extra flights.   Brian and Yvonne Souch, a couple from Witney in southern England, told AFP they were unaware of the potential risk of flying to the country 10 days ago and felt tour company Thomas Cook should have kept them better informed.   "We didn't know anything until we came down for breakfast,"  Brian Souch said, sitting in shorts and sleeveless T-shirt in the lobby of a hotel in the Kololi tourist strip as he awaited a bus to the airport.

Thomas Cook said in a statement Wednesday a programme of additional flights into Banjul airport would bring home the 1,000 package holidaymakers it has in The Gambia, followed by up 2,500 more at the "earliest possible flight availability".   Holidaymakers were told that Thomas Cook flights would stop completely in a few days time, leaving them at risk of being stranded.   The Dutch travel firm TUI Nederland told AFP Tuesday it would repatriate "about 800" clients.   Some tourists were unfazed by the news as the state of emergency, however, as their countries have not issued travel alerts.   "We have over two weeks left and we are staying," said Mariann Lundvall, who flew into Banjul to escape Finland's freezing winter.   "If the Finnish government decides we go, then we go," she added, but with a pained face added "the climate in Helsinki... it is so cold now!"   The panic caused by the state of emergency could prove devastating for the country's economy, which experts say relies on tourism for up to 20 percent of the economy.

- Stockpiling -
Gambians were taking precautions and stocking up on food and supplies in the few shops that remained open in districts near the capital, with roads quiet and street hawkers notably absent.   A source told AFP that patients at Banjul's Edward Francis Small Teaching Hospital, which sits opposite Jammeh's seat of power, were removed for security reasons. Only those in intensive care remained.   Fatou Sarr, a resident of the fishing community of Old Jeshwang, said: "Only a few shops had bread this morning and they ran out of stock very early. If this stalemate drags on for a week or two, the country will run out."   Citizens continue to pack their bags and stream out of Gambia -- a small, narrow enclave of Senegal except for its coast -- by road and ferry heading for Senegal, Guinea-Bissau and Guinea, taking as many possessions as they could carry.   "My two children and I are staying with my aunt. We don't know what will happen tomorrow," said a 50-year-old woman who recently took shelter in Senegal, adding that she hoped to return home soon.
Date: Wed, 18 Jan 2017 04:45:54 +0100

Banjul, Gambia, Jan 18, 2017 (AFP) - Gambia's Yahya Jammeh declared a state of emergency just days before he was due to step down, with British and Dutch travel agencies scrambling to evacuate thousands of tourists Wednesday.   Jammeh, who has ruled The Gambia with an iron fist for 22 years, initially acknowledged opponent Adama Barrow as the victor in December elections, but later rejected the ballot count as flawed and lodged a complaint with the country's Supreme Court.   He declared a state of emergency on Tuesday due to the "unprecedented and extraordinary amount of foreign interference in the December 1 presidential elections and also in the internal affairs of The Gambia," Jammeh announced on state TV.

Citizens were henceforth "banned from any acts of disobedience to the laws of The Gambia, incitement to violence and acts intended to disturb public order and peace," Jammeh said, asking security forces to maintain law and order.   Under the Gambian constitution a state of emergency lasts up to 90 days if the national assembly confirms it -- which the legislature did late Tuesday, a parliamentary source told AFP.   In Washington, the US State Department urged Jammeh to "peacefully hand over power" to Barrow -- who is in Senegal, where he plans to remain until his planned inauguration Thursday.   "Doing so would allow him to leave office with his head held high and to protect the Gambian people from potential chaos," spokesman John Kirby said. "Failure to do so will put his legacy, and more importantly The Gambia, in peril."

The 15-nation Economic Community Of West African States (ECOWAS) has also repeatedly urged Jammeh to respect the outcome of the vote and step aside, a call backed by the UN Security Council, African Union and others.   Jammeh has rebuffed two high-level delegations by west African leaders pleading with him to go.   "The potential for military intervention and civil disturbance is high," the British foreign ministry said on its website, a warning echoed on social media by its Dutch counterpart, who both urged citizens to avoid all but essential travel.   British travel agency Thomas Cook said it had "implemented our contingency plans to bring all our UK customers home," and was trying to arrange evacuation of up to 3,500 tourists from Banjul airport as soon as possible.    "We will operate a programme of additional flights into Banjul airport over the next 48 hours," the company said in a statement, adding this included four extra flights on Wednesday.   The Dutch travel firm TUI Nederland told AFP it would repatriate "about 800" clients.

- String of resignations -
Four more cabinet ministers in Jammeh's government defected, a source close to the regime told AFP on Tuesday.   Foreign minister Neneh Macdouall-Gaye, finance minister Abdou Kolley, trade minister Abdou Jobe and tourism minister Benjamin Roberts all resigned, the source said, requesting anonymity for safety reasons.   They follow the high-profile defection last week of information minister Sheriff Bojang, who is now in neighbouring Senegal.   Citizens continued to pack their bags and stream out of Gambia -- a small, narrow enclave of Senegal except for its coast -- by road and ferry heading for Senegal, Guinea-Bissau and Guinea, taking as many possessions as they could carry.   One traveller told AFP that those arriving at 10:00 am would have to wait until the following day to board a ferry at Banjul port to cross the river headed for Senegal, unless they bribed officials, due to huge numbers exiting the city.

- Military deployment? -
Military intervention in The Gambia seems closer than ever, following declarations by the UN and African Union that boots on the ground could get the green light without a rapid resolution to the crisis.   In Nigeria -- the regional power of west Africa -- a source at the country's military HQ said, "We are deploying to Dakar, Senegal, very soon."   "We are deploying platforms, a few personnel, pilots, technicians and the maintenance crew," said the source, speaking on condition of anonymity.   "You already know that this deployment is in connection with the unfolding development in The Gambia."   In Rabat, it was reported that Morocco had offered Jammeh asylum for accepting the election defeat and stepping down "in return for a golden retirement", but Banjul sources were reluctant to confirm the claim.   Seven journalists -- from Sweden and Senegal, plus four from Kenya and South Africa who were working for a Chinese TV channel -- were expelled late Monday soon after they arrived at Banjul airport to cover the ongoing crisis.
Date: Tue, 13 Dec 2016 05:39:37 +0100
By Jennifer O'MAHONY

Banjul, Gambia, Dec 13, 2016 (AFP) - The cocktails keep flowing by the pool on the tourist strip, but in The Gambia's markets many African migrant traders are packing up their businesses and heading home.   The international community is piling pressure on President Yahya Jammeh to leave power after 22 years and hand over to opposition leader Adama Barrow, who won an election two weeks ago only for Jammeh to later reverse his original concession of defeat.

Of the economy's two main sources of investment from abroad, tourism appears to be weathering the country's political storm far better than the thousands of petty traders who move to The Gambia from the rest of west Africa.   President-elect Barrow told AFP on Monday claims that tourist numbers could be hit were "exaggerated", and with hotels and restaurants full, for the moment he appears to be right.   Flights from Brussels and London are still arriving like clockwork for the peak winter sun season, with many holidaymakers telling AFP they return to the country year after year -- and aren't changing their minds.

"I did think there were more checkpoints," said Elly Preston, a returning retired schoolteacher spending three and a half months in Kololi, the Gambian heartland of full English breakfasts and karaoke bars stuffed with crooning pensioners.   Preston had seen alarming posts on the Tripadvisor tourism website, but with hotel prices as low as £40 a night (48 euros) she stuck with her instinct and left behind the cold and rain of Cleckheaton in northern England.   "I feel safe here. I know everybody and we come together," she said from her sunlounger, waving at a friend she met while on holiday here a few years ago.

Reading a thriller while taking in some rays in the late afternoon, Joseph Fowlis from Liverpool is well aware that Jammeh has refused to stand down, and supports Barrow's fight for change.   "Taxi drivers told me they want a democracy," he told AFP. "And why shouldn't they have one?"   But that hasn't affected his budget break. Apart from a higher than usual level of political conversation in the back of cabs, he said, little had changed from the previous years he has been here.   "If you didn't know about it you wouldn't think anything of it," he said.   Hotel owners are slightly more nervous, but as long as the tour operators keep the flights up, business will boom, they told AFP.

- Trader panic -
The tiny west African state relies on largely British and Scandinavian tourists for 20 percent of its GDP.   Meanwhile Guineans, Mauritanians and Senegalese are well known for importing goods and selling them to the local population.   In a recent speech, Jammeh said 100,000 foreigners were working in The Gambia's markets, but did not specify a source for that figure.   Fifteen minutes down the road from Kololi, the hawkers and fruit sellers of Serekunda market have a very different interpretation of the events unfolding.

Amadou Wurri Jallow, a Guinean shopkeeper, spoke of his fear of soldiers being stationed on the streets of his neighbourhood.   "I do not understand why soldiers armed with machine guns would be deployed every night in built-up areas of Serekunda," Jallow said.   "This is really frightening and disturbing. I am leaving for my country until this political stalemate is resolved peacefully."   Fallou Diop, a Senegalese hawker who has lived and worked in The Gambia for the past few years, told AFP shortly before his departure to the city of Touba in central Senegal that the uncertainty was too much.   "Since no one can tell how this problem would come to an end, I am going back to Touba until the dust settles," he said.
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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."