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Israel

General Information:
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The Middle East is a favourite destination for many Irish holiday makers. The combination of a beautiful climate linked with such historical richness is hard to beat. Unfortunately the
security situation throughout the region has led to some significant concerns over the years. Nevertheless, in the vast majority of cases those visiting the region will not encounter any particular concerns in this regard. It is a wise precaution to ensure that your passport is valid for at least a further six months beyond the time of your holiday as otherwise you may be refused entry.
Security Situation:
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Security throughout the Middle East is generally tight. Carry some means of identification at all times in case you are requested to produce it by police or army personnel. In Jerusalem the city has been divided and it is sensible to remember which quarter you are in at all times.
Health Facilities:
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Generally the health facilities throughout the region are excellent. However, when visiting certain rural regions you may find it difficult to obtain hospital care similar to that at home. In Israel, travellers can find information in English about emergency medical facilities and after-hours pharmacies in the "Jerusalem Post" and English language "Ha'aretz" newspapers.
Food & Water Facilities:
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Again, this depends on your location and the facilities which are there at the time of the year you visit. Bottled water is easily available and food hygiene is usually excellent throughout all the main tourist destinations. However, it is generally wiser not to drink hotel tap water and only to use it for brushing your teeth if there is a clear smell of chlorine. When on organised trips tourists are sometimes offered local tea or other drinks. Generally this will be safe as the water is boiled but take care that the cup hygiene is acceptable.
Sun Exposure:
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The climatic conditions in the Middle East vary considerably throughout the year. Many tourists visit in late autumn or early spring. At these times the climate is much cooler and the evenings can be distinctly chilly. However, during the main tourist season (May to September) the temperatures rise high into the 80’s or 90’s and dehydration can easily occur. Increasing fluid and salt intake is important under these circumstances. It is essential that travellers are aware of the climatic conditions which should be present for their trip and that sensible clothing is used at all times.
Rabies:
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Tourists should avoid all animals as this viral disease is transmitted through the bite, lick or scratch of any infected warm blooded animal. In Israel the most common animals involved are foxes and jackals and in Jordan, dogs tend to be the main culprits.
Exploring the Region:
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Leaving the main tourist routes is unwise. There are a number of security risks which have to be considered and there are also significant health concerns which may be encountered. In July 2000 an 18 year old American tourist died of sunstroke when she became separated from her group in the Dead Sea region of Israel. Those exploring caves and parts of the desert areas also run the risk of diseases like Borreliosis and Rabies.
Walking & Trekking:
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For many going to these countries their trip will involve visiting some of the major ruins and archeological sites. This will involve a good deal of walking and trekking. Good supporting foot wear is essential and it would be wise to carry a crepe bandage in case of a sprained ankle. Having a suitable painkiller or anti-inflammatory medication would also be advantageous. Check your health will be up to the journey.
Swimming:
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Pools are usually very well maintained and the risk of disease is small. Those swimming in the sea should remember that the Mediterranean is home to many jelly fish. Swim with others and never alone and especially after alcohol or a heavy meal.
Anthrax:
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This bacterial disease is rare in the Middle east though travellers should be aware that it can be transmitted through unprepared leather goods usually bought in the local market places. Typically the disease may then present with a black ulcerated skin lesion.

Malaria:
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Fortunately this disease does not occur in Israel or Jordan. However other mosquito and sandfly diseases do occur and so protection against their bites should be used when necessary.
Hepatitis:
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There are many forms of this disease but the most common is Hepatitis A, often known as Infectious Jaundice. This disease can keep an infected individual off work for many weeks and it is wise to consider vaccination cover before exposure. In Israel approx 65% of the population will have been infected before 18 years of age.
Vaccinations:
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There are no essential vaccines for entry/exit however most Irish tourists are recommended to receive cover against; Poliomyelitis, Typhoid, Tetanus and Hepatitis A. Those living in these countries or planning an extended trip should also consider cover against Hepatitis B and Rabies.
Summary:
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Due to the unrest within Israel there are concerns regarding the safety of tourists at this time. If you are travelling to this region it is wise to ensure that your insurance policy is sufficient if your circumstances or travel plans change.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Wed, 22 Apr 2020 05:23:21 +0200 (METDST)
By Claire GOUNON

Eilat, Israël, April 22, 2020 (AFP) - In Israel's popular Red Sea resort of Eilat, carousel music from a shuttered amusement park echoes in the emptiness of a locked-down city robbed of its main livelihood by the coronavirus.   In a normal year around 2.5 million tourists visit the resort which lies on the narrow southern edge of Israel, wedged between Jordan and Egypt's Sinai peninsula.   They sunbathe on its golden beaches, dive in its crystal-clear waters, stroll along its promenade or cool off in the bars and pools of the hotels lining the seafront.

But with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic Israel imposed a nationwide lockdown, closed its borders to travellers and shut down its leisure industry to fight the spread of infection.   Now it is hard to imagine that the city's 12,000 hotel rooms are usually all occupied for most of a normal year.   In the lobby of the huge five-star Dan Eilat hotel, the furniture was draped with dustsheets and the fountains were dry.

The vast spiral staircase was untrodden except by security staff, the only remainder of the 500 workers who normally keep the establishment running.  Lior Mucznik, director of this hotel and two others, estimates losing tens of millions of Israeli shekels (millions of dollars/euros) each month the pandemic continues.   On his cellphone he had images of damage wreaked by gales which swept the coast in mid-March. They show uprooted flowers and sand-encrusted terraces.   "After the storm, the coronavirus!" he said, adding that he has yet to receive any aid from the authorities.

- Three in four jobless -
The city of 67,000 has received government funds to respond to the virus but for the moment the aid is like a "plaster on a large wound," said mayor Meir Yitzhak Halevi.   Seventy-five percent of its residents are unemployed, he told AFP.   On Saturday, following a slowdown in the rate of new confirmed cases, the government announced the easing of some movement restrictions and the reopening of some businesses.   Halevi said the easing was "a first step" and that its "contribution to the city of Eilat is very minimal."

Israel, which has a population of around nine million, confirmed its first coronavirus patient on February 21.    Since then it has logged almost 14,000 cases -- around 20 in Eilat --  and about 181 deaths from the disease.   Municipal employee Nora Bitton said that for Eilat the economic emergency is far more severe than the health crisis.   City hall has therefore called on the government to draft a response plan specific to the Red Sea resort.   Starved of tourism, she said, "this little corner of paradise" has had its "oxygen tube cut".

- 'As if bomb dropped' -
"It's as if the city became paralysed," said Josef Gez, 54, taking a walk in defiance of the lockdown and risking a fine in the process.   Gez said he had walked from the far side of town down to the seafront for some fresh air and sunshine and was shocked by the lack of activity.   "In 32 years of living here I've never seen it like this," he told AFP.   "It's as if a bomb had dropped."

A little further along the beach a French couple who moved to Eilat a decade ago attempted to take a swim. As their feet touched the sand, they were promptly challenged by a police patrol.   Forced to abandon their excursion, the pair of retirees said they were "saddened" to see the city deserted at a time of the year when it is usually difficult to stake a place in the sun.

Leaning against a barrier surrounding one of his hotel's three pools, Mucznik said that the eight-day Passover Jewish holiday, which has just ended, is usually a mainstay of the local economy.   He said that during the festival the 375 rooms of the hotel are normally occupied at high rates.   "If we miss the second peak high season, from July to September, then it will be a catastrophic year," he said, before correcting himself.   "In fact, it's already a catastrophic year".
Date: Sun, 19 Apr 2020 11:32:56 +0200 (METDST)

Jerusalem, April 19, 2020 (AFP) - Israel began easing movement restrictions on Sunday while pointedly avoiding announcing any exit from an ongoing lockdown to forestall the spread of coronavirus.   A cabinet vote in the early hours of the morning approved several measures, including a reopening of high street shops, schools for children with special educational needs and a resumption of small scale prayer meetings, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office said.    Most of the measures take effect from Sunday, while the selected schools will reopen their doors to pupils on Tuesday, according to the education ministry.

Prayer gatherings of up to 19 people at a time will be allowed, on condition that they take place in the open air with people wearing masks and at least two metres apart -- higher than a limit of 10 people initially proposed by the prime minister on Saturday.    As part of social distancing, places of worship for all faiths had previously been closed and from April 12 wearing face masks in public became mandatory.   In a televised address on Saturday, Netanyahu had outlined "a responsible and gradual" plan allowing the return of some workers to offices and industry.

With Ramadan set to begin in the coming days, the premier urged Muslims in Israel to have "meals only with your nuclear family."   Israel, which has a population of around nine million, confirmed its first coronavirus patient on February 21.    Israel has more than 13,360 confirmed cases of the illness, with 171 fatalities.   Its health ministry says that more than 3,500 patients have recovered and been discharged from hospital.   The past few days have seen a slowdown in new confirmed cases.

But Netanyahu warned that if infection rates started climbing again there would be a fresh clampdown.   "If we see that in two weeks' time the improving trend continues, there will be further easing," he said.   "If there should be an additional outbreak of corona(virus), we shall be obliged to backtrack."   Finance Ministry Director General Shai Babad spoke in the same broadcast.   "It is important to stress that this is not the start of an exit strategy, we are not returning to normal," he said.

Israel was an early and tough responder to the health crisis.   In late February it started barring travellers arriving from virus hotspots, gradually extending restrictions to a near-total air travel ban.    Then came regulations barring Israelis from leaving their homes except to go to the supermarket, pharmacy or hospital.    Netanyahu stressed that Israel's rapid and tough response had proved effective compared to other states that were slower to impose restrictions.    "In Belgium, which is more or less the same size as us, there are over 5,000 deaths... these are not pointless comparisons," he said.
Date: Mon, 6 Apr 2020 22:54:10 +0200 (METDST)

Jerusalem, April 6, 2020 (AFP) - Israel will ban inter-city travel from Tuesday to Friday this week in order to forestall the spread of coronavirus during the Passover holidays, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said.    "There will be a lockdown between Tuesday from 4:00 pm (1300 GMT) until Friday at 7:00 am -- you must stay in your cities and villages," he said late Monday on television.

He also said that on Wednesday evening, when the traditional Seder meal for Passover is to be held, only people living under the same roof will be permitted to interact.     "Every family must stay at home and nobody can leave their homes between 6:00 pm on Wednesday and 7:00 am on Thursday," the prime minister added.     "The coming days will be decisive for the state of Israel," he said.    Coronavirus has so far killed 57 people in the Jewish state and infected more than 8,900, according to official figures.    Cases in Israel are concentrated heavily in the ultra-Orthodox community where health restrictions have been slow to take root, with some refusing to accept the limitations.

Netanyahu on Friday gave the green light for soldiers to be deployed in the mostly ultra-Orthodox city of Bnei Brak, which is considered the centre of Israel's novel coronavirus outbreak.   In his address on Monday, the premier pointed to "positive signs of progress" in the fight against coronavirus.   "We can envisage starting to come out of quarantine progressively after Passover, but it will depend on you," he told citizens.   Israelis are currently restricted from venturing out more than 100 metres (330 feet) from their homes, except to go to the supermarket, pharmacy or hospital.
Date: Mon, 9 Mar 2020 21:41:29 +0100 (MET)

Jerusalem, March 9, 2020 (AFP) - Israel will impose a two-week quarantine on all travellers entering the country, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Monday, toughening already significant travel restrictions.   "After a day of difficult discussions, we have taken a decision: all those coming to Israel from abroad will be placed in isolation for 14 days," Netanyahu said in a video broadcast on his Twitter account.   "This is a difficult decision but it is essential to maintaining public health, which takes precedence over everything," he added, according to a statement.

He noted that the measure would be implemented for two weeks and promised steps to support the Israeli economy.   Israel had already imposed major restrictions on travellers arriving from several countries.   On Wednesday, the Jewish state had barred entry to almost all non-residents arriving from France, Germany, Spain, Austria and Switzerland, declaring that arrivals from those nations could only enter if they could prove they had a place to stay in quarantine.   Those measures had come on top of restrictions previously imposed on arrivals from mainland China, Hong Kong, Thailand, Singapore, Macau, South Korea, Japan and Italy.

But restrictions had not until now extended to travellers from the United States, which last year contributed nearly 890,000 tourist arrivals to Israel -- more than double that of France, in second place.    Israel has so far recorded 50 cases of the illness.   The Palestinian Authority, which on Thursday declared a 30-day state of emergency in parts of the West Bank it administers, has reported 25 cases.   The latest measures come a month ahead of the Passover festival, which usually sees tens of thousands of Jews head to Israel to celebrate.   Since the novel coronavirus first emerged in late December, 113,255 cases have been recorded in 101 countries and territories, killing 3,964 people, according to an AFP toll based on official sources on Monday around 1700 GMT.
Date: Wed 19 Feb 2020
Source: Circular/News, Veterinary Services, Israel's Ministry of Agriculture [in Hebrew, trans. Mod.AS, edited]

Rabies, Case No. 6 for 2020, dog, Ramot Naftali, Upper Galilee. Reference: Kimron Vet Institute [KVI] Laboratory Test No. A00373420, dated 19 Feb 2020
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On 17 Feb 2020, a dead dog was brought for examination to the KVI [at Beit-Dagan]. The dog died while being transported to a rabies observation kennel since, as reported, it had attacked grazing cattle and attempted to attack people.  It was also reported that the dog had bitten itself. The tested animal has been diagnosed rabies positive.  [Byline: Dr. Avi Wasserman Head, Field Veterinary Services (acting)]
====================
[The above and 5 earlier rabies cases in Israel since 1 Jan 2020 are located within a small region along the Lebanese border, facing Lebanon's governorate A-Nabatieh. See the rabies map (2020) at <https://moag.maps.arcgis.com/apps/webappviewer/index.html?id=a6d8aae5cbc04c958d5efefd2724318f>.

The 2019 map, presenting a total of 17 cases, is available at

The 6 cases during 2020 are: 3 jackals, 2 dogs, 1 cow. Most likely, rabies is currently circulating within the Lebanese side of the border.

It would be interesting to note whether the rabid dog was owned and, in case affirmative, whether and when this dog was last vaccinated against rabies, as prescribed by law. Israel's owned dogs are included in the national dog registry, currently counting more than 400,000 dogs. - ProMED Mod.AS]
More ...

World Travel News Headlines

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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