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South Korea

General Information
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The land mass of Korea is currently divided into North and South since World War 11. The South is a democratic Republic and there are extensive tourist facilities available throughout
he main urban areas. The national tourism organisation (KNTO) operates an English language web site (http://www.knto.or.kr) which provides useful information for intending tourists.
Weather Profile
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South Korea has four distinct seasons throughout the year. The winters can be very cold while the summers hot and very humid. The rainfall is mainly concentrated during the summer season.
Overcoming Jet Lag
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ry to arrange your flights so that you arrive in plenty of time before the first match. Allow 48 hours if at all possible to get over the inevitable jet lag. Walk about on the flight, drink plenty of water and stay off the alcohol. Flight crews are understandably very sensitive nowadays about any disturbance and the last thing you will want is to be dumped off the flight to make your own way home. Sleep on the plane if possible though remember this may increase the risk of blood clots so move your legs about when awake. Talk to your doctor about taking aspirin if you are at higher than normal risk (older age group, over weight, on the contraceptive pill, varicose veins etc).
Arriving into Seoul
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The new Incheon international airport is an hour or two away from Seoul and there are no subways or rail systems connecting the airport to the city. However, buses and taxis are easily available. Customs facilities are good but careful so remember not to carry any parcels for another unless you are certain of the contents. A departure tax may be payable on leaving South Korea.
Personal Safety
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In Seoul, like any other major city, there is an increased risk of petty crime (pickpocketing, purse snatching etc) so take extra care of your belongings - especially in crowded places like markets, local buses and football matches! The Itaewon and other large markets are known risk areas for this type of activity. Use the hotel safe for your main valuables and carry little of importance while out and about.
Emergency Numbers
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In South Korea the emergency number for the main services is 112. The operators will usually speak good English. There is also a 24/7 service available through the Korean National Police where travellers can report crime etc. The number in Seoul is 313-0842 and in other regions 02-313-0842.
Medical Services
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Generally the level of health facilities throughout most of the main urban centres is excellent. However, treatment can be expensive and the medical providers will expect payment before treatment is started. Make sure your travel health insurance is adequate for your journey.
Road Safety
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The road infrastructure throughout most of South Korea is excellent. However, accidents do occur and if hiring a car ‘defensive’ driving is essential at all times while abroad. Safety belts are compulsory at all times for both front and rear seats. Any accident tends to lead to long delays as the paperwork is sorted out. The Koreans may at times drive their motorbikes and scooters on foot pavements so care should be taken at all times.
Customs Regulations
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The level of security at South Korean immigration is high so beware of the delays which may be incurred.
Food & Water Care
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While travelling it is essential that care is taken to protect your stomach against unnecessary risk. Generally tourists will be keen to try out the local cuisine but this can lead to days of illness. In most circumstances it is wise to stick to hot, freshly cooked food fruit you peel yourself. Bivalve shell fish (mussels, clams, oysters etc) are seldom cooked sufficiently to sterilise them completely and are best avoided. Undercooked fish (Sushi) or any meats should also be avoided.
Heat & Humidity
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The summer months in South Korea are hot and sticky. It will be important to have the right clothing (light weight loosely fitted cotton) and to drink plenty of water to replace what is lost through dehydration. Salt will also need to be replaced and providing there is no medical contraindication eating crisps, salted nuts etc is an excellent way to replenish your levels.
Avoiding Prickly Heat
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The term prickly heat is used in a variety of ways but the cause is generally the same. In a hot climate the body perspires to maintain the internal temperature at a correct level. In the perspiration there will be fluid and your personal salts. The fluid evaporates but the salt dries against the skin. It is your individual reaction to this salt that leads to the ‘prickly heat rash’. The reaction to these salts can be minimised by removing the salts from the skin surface as soon as possible. Change your clothes regularly, use plenty of talcum powder to absorb the perspiration and dry off well after showering.
Breathing the air
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Any of the airborne diseases are most commonly spread when folks crowd together. International football matches, market places, local transport and the cinema are times when exposure and infection are most likely. Carrying some simple cold remedies might be a wise precaution and avoid the crowds where possible!
Vaccines for your trip
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In most cases the only particular problem for those visiting either Japan or South Korea will be the risk of Hepatitis A (food and water spread). Of course Tetanus and various other food and water problems can occur but generally the risk is small providing a sensible approach is taken to act sensibly.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Tue, 7 Apr 2020 12:57:35 +0200 (METDST)

Seoul, April 7, 2020 (AFP) - Two elderly South Korean coronavirus patients recovered from severe pneumonia after being treated with plasma from survivors, researchers said Tuesday, offering hope in the face of the global pandemic.   Scientists have pointed to the potential benefits of plasma -- a blood fluid -- from recovered individuals who have developed antibodies to the virus enabling the body's defences to attack it.   Since emerging in China in December, the coronavirus has killed almost 75,000 people as drugmakers worldwide race to develop a vaccine and treatments for the disease.

Plasma therapy could become "an alternative treatment for patients in critical condition who do not respond to antiviral drugs," said Choi Jun-yong, a doctor and researcher at Severance Hospital in Seoul, where both patients were treated.   But large-scale clinical trials were needed to prove its effectiveness, he added.   One of the two patients was a 71-year-old man with no underlying conditions who only improved when treated with plasma from a recovered patient in his 20s, along with steroids.   He was initially given malaria drugs and a respirator for severe pneumonia.   The other patient, a 67-year-old female, also did not respond to initial treatments including malaria, HIV drugs, and oxygen therapy. She began to recover after receiving plasma therapy and steroids at the same time, researchers said.

Their findings were published in the peer-reviewed Journal of Korean Medicine.   Kwon Jun-wook, an official at Seoul's Central Disease Control Headquarters, said plasma therapy was "important" when there was "currently no vaccine or treatment available" for the virus.    He called on experts to examine the two cases urgently.   Research on plasma and other therapies "will proceed quickly", Kwon added.   Small studies on plasma have demonstrated its effectiveness in treating infectious diseases, including Ebola and SARS.

Trials started in France on Tuesday involving 60 patients in Paris hospitals, half of whom will receive plasma from recovered patients.   The US Food and Drug Administration authorised physicians to experiment with the strategy to fight the coronavirus, and tests are also being carried out in China.   South Korea endured one of the worst early outbreaks of the virus, but appears to have brought it under control thanks to its extensive "trace, test and treat" programme.
6th April 2020

South Korea reported fewer than 50 new coronavirus cases for the first time in more than six weeks, having once been the hardest-hit country outside China, where the virus first emerged.   The South confirmed 47 new cases on the previous day, the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said, taking its total to date to 10,284. It was the lowest increase since late February.
Date: Mon 30 Mar 2020
Source: Ministry of Health and Welfare, Korean CDC [in Korean, machine trans., edited]

Data taken from a table on the website of the Korean Ministry of Health and Welfare (MOHW). Data source: Korean CDC [in Korean]

Date and time:
29 Mar 2020 0:00 AM KT 9583 confirmed cases, 152 deaths
30 Mar 2020 0:00 AM KT 9661 confirmed cases, 158 deaths Change: 78 newly confirmed infections; 6 new deaths.

Distribution of cases by metropolitan city/province:
total case / change from 0:00 AM 29 Mar 2020 to 0:00 AM 30 Mar 2020:

  • Seoul: 426 / 16
  • Busan: 118 / 1
  • Daegu: 6624 / 14
  • Incheon: 58 / 0
  • Gwangju: 20 / 0
  • Daejeon: 34 / 0
  • Ulsan: 39 / 0
  • Sejong: 46 / 0
  • Gyeonggi: 463 / 15
  • Gangwon: 36 / 2
  • Chungbuk: 44 / 3
  • Chungnam: 127 / 0
  • Jeonbuk: 13 / 1
  • Jeonnam: 9 / 0
  • Gyeongbuk: 1298 / 11
  • Gyeongnam: 95 / 1
  • Jeju: 9 / 1
  • Quarantine: 202 / 13
*******
Total: 9661 / 78
===========================
[In the past 24 hours, the tally of confirmed cases of COVID-19 in South Korea has increased by 78 cases and 6 deaths as compared with yesterday's 24 hour period (28-29 Mar 2020) when there were 105 newly confirmed cases. A total of 9661 cases including 158 deaths were reported today, up from 9538 cases and 152 deaths yesterday [28 Mar 2020]. The daily newly confirmed case count had been at or below 100 newly confirmed cases per day for 8 consecutive days. Daegu continues to stand out as a focal point for transmission with 68.6% of the total cases reported followed by Gyeongbuk with 13.4% of the total cases reported. In the past 24 hours, Daegu reported 18% of the total newly confirmed cases while Seoul represented 20.5% of the newly confirmed case reports and in Gyeonggi 19.2%. Quarantined imported cases represented 16.7% of the newly confirmed cases.

Similar to what is being seen in China, Korea is identifying increasing numbers of imported cases returning to South Korea. There are now 202 imported cases in quarantine with the 1st report of patients in quarantine on 16 Mar 2020, when 4 cases were reported (COVID-19 update (41): global, surge capacity, vaccine development, WHO http://promedmail.org/post/20200316.7096222). As in China, there is strict surveillance and follow-up of these individuals, reversing the pattern of the western countries strengthening screenings of individuals from South Korea and China. There are obvious concerns regarding initiating new clusters that might escape into the community.

A map of South Korea showing provinces can be seen at
and a HealthMap/ProMED-mail map at
Date: Fri, 13 Mar 2020 12:05:42 +0100 (MET)

Seoul, March 13, 2020 (AFP) - South Korea -- once grappling with the largest coronavirus outbreak outside China -- saw its newly recovered patients exceed fresh infections for the first time on Friday, as it reported the lowest number of new cases for three weeks.   The country confirmed 110 new infections, the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) said, taking its total to date to 7,979.   But 177 fully recovered patients were released on Thursday, it added.   South Korea has an advanced medical system widely available to all, and has embarked on a huge coronavirus testing drive.

Its stock market was caught up Friday in global economic concerns over the pandemic, with trading briefly halted on the Korea stock exchange for six minutes after the opening when the benchmark KOSPI index fell to 1707.90, down 6.8 percent or 126.43 points.   It was the second consecutive day that trading had been halted on the main bourse and the first time since 2011.   To curb speculative trading, Seoul's Financial Services Commission announced a six-month ban on short-selling of shares on the Kospi and Kosdaq.   President Moon Jae-in called for "unprecedented measures" to help the world's 12th-largest economy cope with the outbreak, describing it as "an emergency economic situation".   The number of new cases in Daegu, the southern city at the centre of the country's virus spread, had declined "dramatically" along with those in neighbouring North Gyeongsang province, officials said.

So far, nearly 90 percent of South Korea's cases have been in the two regions.   But Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun, who is leading the response in Daegu, warned that the government "should not be complacent even a bit".   "The battle against the coronavirus has now become a global fight going far beyond Daegu," he said.   Each morning the government announces how many cases were diagnosed the previous day, and recent figures have been well below the 500-600 increases the country was confirming in early March, raising hopes the outbreak is being brought under control.   The 110 new cases announced Friday by the KCDC was the lowest figure since February 21. One more person had died, it said, bringing the death toll to 67.
Date: Sun 23 Feb 2020
Source: Ministry of Health and Welfare [in Korean, machine trans. edited]

Data taken from a table on the website of the Korean MOHW (Ministry of Health and Welfare). Data source: Korean CDC:

Date and time:
23 Feb 2020 9:00 AM KT 556 confirmed cases, 4 deaths
23 Feb 2020 16:00 (4:00 PM) KT 602 confirmed cases, 5 deaths

Change: 46 newly confirmed infections; 1 new death among previously confirmed case

Information on newly reported fatality: a 57-year-old female associated with the Shinchon Earth Church.

Information on 46 newly confirmed infections:
Associated with Sincheon Earth Church: 20; Busan (1), Daegu (12), Gwangju (1), Daejeon (1), Gyeonggi (2), Gyeongbuk (5), Gyeongnam (6)

Others (under investigation): Seoul (1), Busan (5), Daegu (12), Daejeon (1), Gyeonggi (1), Gyeongbuk (3), Gyeongnam (3)
====================
[Since the last ProMED-mail update finalized less than 24 hours ago, there have been 46 newly confirmed cases reported by South Korea, bringing the total up to 602. According to a KCDC report on 22 Feb 2020, 309 out of the 556 cases confirmed (55.6%) were related to the Sincheon Earth Church (<https://www.cdc.go.kr/board/board.es?mid=a20501000000&bid=0015&list_no=366304&act=view>). In today's [23 Feb 2020] report, there are an additional 20 cases related to the Sincheon Earth Church from 9 different provinces in the country. In addition, there has been 1 newly reported fatality bringing the total number of reported deaths associated with COVID-19 in South Korea to 5.

A flash alert from Yonhap news gave the 9 AM total cases and deaths -- 161 newly confirmed cases and 1 new fatality -- bringing the total number of cases to 763 including 7 deaths.

A good map showing provinces in South Korea can be found at
More ...

World Travel News Headlines

Date: Thu, 9 Apr 2020 07:30:18 +0200 (METDST)
By Mary Lyn Fonua

Nuku'alofa, Tonga, April 9, 2020 (AFP) - A resurgent Tropical Cyclone Harold flattened tourist resorts in Tonga Thursday, extending a week-long trail of destruction across four South Pacific island nations that has claimed more than two dozen lives.   The cyclone gathered pace as it bore down on the tiny island kingdom, which declared a state of emergency, warning residents to seek shelter from destructive winds and massive sea surges.

By early Thursday it had again become a scale-topping Category Five superstorm -- surprising meteorologists after signs earlier in the week that its intensity was dropping.   Packing winds of up to 260 kilometres per hour (160 miles per hour), it cut power in parts of the country and police said at least three tourist resorts north of the capital Nuku'alofa had been reduced to rubble.

The cyclone killed 27 people in the Solomons late last week before barrelling southeast to directly hit Vanuatu as a Category Five, obliterating entire towns in the northern provinces.   There have been no reports of deaths in Vanuatu, Fiji or Tonga, with emergency workers saying residents in the hardest hit areas took shelter early.   "It appears that many buildings and crops have been destroyed and some people in the most affected areas have lost everything," Red Cross Vanuatu secretary general Jacqueline de Gaillande said.

Harold weakened slightly to a still-formidable Category Four as it lashed Fiji on Wednesday but hopes the storm was dissipating were dashed as it regathered momentum heading towards Tonga.   "It's been a tricky one to predict," meteorologist Bill Singh from New Zealand's Metservice told AFP.   "We knew the track it was going to take but initially everyone thought it was just going to be Cat 3 or 4, but as it progressed over open warm waters it deepened."

- Closed borders -
The storm is expected to head away from Tonga onto the open ocean late Thursday but WeatherWatch.co.nz head forecaster Philip Duncan said there were no certainties.   "It's almost unheard of to see a cyclone tracking south away from the equator, weakening, then suddenly returning back to Cat 5 so far south," he said.

The COVID-19 pandemic has complicated disaster relief efforts, with Vanuatu reluctant to open its international borders as it seeks to remain one of the few countries without any confirmed virus cases.   "No foreign personnel are being brought to Vanuatu for response efforts at the present time, this will be an internally run operation," Vanuatu's National Disaster Management Office said.

Fiji has 15 virus cases and Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama said the virus and cyclone meant "our economy and our people have been dealt two body blows to start the year".   "This storm must not compromise our coronavirus containment efforts, lest we risk damage far more painful than the aftermath of any cyclone," he said.

Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne said an air force plane carrying essential supplies such as tents and water containers was on its way to Vanuatu, while assistance had also been offered to other impacted nations.   "We are acutely conscious that this comes on top of the impact and difficulties created by COVID-19 for those countries," she said.   Vanuatu said any supplies that came into the country would be handled with protective equipment and the air crews delivering them would be isolated in transit areas.
Date: Wed, 8 Apr 2020 18:07:06 +0200 (METDST)

London, April 8, 2020 (AFP) - Britain on Wednesday reported a record 938 new COVID-19 deaths in its daily update, 152 more than its previous highest toll, as the total number of deaths passed 7,000.    "As of 5pm on 7 April, of those hospitalised in the UK who tested positive for coronavirus, 7,097 have sadly died," the health ministry tweeted, up from 6,159 on Tuesday.
Date: Wed, 8 Apr 2020 16:50:53 +0200 (METDST)
By Sofia CHRISTENSEN

Johannesburg, April 8, 2020 (AFP) - A pride of lions flops lazily across a track at a South African game reserve, enjoying newfound tranquility since last month's closure of all national parks to support an anti-coronavirus lockdown.   Rather than the usual Land Rover, a lone elephant rumbles down the road, causing the felines to scatter into the surrounding bush.   A vehicle stands in the background, live streaming the scene for thousands of people watching the animals from the comfort of their homes.   "Since the lockdown occurred we have seen an amazing explosion in our audience," said Graham Wallington, head of a live safari broadcaster called WildEarth.

As the number of viewers tripled over the last days of March, Wallington noted that the audience -- typically American -- was increasingly from South Africa.   "It just happened overnight because all these kids at home with their families are watching these live safaris," he told AFP.   South Africa is almost two weeks into a 21-day lockdown meant to halt the spread of COVID-19.   The country is the worst-affected in Africa, with more than 1,700 infections recorded so far, including 13 deaths.

WildEarth operates from two vehicles in two private game reserves bordering the internationally famous Kruger National Park.   Guides take viewers along for a virtual game drive, finding wildlife and sharing facts about animals encountered along the way.   The cameras are positioned at the back of the vehicles, where passengers would usually be seated, in order to create a real-life experience.   "There it is," guide James Hendry whispered excitedly to the camera after stumbling across a mother hyena and her newborn cubs.   "Tell me, have you ever seen anything that cute in your life before?"   Participants can also send questions to the guides as they go along.

- Rare species emerge -
"You want to know how much water an elephant drinks in a day?" asked ranger Trishala Naidoo, as she drove along a bumpy bush track.   "Around 100 litres if not more," she answered, before pulling over to show viewers a leopard tortoise crossing the road.   Aside from providing entertainment, Wallington believes virtual safaris are an opportunity to observe how wildlife behave in the absence of tourists.   "It's kind of an interesting time where the animals are being left alone," Wallington said, adding that rare species such as the endangered African wild dogs had started venturing into his areas.   "Wild dogs coming in and hunting almost every day... is unheard of," he exclaimed.    "It's because there is no one else there and they've got the run of the place for themselves."
Date: Wed, 8 Apr 2020 16:44:56 +0200 (METDST)

Monrovia, April 8, 2020 (AFP) - Liberian President George Weah declared a state of emergency in the West African country on Wednesday, with the capital Monrovia set to go into lockdown in a bid to curb coronavirus.    In a televised statement, the president said that all movement between Liberia's 15 counties would be banned from 11:59 pm on Friday, and that all non-essential businesses and government offices would close.

Residents of four counties -- including Monrovia's, which is home to about 1 million people -- must also stay at home for two weeks, he said.    Authorities in those counties will allow people to leave their homes only to buy food or for health reasons.     "We have to ask ourselves why we should abide by these measures. The answer is simple: to save lives," Weah said.

Wednesday's announcement escalates earlier health measures which banned large gatherings as well as flights to and from virus-stricken countries.   As with other poor countries in the region, there are fears that Liberia is ill prepared to handle a large outbreak.

The nation of some 4.8 million has recorded 13 coronavirus cases to date, with three deaths.  But Liberia was badly hit during the West Africa's 2014-16 Ebola crisis, which killed more than 4,800 people in the country.    Weah warned that the coronavirus was the greatest threat facing Liberia since Ebola.    "The horrific scenarios that are beginning to emerge should serve as sufficient warning for every one of us to spring into action," he said.   Coronavirus "has already arrived in Liberia, and confirmed cases are now on the rise," Weah added.   Decimated after back-to-back civil wars from 1989 to 2003, Liberia also suffers economic woes including rampant inflation and fuel shortages.
Date: Wed, 8 Apr 2020 16:42:52 +0200 (METDST)

Cairo, April 8, 2020 (AFP) - Egypt will extend a nationwide night-time curfew by a further two weeks in a bid to slow the spread of the coronavirus, Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouli said on Wednesday.   He told a news conference the measure would be enforced from 8:00 pm (1800 GMT) to 6:00 am and run until April 23.   The curfew would start an hour later, he said, to avoid overcrowding in public transport.   Schools and universities, as well as restaurants and cafes would also remain closed until then, while food outlets would be allowed to offer delivery services only.   To stem the spread of the coronavirus, authorities have also halted air traffic until the end of the month and closed tourist and religious sites.

Penalties against violators including fines of up to 4,000 Egyptian pounds (just over $250) and even prison, the prime minister said.  Madbouli also announced that cabinet members will take a 20 percent salary cut for three months, and allocate that sum to underprivileged Egyptians.   Egypt's health ministry has so far declared 94 fatalities out of 1,450 confirmed cases of COVID-19.   Authorities have in recent weeks carried out sweeping disinfection operations at archaeological sites, museums and other sites across the country.   In tandem, strict social distancing measures were imposed to reduce the risk of contagion among the country's 100 million inhabitants.
Date: Wed, 8 Apr 2020 15:46:57 +0200 (METDST)

Beirut, April 8, 2020 (AFP) - Millions in Lebanon risk food insecurity due to a coronavirus lockdown unless the government provides urgent assistance, Human Rights Watch warned Wednesday.   Lebanon in mid-March ordered residents to stay at home and all non-essential businesses to close to halt the spread of COVID-19, which has officially infected 575 people and killed 19 nationwide.   Before the pandemic erupted, Lebanon was struggling with its worst economic crisis in decades, with 45 percent of the population facing poverty according to official estimates.   Lockdown measures to slow the spread of the virus have made matters worse with "millions of Lebanon's residents... at risk of going hungry", HRW said in a statement.

Lebanon is home to 4.5 million people, and also hosts around 1.5 million Syrians who have fled the nine-year war next door, most of whom rely on aid to survive.   "The lockdown... has compounded the poverty and economic hardship rampant in Lebanon before the virus arrived," said HRW senior researcher Lena Simet.    "Many people who had an income have lost it, and if the government does not step in, more than half the population may not be able to afford food and basic necessities."

The economic crisis since last year had already caused many people to lose their jobs or take salary cuts, and stay-at-home measures to counter the virus have now prevented even more from earning a wage.   Media has carried reports of a taxi driver who set his car on fire after security forces fined him for breaking the lockdown rules.   And an unemployed Lebanese construction worker unable to afford rent offered to sell his kidney, in an image widely shared online.   HRW Lebanon researcher Aya Majzoub said many families are struggling due to a lack of savings.

The government has said it will pay out 400,000 Lebanese pounds (less than $150 at the market rate) to the most vulnerable.   HRW said the government should also consider suspending rent and mortgage payments throughout the lockdown.   Majzoub said Syrian refugees were also affected.   "Many of them were seasonal workers -- they worked in agriculture, they worked in the service industry -- and they're not able to do that anymore," she said.   But their ability to cope will depend largely on international aid, as before the pandemic.

The World Bank last week said it had re-allocated $40 million from its support to Lebanon's health sector to fight the virus, including for tests and ventilators.   And it has also been discussing "assistance to help mitigate the impact of the economic and financial crisis on the poor through emergency social safety nets", World Bank spokeswoman Zeina El-Khalil told AFP in March.    On Monday, Lebanon's President Michel Aoun urged the international community to provide financial assistance to back economic reforms.
Date: Wed, 8 Apr 2020 15:13:03 +0200 (METDST)

Dublin, April 8, 2020 (AFP) - Irish police set up nationwide traffic checkpoints on Wednesday, armed with new powers to enforce a lockdown designed to stem the spread of the coronavirus.   Emergency legislation passed in the Irish parliament two weeks ago allows the government to curb non-essential travel during the crisis.

People violating the ban risk a fine of up to 2,500 euros ($2,700) and/or six months in prison.   "The regulations now are in effect," Garda -- Irish police -- commissioner Drew Harris said at a press conference.   "People only should be moving if they have an essential reason to move throughout country. What we'll be doing is making sure that movement is essential."

Over 2,500 officers will be involved in the operation at any one time as it runs from noon Wednesday until midnight on Sunday, with an extension possible.   "It will involve thousands of checkpoints every day," police said in a statement. The roadblocks have been put in place ahead of Easter holidays, traditionally used as an occasion for travel in Ireland.

Harris said nationwide compliance with the ban on movement -- which allows for exercise within two kilometres of home -- had been strong.   But there is a "small minority and perhaps... an increasing number" in breach of the government order.   There have been 210 COVID-19 related deaths and 5,709 confirmed cases of the virus in Ireland according to health department figures released Tuesday.
Date: Wed, 8 Apr 2020 13:24:23 +0200 (METDST)

Tehran, April 8, 2020 (AFP) - Iran on Wednesday reported 121 new deaths from the novel coronavirus, bringing its overall number of fatalities to 3,993.   In the past 24 hours, 1,997 new cases of COVID-19 infection were detected in Iran, state news agency IRNA quoted health ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour as saying.   That put the number of confirmed cases at 64,586, he added.

Iran, which announced its first COVID-19 cases on February 19, is by far the worst hit by the pandemic in the Middle East, according to official tolls.   But there has been speculation abroad that the real number of deaths and infections in the country could be higher.   Jahanpour said that while 3,956 patients were in critical condition, those who recovered had reached 29,812.   The spokesman added that Iran had carried out 220,975 COVID-19 tests to date, according to IRNA.   In a bid to halt COVID-19, Iran has ordered the closure of non-essential businesses and imposed inter-city travel bans, while refraining from a lockdown.

Iran's President Hassan Rouhani said a "second wave" of the fight against the coronavirus would start from Saturday, and that it would be more difficult.   "Low-risk" businesses would be allowed to reopen from Saturday, he said, because "we want to continue economic activities as much as possible while fighting coronavirus at the same time".   The decision to reopen businesses has drawn criticism from health experts and even some government officials.   But Rouhani said "there is no other way".
Date: Wed, 8 Apr 2020 13:14:26 +0200 (METDST)
By Robbie COREY-BOULET

Addis Ababa, April 8, 2020 (AFP) - Ethiopia on Wednesday declared a state of emergency to fight the coronavirus pandemic, which has so far infected 55 people and resulted in two deaths there.    It is the first state of emergency announced under Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who came to power in 2018 and won last year's Nobel Peace Prize in part for expanding political freedoms in the authoritarian nation.    "Because the coronavirus pandemic is getting worse, the Ethiopian government has decided to declare a state of emergency under Article 93 of the constitution," Abiy said in a statement.     "I call upon everybody to stand in line with government bodies and others that are trying to overcome this problem," he added, warning of "grave legal measures" against anyone who undermines the fight against the pandemic.

It was not immediately clear how the state of emergency would affect day-to-day life in Ethiopia.   The government has so far refrained from imposing a lockdown similar to those in effect elsewhere in the region, including in Rwanda, Uganda and Mauritius.

According to the country's constitution, under a state of emergency the Council of Ministers has "all necessary power to protect the country's peace and sovereignty" and can suspend some "political and democratic rights".    The constitution also says lawmakers need to approve a state of emergency, which can last for six months and be extended every four months after that.

Wednesday's decree is likely to "beef up security operations with a greater role for the ederal government, including the military," said William Davison, Ethiopia analyst for the International Crisis Group, a conflict-prevention organisation.    "While this approach is understandable given the situation, it is critical that there is transparency over the government's extra powers and that there is adequate monitoring of implementation," Davison said.

-Opposition challenges move-
Since reporting its first COVID-19 case on March 13, Ethiopia has closed land borders and schools, freed thousands of prisoners to ease overcrowding, sprayed main streets in the capital with disinfectant, and discouraged large gatherings.    But Abiy said over the weekend that a harsher lockdown would be unrealistic given that there are "many citizens who don't have homes" and "even those who have homes have to make ends meet daily."    Jawar Mohammed, a leading opposition politician, said Wednesday this called into question why a state of emergency was necessary.   "Officials have been saying the country is too poor to stop population movement. So why do you need a state of emergency if you are not planning to impose stricter rules?" Jawar told AFP.

During consultations with Abiy earlier this week, the opposition Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) voiced worries that a state of emergency would lead to human rights abuses -- a well-documented problem under previous states of emergency imposed during several years of anti-government protests that swept Abiy to power.    "We explained our concern that the state of emergency has been initiated several times and it has been abused to violate the rights of citizens and other political activists," OLF chairman Dawud Ibsa told AFP.   It's also unclear how the state of emergency might affect planning for hotly-anticipated general elections in Ethiopia.

The country's electoral board announced last week that voting planned for August would need to be postponed because of the pandemic.    It did not provide a timeline for when the elections would ultimately be held, and lawmakers' constitutional mandates expire in October.   Davison, with the International Crisis Group, said the state of emergency could be used "to formally postpone elections" past that deadline, though such a move risks sparking opposition backlash.    "It is therefore essential that the government works with opposition parties on managing this constitutionally sensitive period and making new electoral arrangements," Davison said.
Date: Wed, 8 Apr 2020 13:08:25 +0200 (METDST)

Madrid, April 8, 2020 (AFP) - Spain recorded Wednesday a second successive daily rise in coronavirus-related deaths with 757 fatalities, lifting the total toll in Europe's second-hardest-hit country after Italy by 5.5 percent to 14,555.   The number of new infections rose by 4.4 percent to 146,690, the health ministry said, as Spain has ramped up its testing for the disease.   The number of daily deaths, which peaked on Thursday at 950, rose for the first time on Tuesday after falling for four straight days.

But the rate of increase in both deaths and new infections on Wednesday was largely in line with that recorded the previous day, and half of what was recorded just a week ago.   "We have consolidated the slowdown in the spread of the virus," Health Minister Salvador Illa tweeted after the latest figures were published.   The Spanish government on March 14 imposed one of the toughest lockdowns in Europe to curb the spread of the virus, with people allowed out of their homes only to work, buy food and seek medical care.

The pandemic has stretched the country's public healthcare system close to breaking point, with a shortage of intensive care beds and equipments, but in recent days hospitals have said the situation has improved.   "We have observed a de-escalation at this hospital in particular, and I believe at all hospitals," the spokesman for the Hospital Severo Ochoa in Leganes near Madrid, Jorge Rivera, told AFP.   "We can't let down our guard, emergency services are now working below their full capacity and are working well, they are not saturated and overcrowded but it does not mean that we can relax and go to the emergency ward because you have an ailment."