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Laos

Laos - US Consular Information Sheet
March 27, 2008
COUNTRY DESCRIPTION: The Lao People's Democratic Republic (Laos) is a poor, developing country ruled by an authoritarian, Communist, one-party government. Political power is centralized in the
Lao People's Revolutionary Party. Services and facilities for tourists are adequate in the capital, Vientiane, and the UNESCO World Heritage town of Luang Prabang, but are extremely limited in other parts of the country. Read the Department of State Background Notes on Laos for additional information.

ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS:
A passport and visa are required. The Lao Ministry of Foreign Affairs states that visas can be issued upon arrival in Laos to U.S. citizen tourists with two passport-size photographs and $35 at the following ports of entry: Wattay Airport, Vientiane; Friendship Bridge, Vientiane, Pakse and Luang Prabang Airports; Boten-Bohan and Vangtao-Chong Mek. Persons who obtain entry visas prior to their arrival in Laos may also enter at the following international entry points: Huaixay, Khammouane-Nakhonphanom, Savannakhet-Mukdahan, Daensayanh-Laobao, Namphao-Kaopae, and Namkan. Foreign tourists are generally admitted to Laos for 30 days. The Department of Immigration in Vientiane will extend 30-day tourist visas up to an additional 60 days for a fee of $2 per day. Foreigners who overstay their visas in Laos risk arrest and upon departure will be fined $10 for each day of overstay.
The Lao government requires payment of visa fees and fines in U.S. dollars. Thai baht and Lao kip may sometimes be accepted for the fees, but at unfavorable exchange rates.

Foreign tourists who wish to obtain a visa in advance may contact a Lao embassy or consulate. In the United States, visas and further information about Lao entry requirements can be obtained directly from the Embassy of the Lao People's Democratic Republic, 2222 S St. NW, Washington DC 20008, tel: 202-332-6416, fax: 202-332-4923.

Business visas can only be arranged in advance; a company or individual “sponsor” must contact the Lao Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) in Vientiane and request a visa for the traveler by offering a “guarantee.” Once this request is approved by the MFA, the approval will be communicated to the Lao Embassy in Washington, DC and the U.S. traveler may then apply for the business visa. This process normally takes 1-3 months. After the traveler’s arrival, these visas can usually be extended for one month.

U.S. citizens should not attempt to enter Laos without valid travel documents or outside of official ports of entry. Travelers should not cross the border between Laos and Thailand along the Mekong River except at official immigration check crossings. Unscrupulous travel agents have sold U.S.-citizen travelers false Lao visas, which have resulted in those travelers being denied entry into Laos. Persons attempting to enter Laos outside of official ports of entry risk arrest or other serious consequences.
Immigration offices at some of the less-used land border crossing points are not well marked. Travelers should make sure that they complete immigration and customs formalities when they enter Laos. Travelers who enter Laos without completing these formalities may be subject to fine, detention, imprisonment, and/or deportation.

In an effort to prevent international child abduction, many governments have initiated procedures at entry/exit points. These often include requiring documentary evidence of relationship, such as the child’s birth certificate, and permission for the child's travel from the parent(s) or legal guardian not present. Having such documentation on hand, even if not required, may facilitate entry/departure.

At Wattay Airport (Vientiane), Pakse Airport and the Luang Prabang Airport, there is an international airport departure tax of US$10. This tax may be included in the price of the airline ticket, depending on the carrier.
At the Friendship Bridge (Vientiane, Laos - Nong Khai, Thailand border crossing) there is an overtime fee after 4:00 pm weekdays and during weekends. Visit the web site of the Embassy of Laos in the Untied States at: http://www.laoembassy.com for the more visa information.

Information about dual nationality or the prevention of international child abduction can be found on our web site.
For further information about customs regulations, please read our Customs Information sheet.

SAFETY AND SECURITY:
In recent years (2003-2005), there were periodic incidents of attacks on buses and other vehicles that killed 22 people; small bombings in public places; and other incidents of violence by anti-government forces. In 2007, the Embassy received reports from multiple sources of sporadic fighting between Lao Government forces and unidentified opponents in the area of Vang Vieng in northern Vientiane Province and in Bokeo Province. The Department of State recommends that U.S. citizens traveling or residing in Laos exercise caution in public places and be alert to their surroundings, since the locations of future violent incidents are unpredictable.
Travelers are advised to be cautious when traveling the roads of Laos and to check with local authorities, transport companies, other travelers, and/or the Embassy regarding any recent developments prior to travel. Road obstacles such as changes in surface conditions due to the weather occur frequently.

The Lao Government security forces often stop and check all transport on main roads. Travelers should comply with requests to stop at checkpoints and roadblocks.
U.S. citizens, especially those considering travel outside urban centers, are advised to contact relevant Lao government offices, such as Lao Immigration Police Headquarters in Vientiane, the Lao Tourist Police, local police and customs offices, or contact the U.S. Embassy for the most current security information. To avoid trouble with the authorities, U.S. citizens traveling outside of normal tourist areas or contemplating any unusual activity (including, but not limited to, engaging in business, extensive photography, or scientific research of any kind) should consider seeking advance permission from the Village Chief, District Head, Provincial Governor, or National Tourism Authority, as appropriate.

More than 100 casualties per year are caused by the large amount of unexploded ordnance (UXO) in Laos left over from the Indochina War. Savannakhet, Xieng Khouang, Saravane, Khammouane, Sekong, Champassak, Houaphan, Attapeu, and Luang Prabang Provinces and parts of Vientiane Province are severely contaminated by UXO. In addition, numerous mine fields are left over from the war, including mine fields along Route 7 (from Route 13 to the Vietnam border), Route 9 (Savannakhet to the Vietnam border), and Route 20 (Pakse to Saravane). While traveling in Laos, U.S. citizens should never pick up unknown metal objects and should avoid traveling off of well-used roads, tracks and paths.

U.S. citizens considering travel by air, road or river within Laos are advised to carefully evaluate the relative risks of the three modes of transport (see sections on Aviation Safety Oversight, Traffic Safety, and River Travel below). Travelers should also exercise caution if contemplating swimming in rivers in Laos. Currents can be deceptive and strong.

The whereabouts of three Hmong-American men who went missing in August 2007 after reportedly going on a business trip to Xieng Khouang Province remains unknown. The Government of Laos stated that the three departed Laos, but none of the three has contacted family members in the U.S. since they were last seen in 2007.

U.S. citizens are also advised to exercise caution in remote areas along the Lao border with Burma. Bandits, drug traffickers, and other people pursuing illegal activities operate in these border areas, as do armed insurgent groups opposed to the government of Burma.
Travelers should be aware that from 2004 to 2006, seven Lao- and Hmong-American citizens have been murdered in northern and northeastern Thailand near the border with Laos.
During the same period, a number of non-Americans with ties to Laos have also been murdered in this region of Thailand. In addition, in March 2006 a Hmong-American disappeared from his residence in Chiang Mai along with seven other individuals. In most of these cases, no arrests have been made.
If U.S. citizens, particularly Lao-Americans or Hmong-Americans, must travel to these areas, they should exercise caution and remain vigilant with regard to their personal security. It is also recommended that persons wishing to travel to border areas check first with the Thai Police and the U.S. Consulate General in Chiang Mai or the U.S. Embassy in Bangkok or the U.S. Embassy in Vientiane.
For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs’ web site at http://travel.state.gov, where the current Travel Warnings and Travel Alerts, as well as the Worldwide Caution, can be found.

Up-to-date information on safety and security can also be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll free in the U.S. and Canada, or for callers outside the U.S. and Canada, a regular toll-line at 1-202-501-4444.
These numbers are available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays).

The Department of State urges American citizens to take responsibility for their own personal security while traveling overseas.
For general information about appropriate measures travelers can take to protect themselves in an overseas environment, see the Department of State’s pamphlet A Safe Trip Abroad.
CRIME:
While Laos generally has a low rate of violent crime, it is not immune from crime. While in Laos, Americans should remain aware of their surroundings and exercise appropriate security precautions. With the introduction of methamphetamines and other illicit drugs, thefts and assaults in Vientiane have increased and some have turned violent.
Bag-snatching is increasingly frequent and sexual assaults have also occurred. Residential burglary is commonplace. Expatriates attempting to report burglaries in progress to the police often find that police telephones are not answered or they are informed that the police are not authorized to respond to criminal activity at night or that they have no transportation. U.S. citizens who move to Vientiane are encouraged to contact the U.S. Embassy for security advice.

Travelers in Vientiane should exercise caution, particularly after dark, at roadside restaurants and stalls near the banks of the Mekong River. Foreigners are often the victims of purse snatchings while sitting down to eat or while riding bicycles or motorcycles in this area. To help ensure the security of valuables and documents carried on their person, travelers may wish to carry them in bags that cannot be easily stolen. U.S. citizens traveling to Vang Vieng should be aware that some tourists have been robbed and assaulted while walking alone to the caves on the far side of the Nam Song River.
Camping at night anywhere except in authorized campgrounds in national parks is dangerous.
Many restaurants in popular tourist locations in the Vang Vieng area offer menu items, particularly “pizzas,” “shakes” or “teas” which may contain unknown substances or opiates. These products are often advertised as “happy” or “special” items. These unknown foods and drinks can be dangerous, causing illness and death.

INFORMATION FOR VICTIMS OF CRIME:
The loss or theft abroad of a U.S. passport should be reported immediately to the local police and the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. If you are the victim of a crime while overseas, in addition to reporting to local police, please contact the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate for assistance. The Embassy/Consulate staff can, for example, assist you to find appropriate medical care, contact family members or friends and explain how funds could be transferred. Although the investigation and prosecution of the crime is solely the responsibility of local authorities, consular officers can help you to understand the local criminal justice process and to find an attorney if needed.
See our information on Victims of Crime.

MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION:
Medical facilities and services in Laos are limited and do not meet Western standards. In Vientiane, U.S. citizens may wish to contact the Primary Care Center also known as the Centre medical de L’Ambassade de France (CMAF), which is supported by the French Embassy.
The CMAF is located on Khou Vieng Road across the street from the Green Park Hotel, Tel. +856-21-214-150, or +856-20-558-4617, email: cmafloa@gmail.com.
U.S. citizens in Laos often seek medical care in Thailand. The Friendship Bridge linking Vientiane, Laos, to Nong Khai, Thailand, is open daily 6:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. Officials generally will allow travelers to cross after hours in cases of medical emergency. AEK International Hospital (tel: 66-42-342-555) and North Eastern Wattana General Hospital, both in Udorn, Thailand (tel: 66-1-833-4262) have English-speaking staff accustomed to dealing with foreign patients. Nong Khai Wattana Hospital in Nong Khai, Thailand (tel: 66-1-833-4262) can handle most simple medical procedures. Ambulances for both AEK International Hospital and Nong Khai Wattana Hospital have permission to cross the Friendship Bridge to collect patients from Vientiane. In Vientiane, the Setthatirat Hospital ambulance (tel: 021-413-720) can take patients to Thailand. The Department of State assumes no responsibility for the professional ability or reputation of these hospitals.

Avian Influenza:
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the World Health Organization (WHO), and Lao authorities have confirmed the presence in Laos of the H5N1 strain of avian influenza, commonly known as “bird flu.” In 2007, two Lao nationals died after contracting the H4N1 virus. Travelers to Laos and other countries affected by the virus are cautioned to avoid poultry farms, contact with animals in live food markets, and any surfaces that appear to be contaminated with feces from poultry or other animals. In addition, the CDC and WHO recommend eating only fully cooked poultry and eggs. The Lao government’s avian influenza hotline may be reached by calling 166 from anywhere in Laos.
This hotline may be used to report suspected cases of avian influenza in animals or humans, or to obtain information on areas in Laos where avian influenza may have been recently detected.
Operators speak Lao and English.
For the most current information and links on avian influenza in Laos, see the State Department’s Avian Influenza Fact Sheet or visit the website of the U.S. Embassy in Laos.

There is a problem with counterfeit pharmaceuticals throughout Southeast Asia. American citizens should be aware of this problem and purchase pharmaceuticals only through the most reputable pharmacies with a physician’s prescription.

Information on vaccinations and other health precautions, such as safe food and water precautions and insect bite protection, may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s hotline for international travelers at 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747) or via the CDC’s web site at http://wwwn.cdc.gov/travel/default.aspx.
For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad consult the World Health Organization’s (WHO) web site at http://www.who.int/en.
Further health information for travelers is available at http://www.who.int/ith/en.

MEDICAL INSURANCE:
The Department of State strongly urges Americans to consult with their medical insurance company prior to traveling abroad to confirm whether their policy applies overseas and whether it will cover emergency expenses such as a medical evacuation. Please see our information on medical insurance overseas.

TRAFFIC SAFETY AND ROAD CONDITIONS: While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. The information below concerning Laos is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.

The number of road accidents and fatalities in Laos has risen sharply in the last decade as the number of motor vehicles has increased. U.S. citizens involved in traffic accidents have been barred from leaving Laos before paying compensation for property damage or injuries, regardless of who was at fault.
A driver involved in a traffic accident should remain at the scene and attempt to contact the police or wait for them to arrive to prepare an accident report.
If renting a car or motorcycle, contact the rental company and its insurance agent.
If there is major damage, injury or death, contact the Consular Section or Embassy Duty Officer.

Traffic in Laos is chaotic and road conditions are very rough. Few roads have lane markings. Where lane markings, road signs, and stoplights do exist, they are widely ignored. Many drivers are unlicensed, inexperienced and uninsured. Driving under the influence of alcohol or illegal drugs is not uncommon, and penalties for such offenses may not be enforced. Theoretically, traffic moves on the right, but vehicles use all parts of the road. Motorcyclists pay little or no heed to cars. Motorcycles carry as many as five people, greatly impeding the drivers' ability to react to traffic. The evening hours are particularly dangerous. Road construction sites are poorly marked, appear with no advance warning, and can be difficult to see at night. Roads are poorly lit, many vehicles have no operating lights, few bicycles have reflectors, and trucks without reflectors commonly park on unlit roads.

Public transportation is unreliable and is limited after sunset. The most common form of public transport is three-wheeled, open-sided taxis called "tuk-tuks.” Automobile taxis or cars for hire are available at the airport, the Friendship Bridge, and most major hotels, and near the Morning Market in Vientiane. Tuk-tuks and taxis are frequently in poor repair, and drivers generally speak little or no English. Inter-city transport is provided by buses, pickups, and trucks, which are also often in poor repair.

Emergency services in Laos are either unreliable or non-existent. Lao road traffic regulations require any driver coming upon a road accident to assist in transporting injured persons to a hospital. Emergency telephone numbers in Vientiane are Fire: 190, Ambulance: 195 or 021-413-720, Traffic Police: 191, Tourist Police: 021-251-128 (only for incidents involving tourists). Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information.

AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT:
As there is no direct commercial air service to the United States by carriers registered in Laos, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not assessed the Lao Civil Aviation Authority for compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards. For more information, travelers may visit the FAA’s web site at http://www.faa.gov/safety/programs_initiatives/oversight/iasa.

SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES:
TRAVEL OF FOREIGNERS WITHIN LAOS:
The Lao tourist police have informed foreign tourists that a licensed Lao tour guide must accompany any group of more than 5 foreign tourists; however, this regulation does not appear to be strictly enforced.
The authorities may restrict travel in rural areas outside of popular tourist destinations. Restricted areas may not be marked or even widely known by local citizens. If traveling without a reputable tour guide who is aware of local conditions, travelers should consult with local authorities before entering remote areas away from obvious tourist destinations.
Lao citizens who wish to have a foreign citizen -- including a family member -- stay in their home must obtain prior approval from the village chief. The foreigner may be held responsible if the Lao host has not secured prior permission for the visit. American citizens are strongly advised to ensure that such permission has been sought and granted before accepting offers to stay in Lao homes.
Security personnel may at times place foreign visitors under surveillance. Hotel rooms, telephones and fax machines may be monitored, and personal possessions in hotel rooms may be searched. Taking photographs of anything that could be perceived as being of military or security interest may result in problems with the local authorities. See Section below on Photography and Other Restrictions.

RELATIONSHIPS WITH LAO CITIZENS:
Lao law prohibits sexual contact between foreign citizens and Lao nationals except when the two parties have been married in accordance with Lao Family Law. Any foreigner who enters into a sexual relationship with a Lao national risks being interrogated, detained, arrested, or fined. Lao police have confiscated passports and imposed fines of up to $5000 on foreigners who enter into disapproved sexual relationships. The Lao party to the relationship may also be jailed without trial. Foreigners are not permitted to invite Lao nationals of the opposite sex to their hotel rooms; police may raid hotel rooms without notice or consent.

Foreign citizens intending to marry Lao nationals are required by Lao law to obtain prior permission from the Lao Government. The formal application process can take as long as a year. American citizens may obtain information about these requirements from the U.S. Embassy in Vientiane. The Lao Government will not issue a marriage certificate unless the correct procedures are followed. Any attempt to circumvent Lao regulations may result in arrest, imprisonment, a fine of $500-$5000, and deportation. A foreigner who cohabits with or enters into a close relationship with a Lao national may be accused by Lao authorities of entering into an illegal marriage and be subject to these same penalties.
A foreign citizen who wishes to become engaged to a Lao national is required to obtain prior permission from the chief of the village where the Lao national resides. Failure to obtain prior permission can result in a fine of $500-$5000. Lao police may impose a large fine on a foreign citizen a few days after he or she holds an engagement ceremony with a Lao citizen based on the suspicion that the couple subsequently had sexual relations out of wedlock.

MARRIAGE:
A Lao Prime Ministerial decree requires that marriages of Lao citizens abroad be registered with Lao embassies in order to be legal in Laos. If an American citizen marries a Lao citizen in the U.S. and then the couple comes to Laos, the American could be subject to penalties under the Lao law governing sexual relationships (above) if the marriage has not been registered beforehand with a Lao Embassy.

RELIGIOUS WORKERS:
Religious proselytizing or distributing religious material is strictly prohibited. Foreigners caught distributing religious material may be arrested or deported. The Government of Laos restricts the importation of religious texts and artifacts. While Lao law allows freedom of religion, the Government registers and controls all associations, including religious groups. Meetings, even in private homes, must be registered and those held outside of established locations may be broken up and the participants arrested.

RIVER TRAVEL:
River travel is common in Laos, but safety conditions do not conform to U.S. standards. In particular, travel by speedboat (local term “fast boat”) is dangerous and should be avoided, particularly during the dry season, which generally occurs from December through April. Travel on or across the Mekong River along the Thai border should be avoided at night. Lao militia forces have shot at boats on the Mekong after dark. Several people have drowned during the rainy season while inner-tubing or swimming in the Nam Song River near Vang Vieng.

PHOTOGRAPHY AND OTHER RESTRICTIONS:
Taking photographs of anything that could be perceived as being of military or security interest — including bridges, airfields, military installations, government buildings, or government vehicles — may result in problems with authorities, including detention or arrest and confiscation of the camera. Tourists should be cautious when traveling near military bases and strictly observe signs delineating the military base areas. Military personnel have detained and questioned foreigners who have unknowingly passed by unmarked military facilities.
Because of the prohibition on religious proselytizing, travelers should use caution when taking photographs or videotaping non-Buddhist religious services. If attending public services or religious gatherings, foreigners should ask permission from the local police and civil authorities to photograph or videotape. See section above on Religious Workers. Local police may suspect persons using any kind of very sophisticated still or video camera equipment of being professional photographers or possibly photojournalists which may lead to questioning, detention, arrest or deportation by the police.

FINANCIAL TRANSACTIONS:
There are network-connected ATMs in Vientiane, including those operated by the Foreign Commercial Bank of Laos, also know as the Banque Pour le Commerce Exterieur de Laos (BCEL). BCEL also has network-connected ATMS in Vang Vieng, and the Provincial capital cities, or “Muang”, of Luangnamtha, Oudomxay, Luangprabang, Khammouan, Savannakhet, and Champasak Provinces.
These machines are generally limited to withdrawals of the equivalent of about $100.00 in Lao kip only. Credit cards are accepted at major hotels and tourist-oriented businesses. Credit card cash advances and/or Western Union money transfers are available at banks in most provincial capitals and other tourist centers. While the government requires that prices be quoted in Lao kip, prices are often given in U.S. dollars or Thai baht, especially in tourist areas or at markets. The Lao Government requires payment in U.S. dollars for some taxes and fees, including visa fees and the airport departure tax.

CUSTOMS/CURRENCY REGULATIONS:
Lao customs authorities may enforce strict regulations concerning temporary importation into or export from Laos of items such as firearms, religious materials, antiquities, foreign currency, cameras and other items. It is advisable to contact the Embassy of the Lao People's Democratic Republic in Washington for specific information regarding customs requirements. (Please also see section on “Religious Workers” above). There are prohibitions against importing or exporting more than $2500 (U.S. dollar equivalent) of currency without authorization. Contact the Lao Embassy or Lao customs authorities for more details. In many countries around the world, counterfeit and pirated goods are widely available. Transactions involving such products are illegal and bringing them back to the United States may result in forfeitures and/or fines.
Please see our Customs Information.

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

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

REGISTRATION/EMBASSY LOCATION:
Americans living or traveling in Laos are encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate through the State Department’s travel registration web site so that they can obtain updated information on travel and security within Laos. Americans without Internet access may register directly with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. By registering, American citizens make it easier for the Embassy or Consulate to contact them in case of emergency. The U.S. Embassy is located on Rue Bartholonie (near Tat Dam), in Vientiane; from the U.S., mail may be addressed to U.S. Embassy Vientiane, Unit 8165, Box V, APO AP 96546; Telephone (856-21) 267-000, recorded emergency information for American citizens (856-21) 267-111; duty officer emergency cellular telephone (856-20) 550-2016; Embassy-wide fax number (856-21) 267-190; Consular Section e-mail: CONSLAO@state.gov, Embassy web site: http://laos.usembassy.gov/.
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This replaces the Country Specific Information for Laos dated September 5, 2007, to update sections on Entry/Exit Requirements, Safety and Security, Traffic Safety and Road Conditions, and Financial Transactions.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Thu, 21 Nov 2019 01:34:32 +0100 (MET)

Bangkok, Nov 21, 2019 (AFP) - A 6.1-magnitude earthquake hit north-western Laos near the Thai border early Thursday, the United States Geological Survey reported.    The shallow quake hit at 6:50 am local time (2350 Wednesday GMT), USGS said. 
Date: Thu, 31 Oct 2019 09:40:50 +0100 (MET)

Loei, Thailand, Oct 31, 2019 (AFP) - The once-mighty Mekong river has been reduced to a thin, grubby neck of water in stretches of northern Thailand -- record lows blamed on drought and a recently completed dam far upstream.   The $4.47 billion Thai-owned Xayaburi hydro-electric power plant went into operation this week in Laos after years of warnings over the potential impact on fish flow, sediment and water levels on a river which feeds tens of millions.

Along parts of Thailand's northeastern border at Loei, the kilometre-wide (3,300-foot) river has shrivelled to a few dozen metres, with boulders and bedrock encasing muddy pools of water.   From above, the encroaching banks of Laos and Thailand are now a thread of water apart, restricting fishing grounds to a slim channel.   Fishermen blame a combination of this year's weak monsoon and the Xayaburi dam, around 300 kilometres (185 miles) to the north.   "I don't want any more dam construction," said fisherman Sup Aunkaew, who tossed a meagre catch into his boat, adding that the fish spawning habits have been "confused" by the unseasonally low water levels.   "But we can't really oppose their plans if they want to do it."

Landlocked and impoverished Laos has set its sights on becoming "the battery of Asia", with 44 operating hydro plants and 46 more under construction many on key tributaries of the Mekong, according to monitor International Rivers.  The Mekong River Commission (MRC), a body governing regional water diplomacy, said the water levels from June to October are the lowest in nearly 30 years.   In Nong Khai, which faces the Laos' capital Vientiane, the water dropped to around one metre (3.2 feet) on Tuesday, several times shallower than average, the MCR said.   Measurements across the river "are significantly below the minimum levels for this time of year and are expected to decreases further", it said in a statement to AFP.   "The concern is for the upcoming dry season."

- 'Death of a thousand cuts' -
Experts say the dam-building frenzy in China and Laos has compounded the drought.   "These are causing the Mekong to die a death of a thousand cuts," said Brian Eyler, author of "The Last Days of the Mighty Mekong".   He said the lower part of the river is at a "crisis point" until rains come again next year.   The Mekong, which rises on the Tibetan plateau and courses through China, Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam -- sustains tens of millions of people along its banks through fishing and agriculture. 

The 1,285-megawatt Xayaburi dam was built by CKPower -- a subsidiary of the Thai builder and majority shareholder CH Karnchang -- which went ahead with construction despite protests in Thailand, which is buying most of the electricity.   As it began operations the company plastered Thai newspapers with advertising this week referring to the "greatness of the Mekong" and calling the dam "fish riendly".   It did not respond to several requests for comment but the company has trumpeted its commitment to clean, sustainable energy.   In July the dam operator denied tests on the mega-structure were responsible for the river drying up downstream in northeastern Thailand.
Date: Tue, 20 Aug 2019 05:21:07 +0200 (METDST)

Bangkok, Aug 20, 2019 (AFP) - At least 13 Chinese tourists were killed and dozens injured when their bus skidded off the road and plunged 30 metres into a ravine in Laos, a police officer said Tuesday.   The bus was carrying more than 40 Chinese nationals heading towards the tourist town of Luang Prabang when the accident occurred late on Monday.   "At this moment, 13 bodies have been recovered... while two are still missing," police officer Xaiyaphon Chitavong told AFP, blaming brake failure for the accident.   He added that 31 people were receiving medical treatment.    Chinese state media showed photos of rescuers wading through ankle-deep floodwaters.

Traffic accidents in Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Myanmar are common, with safety regulations often flouted and law enforcement low.    The monsoon season from June to October also drenches rural roads with heavy rains creating slippery conditions.   Tourism to communist-run Laos has grown in recent years, and visitors from China increased by 13 percent in the first half of 2019 compared to the year before, according to the state-backed Vientiane Times.
Date: Sat, 28 Jul 2018 13:48:53 +0200

Attapeu , Laos, July 28, 2018 (AFP) - Rescuers battled thick mud and flood waters across a swathe of remote southern Laos to find survivors of a deadly dam burst that submerged entire villages, as an official suggested faulty construction may have led to the disaster.   The exact number of dead and missing from Monday's dam collapse remains a mystery because of the complexity of the rescue operation in an inaccessible area and the secretive reflexes of Laos's Communist authorities in the face of an unprecedented crisis.

"The search is very complicated, many areas cannot be accessed by cars or boats. Also we have limited modern equipment to bring to the field," deputy secretary of Attapeu province committee Meenaporn Chaichompoo told reporters Friday.   The head of the rescue mission Kumriang Authakaison said Saturday that eight people are confirmed dead, down from 27 reported by officials earlier this week. He added that 123 were confirmed missing.    But conflicting information swirled about how many remain unaccounted for after Chaichompoo said Friday "we can't find 1,126 people", without elaborating. 

Makeshift shelters are packed with thousands of people who fled their homes in panic with just a few hours' notice of the impending disaster, now spending their days on plastic mats waiting for news of missing neighbours.    All karaoke bars and entertainment venues were ordered tone down loud music and celebrations in the province as the nation mourned the calamity, the most devastating to hit Laos's contentious hydropower sector.

A stretch of land dozens of kilometres long and wide was submerged when the Xe-Namnoy dam collapsed after heavy rains.    Slowly retreating floodwaters have cut off access to villages and covered much of the area with thick, sticky mud.      "This is one of the worst (disasters) I've ever seen. Especially because we're not a very strong country in terms of rescue operations," a volunteer rescue worker told AFP, requesting anonymity as he was not authorised to speak to media.

- Poor construction? -
Days into the treacherous search for survivors, questions are being raised about the quality of the construction of the $1.2 billion dam, a joint venture between South Korean, Laotian and Thai firms.    Operators said it burst after heavy rains in a country regularly battered by monsoons.

But Laos Minister of Energy and Mines Khammany Inthirath said poor design may have contributed to the accident, according to state media and Radio Free Asia.   "It might be construction technique that led to the collapse after it was affected by the rain," he told RFA in an interview broadcast Friday.    One of the Korean firms involved in the project, SK Engineering & Construction, said it was investigating the cause of the dam break and would donate $10 million in relief aid.   The accident has kicked up criticism of Laos' ambitious dam-building scheme as it bids to become a major power exporter, billing itself the "battery of Asia" with more than 50 projects set to o online by 2020.     The majority of energy generated in the tiny, landlocked country is sold to its neighbours, mostly to Thailand where much of it is sucked up in the sweaty, energy-hungry capital Bangkok.

Villagers have complained of being relocated -- sometimes repeatedly -- while river waters crucial for fishing and farming have been diverted, destroying livelihoods in one of Asia's poorest countries.    Downstream countries like Cambodia and Vietnam also fret that their waterways and fishing stocks could be damaged by the hydopower boom in Laos.    The accident has prompted fears over the safety of other dams in the country.   "Most of the dams are built by foreign companies and Laos authorities don't have expert knowledge and management to check for weaknesses or problems, that's our worry," villager Si Wonghajak told AFP.
Date: Thu, 26 Jul 2018 13:09:09 +0200

Attapeu , Laos, July 26, 2018 (AFP) - The torrent of water unleashed in a deadly Laos dam collapse has drained into Cambodia, forcing thousands to evacuate, as rescuers on Thursday battled monsoon rains to find scores of Laotians still missing after entire villages were washed away.   Twenty-seven people have been confirmed dead, with 131 still missing, after the Xe-Namnoy dam collapsed on Monday in a remote southern corner of Laos, leaving villagers with little time to escape.   It is an unprecedented accident to strike the hydropower industry in Laos, where the Communist government has dammed large sections of its myriad waterways to generate electricity that is mostly sold to its neighbours.

The search and rescue effort entered a third day Thursday, with China, Vietnam and Thailand sending in specialists, while villagers picked through their wrecked, mud-caked homes for possessions as the flood waters receded.   Carcasses of livestock floated in the knee-deep waters in a devastated village visited by AFP, as heavy rain pounded the area.   Thousands of villagers downstream in Cambodia have also been forced to flee as the water once held back by the dam flowed south.   "Water is still rising, so more people will be evacuated," Men Kong, a government spokesman in Cambodia's Stung Streng province, told AFP.   Cambodian soldiers ferried villagers and motorbikes from flooded zones on wooden boats, while supplies were handed out to some who found refuge on dry land.

In Laos, Chinese rescuers in life jackets and helmets joined local soldiers searching for the missing Thursday, according to an AFP reporter at the scene, while community volunteers pitched in with private boats to return to villages still submerged.   Residents recalled their terror as water rushed through their homes.   Tran Van Bien, 47, from Ban Mai village close to the ruined dam said he was told to evacuate just two hours before the dam burst on Monday evening, running to a neighbour's house with his family as his home quickly filled with water.   "We were on the roof of that house the whole night, cold and scared. At 4:00 am a wooden boat passed and we decided to send my wife and my kid out," he told AFP from a nearby town where he eventually found dry land.   "My wife tied our child to her body, saying if they died, they would die together rather than being alone."

- 'Insufficient warning' -
The $1.2 billion Xe-Namnoy dam, a joint venture between Laos, Thai and Korean companies, was still under construction in southern Attapeu province when it collapsed after heavy rains pounded the area earlier this week.   Two South Korean companies involved in the project's construction and operation said damage was reported a day before the auxiliary "Saddle D" dam collapsed.   However a timeline from operator Korea Western Power Co. obtained by AFP said 11 centimetres (four inches) of subsidence was spotted at the dam's centre as early as Friday.   The company told AFP it could not yet determine the cause of the collapse.   "It is too early to define whether it was a natural disaster or a manmade disaster," a spokesman told AFP Thursday.

Thailand issued new regulations for its hydro plant operators in Laos this week, ordering companies to report on dam conditions every week and communicate closely with residents.    "If a dam plans to release water they must coordinate with local officials to warn people and to prevent people from panic at least seven days (in advance)," Thailand's Energy and Mining Minister Khammany Inthirath announced Wednesday.   Southeastern Laos is frequently lashed by monsoon rains, and dam operators regularly release water from reservoirs in order to avoid overflow -- or collapse.   The 410 MW Xe-Namnoy project is one of more than 50 hydropower plans underway in Laos, which has billed itself as the "battery of Asia" in its ambitious bid to become a major power exporter in the region.

Laos has said it wants to double its power generation capacity to 28,000 MW by 2020 and has opened its doors to foreign investors -- mainly from China, Thailand and Vietnam -- to build dams across the country.   But the projects have come under fire from rights groups who say local communities are forcibly moved and lose key access to river waters for farming and fishing.   "This tragedy has compounded their suffering," International Rivers said in a statement Thursday.   "Communities were not given sufficient advanced warning to ensure their safety and that of their families. This event raises major questions about dam standards and dam safety in Laos."
More ...

World Travel News Headlines

Date: Tue, 31 Mar 2020 10:27:16 +0200 (METDST)

Nairobi, March 31, 2020 (AFP) - Six of Africa's 54 nations are among the last in the world yet to report cases of the new coronavirus. The global pandemic has been confirmed in almost every country, but for a handful of far-flung tiny island states, war-torn Yemen and isolated North Korea.  In Africa authorities claim they are spared by god, or simply saved by low air traffic to their countries, however some fear it is lack of testing that is hiding the true impact.

- South Sudan -
The east African nation is barely emerging from six years of civil war and with high levels of hunger, illness and little infrastructure, observers fear the virus could wreak havoc.   Doctor Angok Gordon Kuol, one of those charged with overseeing the fight against the virus, said the country had only carried out 12 tests, none of which were positive.   He said the reason the virus has yet to reach South Sudan could be explained by the low volume of air traffic and travel to the country.   "Very few airlines come to South Sudan and most of the countries affected today they are affected by... people coming from abroad."   He said the main concern was foreigners working for the large NGO and humanitarian community, or people crossing land borders from neighbouring countries.   South Sudan has shut schools, banned gatherings such as weddings, funerals and sporting events and blocked flights from worst-affected countries. Non-essential businesses have been shuttered and movement restricted.   The country can currently test around 500 people and has one isolation centre with 24 beds.

- Burundi -
In Burundi, which is gearing up for general elections in May, authorities thank divine intervention for the lack of cases.   "The government thanks all-powerful God who has protected Burundi," government spokesman Prosper Ntahorwamiye said on national television last week.   At the same time he criticised those "spreading rumours" that Burundi is not capable of testing for the virus, or that it is spreading unnoticed.   Some measures have been taken, such as the suspension of international flights and placing handwashing stations at the entrances to banks and restaurants in Bujumbura.   However several doctors have expressed their concerns.   "There are zero cases in Burundi because there have been zero tests," a Burundian doctor said on condition of anonymity.

- Sao Tome and Principe -
Sao Tome and Principe -- a tiny nation of small islands covered in lush rainforest -- has reported zero cases because it is unable to test, according to World Health Organisation representative Anne Ancia.   However "we are continuing preparations," with around 100 people in quarantine after returning from highly-affected countries, and the WHO keeping an eye on cases of pneumonia.   With only four ICU beds for a population of 200,000 people, the country is desperate to not let the virus take hold and has already shut its borders despite the importance of tourism to the local economy.

- Malawi -
Malawi's health ministry spokesman Joshua Malango brushed aside fears that Malawi might not have registered any Covid-19 cases due to a lack of testing kits: "We have the testing kits in Malawi and we are testing."   Dr Bridget Malewezi from the Society of Medical Doctors told AFP that while "we may not be 100 percent ready", government was gearing up for the arrival of the virus.   She suggested it may only be a matter of time before the pandemic hits Malawi.    "It's only been in the past few weeks that it has been rampantly spreading across Africa so most people feel it will get here at some point...," she said.   Malawi has asked people coming from hard-hit countries to self-quarantine, which Malawezi said had helped "safeguard the country from any possible spread of the virus".

- Lesotho -
Tiny Lesotho, a kingdom encircled by South Africa with only two million inhabitants, went into national lockdown on Monday despite registering zero cases.   Until last week the country had no tests or testing centres, and received its first kits thanks to a donation by Chinese billionaire Jack Ma.   Authorities had reported eight suspected cases which they had not been able to test and the first results are expected soon.

- Comoros -
The Indian Ocean island nation of the Comoros, situated between Madagascar and Mozambique, has yet to detect a single case of the virus, according to the health ministry.   One doctor in the capital Moroni, Dr Abdou Ada, wonders if it may not be because of the wide use of the drug Artemisinin to treat malaria.   "I believe that the mass anti-malarial treatment explains the fact that the Comoros are, at least for now, spared from Covid-19. it is a personal belief that needs to be confirmed scientifically."
Date: Tue, 31 Mar 2020 09:50:04 +0200 (METDST)
By Sophie DEVILLER with Dene-Hern CHEN

Bangkok, March 31, 2020 (AFP) - Underfed and chained up for endless hours, many elephants working in Thailand's tourism sector may starve, be sold to zoos or be shifted into the illegal logging trade, campaigners warn, as the coronavirus decimates visitor numbers. Before the virus, life for the kingdom's estimated 2,000 elephants working in tourism was already stressful, with abusive methods often used to 'break them' into giving rides and performing tricks at money-spinning animal shows.   With global travel paralysed the animals are unable to pay their way, including the 300 kilograms (660 pounds) of food a day a captive elephant needs to survive.

Elephant camps and conservationists warn hunger and the threat of renewed exploitation lie ahead, without an urgent bailout. "My boss is doing what he can but we have no money," Kosin, a mahout -- or elephant handler -- says of the Chiang Mai camp where his elephant Ekkasit is living on a restricted diet.   Chiang Mai is Thailand's northern tourist hub, an area of rolling hills dotted by elephant camps and sanctuaries ranging from the exploitative to the humane.   Footage sent to AFP from another camp in the area shows lines of elephants tethered by a foot to wooden poles, some visibly distressed, rocking their heads back and forth.

Around 2,000 elephants are currently "unemployed" as the virus eviscerates Thailand's tourist industry, says Theerapat Trungprakan, president of the Thai Elephant Alliance Association. The lack of cash is limiting the fibrous food available to the elephants "which will have a physical effect", he added.  Wages for the mahouts who look after them have dropped by 70 percent.   Theerapat fears the creatures could soon be used in illegal logging activities along the Thai-Myanmar border -- in breach of a 30-year-old law banning the use of elephants to transport wood.  Others "could be forced (to beg) on the streets," he said. It is yet another twist in the saga of the exploitation of elephants, which animal rights campaigners have long been fighting to protect from the abusive tourism industry.

- 'Crisis point' -
For those hawking a once-in-a-lifetime experience with the giant creatures -- whether from afar or up close -- the slump began in late January.   Chinese visitors, who make up the majority of Thailand's 40 million tourists, plunged by more than 80 percent in February as China locked down cities hard-hit by the virus and banned external travel. By March, the travel restrictions into Thailand -- which has 1,388 confirmed cases of the virus -- had extended to Western countries.

With elephants increasingly malnourished due to the loss of income, the situation is "at a crisis point," says Saengduean Chailert, owner of Elephant Nature Park.   Her sanctuary for around 80 rescued pachyderms only allows visitors to observe the creatures, a philosophy at odds with venues that have them performing tricks and offering rides.   She has organised a fund to feed elephants and help mahouts in almost 50 camps nationwide, fearing the only options will soon be limited to zoos, starvation or logging work.  For those restrained by short chains all day, the stress could lead to fights breaking out, says Saengduean, of camps that can no longer afford medical treatment for the creatures.

Calls are mounting for the government to fund stricken camps to ensure the welfare of elephants. "We need 1,000 baht a day (about $30) for each elephant," says Apichet Duangdee, who runs the Elephant Rescue Park. Freeing his eight mammals rescued from circuses and loggers into the forests is out of the question as they would likely be killed in territorial fights with wild elephants. He is planning to take out a two million baht ($61,000) loan soon to keep his elephants fed.   "I will not abandon them," he added.
Date: Tue, 31 Mar 2020 07:10:34 +0200 (METDST)
By Bernadette Carreon

Koror, Palau, March 31, 2020 (AFP) - A coronavirus-free tropical island nestled in the northern Pacific may seem the perfect place to ride out a pandemic -- but residents on Palau say life right now is far from idyllic.   The microstate of 18,000 people is among a dwindling number of places on Earth that still report zero cases of COVID-19 as figures mount daily elsewhere.   The disparate group also includes Samoa, Turkmenistan, North Korea and bases on the frozen continent of Antarctica.

A dot in the ocean hundreds of kilometres from its nearest neighbours, Palau is surrounded by the vast Pacific, which has acted as a buffer against the virus.   Along with strict travel restrictions, this seems to have kept infections at bay for a number of nations including Tonga, the Solomons Islands, the Marshall Islands and Micronesia.   But remoteness is not certain to stop the relentless march of the new disease. The Northern Mariana Islands confirmed its first cases over the weekend, followed by a suspected death on Monday.

Klamiokl Tulop, a 28-year-old artist and single mum, is hopeful Palau can avoid the fate of Wuhan, New York or Madrid -- where better-resourced health services were overrun.   But she describes a growing sense of dread, a fear that the virus is coming or could already be on the island undetected.   "You can feel a rising tension and anxiety just shopping," she told AFP. "Stores are crowded even more during non-payday weeks."   There have been several scares on Palau, including a potential case that saw one person placed into quarantine this week as authorities await test results.

- Antarctic seclusion -
Inside Australia's four remote Antarctic research bases, around 90 people have found themselves ensconced on the only virus-free continent as they watch their old home transform beyond recognition.   There is no need for social distancing in the tundra.   "They're probably the only Australians at the moment that can have a large dinner together or have the bar still open or the gym still open," Antarctic Division Operations manager Robb Clifton told AFP.   The bases are now isolated until November, so the group is safe, but Clifton admits "the main thing that's on the mind of expeditioners is how their loved ones are going back home."

In some places, reporting no cases does not always mean there are no cases to report.   North Korea has portrayed emergency measures as an unqualified success in keeping COVID-19 out, despite sustained epidemics in neighbouring China and South Korea.   But state media also appears to have doctored images to give ordinary North Koreans face masks -- handing sceptics reason to believe the world's most secretive government may not be telling the whole truth.

- 'Waiting for the inevitable?' -
While Palau has no confirmed cases, it has still been gripped by the society-altering fears and economic paralysis that have affected the rest of the world.   Supermarket aisles in the country's largest town Koror have seen panic buying and there are shortages of hand sanitisers, masks and alcohol.   The islands depend heavily on goods being shipped or flown in, meaning supplies can quickly run low.

United Airlines used to fly six times a week from nearby Guam -- which has seen more than 50 cases -- but now there is just one flight a week.   "Look at how bad we coped when shipments were late before this pandemic happened," Tulop said. "Everyone was practically in uproar."   Residents have been practising social distancing. Doctors are waiting for test kits to arrive from Taiwan. The government is building five isolation rooms that will be able to hold up to 14 patients.   It all feels like waiting for the inevitable.   "I would like to be optimistic we won't get the virus," Tulop said. "But Palau would most definitely get it. We rely heavily on tourism and most of us even need to travel for work."

Rondy Ronny's job is to host big tourist events, but work has already dried up, and he admits to being "very anxious".   "I have loans and bills and payments due," he said. "This will definitely put me back, I hope the government will do something about our economy too, to help it recover."   Palau's biggest test may yet come with the first positive case.   But even in the most remote corners of the world, the impact of this truly global pandemic is already being felt.   Nowhere, it seems, is truly virus-free.
Date: Tue, 31 Mar 2020 04:46:26 +0200 (METDST)

Panama City, March 31, 2020 (AFP) - The government of Panama on Monday announced strict quarantine measures that separate citizens by gender in an effort to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus.   From Wednesday, men and women will only be able to leave their homes for two hours at a time, and on different days.   Until now, quarantine regulations were not based on gender.

Men will be able to go to the supermarket or the pharmacy on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, and women will be allowed out on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.   No one will be allowed to go out on Sundays.

The new measures will last for 15 days.   "This absolute quarantine is for nothing more than to save your life," security minister Juan Pino said at a press conference.   According to Pino, more than 2,000 people were detained last week for not abiding by the quarantine.   Since the first case was reported on March 10, Panama has confirmed 1,075 cases of the coronavirus, 43 of which are in intensive care, and 27 deaths.
Date: Tue, 31 Mar 2020 00:54:08 +0200 (METDST)
By Celia Lebur with AFP Africa Bureaux

Lagos, March 30, 2020 (AFP) - More than 20 million Nigerians on Monday went into lockdown in sub-Saharan Africa's biggest city Lagos and the capital Abuja, as the continent struggles to curb the spread of coronavirus.   President Muhammadu Buhari ordered a two-week "cessation of all movements" in key cities to ward off an explosion of cases in Africa's most populous country.

Businesses are being closed, non-food shops shut and people required to stay at home as officials look to track down possible carriers of the disease after reporting 131 confirmed cases and two deaths so far.   Enforcing the restrictions in sprawling Lagos will be a mammoth challenge as millions live crammed into slums and rely on daily earnings to survive.

In the ramshackle outdoor markets of Lagos Island, anxious locals complained they did not have the money to stock up, while at higher-end supermarkets better-off residents queued to buy supplies.    "Two weeks is too long. I don't know how we will cope," said student Abdul Rahim, 25, as he helped his sister sell foodstuffs from a stall in Jankarra market.    "People are hungry and they won't be able to stock food."

City officials have pledged to provide basic provisions to 200,000 households but the central government in Africa's largest oil producing nation is already facing financial strain as the price of crude  has collapsed.    The streets of Ghana's capital Accra were also empty as most people in two regions appeared to be following a presidential order to stay indoors after it went into force.

- Zimbabwe locks down -
Dozens of African nations have imposed restrictions ranging from night-time curfews to total shutdowns.    Zimbabwe, which is already suffering a recession, began enforcing a three-week lockdown after the disease left one person dead and infected six others.   Police mounted checkpoints on routes leading to Harare's central business district, stopping cars and turning away pedestrians who had no authorisation to be in the area.   "We don't want to see people here on the streets. We don't want to see people who have no business in town just loitering," a policewoman said through a loud hailer. "Everyone to their homes."

Some people were trying to head for villages.   "We would rather spend the 21 days at our rural home, where we don't have to buy everything. I can't afford to feed my family here when I am not working," said Most Jawure.   "We have been waiting here for more than two hours but there are no buses," Jawure told AFP while standing with his wife and daughter beside a bulging suitcase.

For many of Zimbabwe's 16 million people, the lockdown means serious hardship.   With the unemployment rate estimated at around 90 percent, most Zimbabweans have informal jobs to eke out a living and few have substantial savings.   As a similar scenario played out in other poor nations, the UN on Monday called for a $2.5-trillion aid package to help developing countries weather the pandemic, including debt cancellation and a health recovery "Marshall Plan".

- 'A matter of time' -
Experts warn that Africa is highly vulnerable to COVID-19 given the weak state of health systems across the continent.    The number of infections lags far behind Europe but testing has been limited and the figures are growing rapidly.    Angola and Ivory Coast on Sunday became the latest countries to record their first deaths, bringing the number of African fatalities to around 150 of nearly 4,800 recorded cases.

In Democratic Republic of Congo, two new cases were reported in the volatile South Kivu region and an adviser to the nation's president announced he had tested positive.

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni ordered a 14-day lockdown in a bid to halt the spread of the disease after reporting 33 infections.    Police in South Sudan, one of a few nations in Africa yet to confirm a case, enforced strict new rules, shutting shops selling non-essential items and limiting passengers in public transport.   Mauritius, which has 128 cases -- the highest in East Africa -- has extended its lockdown to April 15.

South Africa's defence minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula on Monday denounced alleged intimidation by security forces after videos emerged showing some forcing civilians to squat or roll on the ground for allegedly violating restrictions.   In an interview with local Newzroom Afrika television channel, she said she was aware of two videos "which have circulated where clearly there (is) some abuse".   "I'm saying I condemn that, we will not allow that to continue," she said.
Date: Mon, 30 Mar 2020 21:41:43 +0200 (METDST)

Kampala, March 30, 2020 (AFP) - Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni on Monday ordered an immediate 14-day nationwide lockdown in a bid to halt the spread of the coronavirus which has so far infected 33 people in the country.   Uganda last week banned public transport and sealed its borders and urged the population to stay home, but stopped short of a full shutdown.

Museveni said that from 10:00pm Monday private vehicles would also be banned, seeking to avoid give a more advanced warning that would see people flee the city, as has happened across the continent where many poor residents see better chances of survival in the countryside.   "I would have given the public time to adjust but... a longer time would give people time to go to the villages and in so doing they would transfer the very sickness we're trying to prevent. This freezing of movement will last for 14 days," he said in a televised address.

Museveni also ordered a 14-day nationwide curfew from 7:00pm.   Shopping malls and businesses selling non-food items were ordered to close.   Food market vendors who continue to trade are forbidden to return to their homes for the duration of the 14-day lockdown, while factories could stay open if remain on the premises for the duration of the shutdown.

People are still allowed to move around on foot but not gather in groups of more than five at a time.    In recent days, opposition leaders Kizza Besigye and Bobi Wine had undertaken small-scale food deliveries to people who had ost their incomes due to earlier restrictions but Museveni criticised such actions as "cheap politics".   "I direct the police to arrest the opportunistic and irresponsible politicians who tried to distribute food," he said.   "Anybody arrested in that effort will be charged with attempted murder."   Museveni said the government would begin distributing food to those who needed it, without providing details.

A weary looking Museveni, 75, pleaded with the population to change their behaviour in the face of the threat from the virus.   "This virus would not do much damage if it was not for the carelessness of people. Don't go into a group of people if you have a cold. Stay at home," he pleaded.   Last week police and Local Defence Units (LDUs) -- a uniformed militia under the control of the military - violently cleared streets in central Kampala.   Following a public outcry, army chief General David Muhoozi on Monday apologised for those actions, describing them as "high-handed, unjustified and regrettable" and said the culprits would be "dealt with".
Date: Sun 29 Mar 2020
Source: Spanish government COVID-19 update 58 [in Spanish, trans. ProMed Mod.MPP, edited]

COVID-19 update 59 [data as of 28 Mar 2020 21:00 CET]
-----------------------------------------------------
Situation in Spain
------------------
In Spain, to date [28 Mar 2020], 78 797 cases have been reported, of which 6528 have died and 14,709 recovered (table 1 and figure 1 -- at source URL above). The Autonomous Communities with the greater cumulative incidence in the last 14 days are La Rioja 419.5 per 100,000 population), Madrid 287.1 per 100,000 population), Navarre (279.4 per 100,000 population), and Castile-La Mancha (238.3 per 100,000 population) (figures 2, 3). The distribution by age groups of hospitalized patients, those admitted to the ICU, and deaths is found in table 2.

Autonomous Community:
Total / last 24 hours / Incidence per 100,000 population in past 14 days

  • Madrid: 22,677 / 1157 / 287.14
  • Catalonia: 15,026 / 763 / 186.46
  • Basque Country: 5740 / 604 / 231.45
  • Castile and Leon: 5414 / 623 / 213.46
  • Castile-La Mancha: 5246 / 734 / 238.33
  • Valencia: 4784 / 750 / 87.43
  • Andalusia: 4682 / 405 / 50.45
  • Galicia: 3139 / 367 / 109.06
  • Navarre: 2011 / 182 / 279.42
  • Aragon: 1858 / 266 / 129.69
  • La Rioja: 1629 / 193 / 419.51
  • Extremadura : 1456 / 62 / 127.47
  • Canary Islands: 1125 / 100 / 47.18
  • Asturias: 1088 / 84 / 92.98
  • Cantabria: 1023 / 86 / 167.28
  • Balearic Islands: 958 / 96 / 79.69
  • Murcia: 872 / 70 / 53.62
  • Melilla: 48 / 3 / 46.25
  • Ceuta: 21 / 4 / 23.59
********
Total: 78,797 / 6549 / 151.04
======================
[Spain has been rapidly accelerating in terms of transmission of the SARS-CoV-2. As of today (29 Mar 2020), there have been a total of 78 797 cases and 6528 deaths reported, an increase from 72 248 cases with and 5690 deaths confirmed in the preceding 24 hours. The countrywide 2-week incidence per 100 000 population is 151. It is now 2nd in Europe, behind Italy, and 4th globally behind the USA, Italy, and China, in terms of absolute numbers of cases.

Of the 78,797 cases, 43 397 (55.1%) were hospitalized, 4907 (6.2%) were admitted to the ICU. The crude reported death rate was 8.3% with more deaths occurring than reported ICU admissions.

A map of Spain showing provinces (autonomous communities) can be seen at
and a HealthMap/ProMED-mail map at <http://healthmap.org/promed/p/43>.

La Rioja, Navarre, and Basque Country are located together in the north of the country. Madrid is in the northern part of central Spain and Castilla de la Mancha is just to the south of Madrid, with Toledo as its capital. - ProMed Mod.MPP]
Date: Sun 29 Mar 2020
Source: Worldometer [accessed 10:30 PM EDT]

USA cases by state
State: Total cases / New cases

  • New York: 59,648 / 6193
  • New Jersey: 13,386 / 2262
  • California: 6312 / 653
  • Michigan: 5486 / 836
  • Massachusetts: 4955 / 698
  • Florida: 4950 / 912
  • Washington: 4483 / 173
  • Illinois: 4596 / 1105
  • Louisiana: 3540 / 225
  • Pennsylvania: 3419 / 668
  • Texas: 2808 / 479
  • Georgia: 2683 / 237
  • Colorado / 2307 / 246
  • Connecticut: 1993 / 469
  • Tennessee: 1720 / 208
  • Ohio: 1653 / 247
  • Indiana: 1514 / 282
  • Maryland: 1239 / 247
  • North Carolina: 1167 / 145
  • Wisconsin: 1154 / 165
  • Nevada: 920 / 299
  • Arizona: 919 / 146
  • Missouri / 903 / 65
  • Virginia: 890 / 151
  • Alabama: 827 / 125
  • South Carolina: 774 / 114
  • Mississippi: 758 / 179
  • Utah: 719 / 117
  • Oregon: 548 / 69
  • Minnesota: 503 / 62
  • Arkansas: 449 / 40
  • Kentucky: 439 / 45
  • Oklahoma: 429 / 52
  • District of Columbia: 401 / 59
  • Iowa: 336 / 38
  • Kansas: 319 / 58
  • Idaho: 310 / 49
  • Rhode Island: 294 / 55
  • New Hampshire: 258 / 44
  • Maine: 253 / 42
  • New Mexico: 237 / 29
  • Vermont: 235 / 24
  • Delaware: 232 / 18
  • Hawaii: 175 / 24
  • Montana: 161 / 32
  • West Virginia: 124 / 11
  • Nebraska: 120 / 24
  • Alaska: 102 / 17
  • North Dakota: 98 / 15
  • South Dakota: 90 / 22
  • Wyoming: 87 / 3
  • Guam / 56 / 5
  • Northern Mariana Islands: 2
  • Puerto Rico: 127 / 27
  • US Virgin Islands: 21 / 0
  • Wuhan repatriated: 3 / 0
  • Diamond Princess Cruise: 46 / 0
**************
Total: 142 321 / 38 179
Total reported deaths: 2484
====================
[The above are the latest breakdowns of confirmed cases of SARS-CoV-2 infection in the USA, as per Worldometer data. The total number of confirmed cases in the USA and territories is now 142 321 including 2484 deaths. New York state, with 59 648 (41.9%) cumulative cases reports and 6193 (33.3%) newly confirmed cases over the past 24 hours, is clearly the epicenter of the outbreak in the USA, although case reporting elsewhere is showing increases. Daily reported case counts are accelerating in New Jersey, Michigan, Florida, Louisiana, Massachusetts, and Illinois.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website (<https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/cases-updates/cases-in-us.html>) has 2 epidemic curves. One focuses on date of confirmation of disease, the other on date of onset of illness. The curve of interest, by date of onset of disease, is based on 14.6% of the number of cases plotted on the epidemic curve using date of confirmation of disease.

A map of the United States can be seen at
<http://www.mapsofworld.com/usa/> and a HealthMap/ProMED-mail map at
Date: Sun 29 Mar 2020 11:46 AM GST
Source: Reuters [abridged, edited]

Iran's coronavirus death toll has risen to 2640, a health ministry official said on Sunday [29 Mar 2020], as the Middle East's worst-hit country grapples with the fast-spreading outbreak. "In the past 24 hours we had 123 deaths and 2901 people have been infected, bringing the total number of infected people to 38 309," Alireza Vahabzadeh, an adviser to the health minister, said in a tweet. "12,391 people infected from the virus have recovered." Health ministry spokesman Kianush Jahanpur told state TV that 3467 of those infected were in "critical condition".  "I am happy to announce that also 12,391 people who had been infected across the country have recovered," Jahanpur said. "The average age of those who have died of the disease is 69."

President Hassan Rouhani urged Iranians to adapt to their new way of life, which was likely to continue for some time. "We must prepare to live with the virus until a treatment is discovered ... The new measures that have been imposed are for everyone's benefit ... Our main priority is the safety and the health of our people," Rouhani said during a televised meeting.

The government has banned inter-city travel after warning of a potential surge in coronavirus cases because many Iranians defied calls to cancel travel plans for the Persian New Year holidays that began on [20 Mar 2020]. The authorities told Iranians to stay at home, while schools, universities, cultural, religious, and sports centres have been temporarily closed.

To stem the spread of the virus in crowded jails, Iran's judiciary on Sunday [29 Mar 2020] extended furloughs for 100,000 prisoners. On [17 Mar 2020], Iran said it had freed about 85,000 people from jail temporarily, including political prisoners. "The 2nd wave of (the) temporary release of prisoners had already started and their (100,000 prisoners) furloughs have been extended until [19 Apr 2020]," judiciary spokesman Gholamhossein Esmaili was reported as saying by state television. Iran said it had 189,500 people in prison, according to a report submitted by the UN special rapporteur on human rights in Iran to the Human Rights Council in January [2020].  [byline: Parisa Hafezi]
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[In the 24 hours from 28 to 29 Mar 2020, the number of cases of COVID-19 confirmed in Iran grew from 35 408 to, 38 309, an increase of 2901 newly confirmed cases. The number of deaths has also increased from 2517 to 2640 an increase of 123 deaths in the 24-hour period. In terms of total numbers of confirmed cases, Iran ranks 7th globally behind USA, Italy, China, Spain, Germany and France. In early March 2020, Iran and Italy were on the same trajectory with respect to daily growth in cumulative newly confirmed cases, but starting 8 Mar 2020, Italy's daily reported newly confirmed cases accelerated at an alarming speed. By 14 Mar 2020, Italy was reporting almost twice as many cases as Iran on a daily basis.

A map of Iran showing provinces can be seen at
HealthMap/ProMED-mail map at <http://healthmap.org/promed/p/128>. - ProMed Mod.MPP]
Date: Sun 29 Mar 2020
Source: Italian Government Health Ministry [in Italian, machine trans., edited]

Cases in Italy as of 6:00 pm 29 Mar 2020
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Regarding health monitoring related to the spread of the new coronavirus [SARS-CoV-2] on the national territory, there are a total of 97,689 cases. At the moment 73,880 people are positive for the virus; 13,030 people have recovered. There are 27,386 patients hospitalized with symptoms, 3906 are in intensive care, and 42,588 are in home isolation.

There have been 10,779 reported deaths, however, this number can only be confirmed after the Istituto Superiore di Sanita has established the actual cause of the death.

Case distribution by province:
number of cases (number of new cases in past 24 hours)

  • Lombardy: 41 007 (1592)
  • Emilia-Romagna: 13 119 (736)
  • Veneto: 8358 (428)
  • Marche: 3558 (185)
  • Piedmont: 8206 (535)
  • Tuscany: 4122 (305)
  • Campania: 1759 (167)
  • Lazio: 2706 (201)
  • Liguria: 3076 (254)
  • Friuli Venezia Giulia: 1480 (44)
  • Sicily: 1460 (101)
  • Apulia: 1549 (91)
  • Umbria: 1023 (54)
  • Abruzzo: 1293 (160)
  • Molise: 127 (4)
  • Trento: 1594 (89)
  • Bolzano: 1214 (105)
  • Sardinia: 638 (14)
  • Basilicata: 202 (20)
  • Aosta Valley: 584 (73)
  • Calabria: 614 (59)
*********
Total: 97,689 (5217)
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[The tally of confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Italy is now 97,689 cases, including 10,779 deaths, up from 92,472 cases and 10,023 deaths reported on 28 Mar 2020. The 24-hour change between 28 and 29 Mar 2020 was 5217 newly confirmed cases, compared with 5974 newly confirmed cases between 27 and 28 Mar 2020. Cases continue to be concentrated in Lombardy (41 007), the epicenter of the outbreak, Emilia-Romagna (13 119), and Veneto (8358), all in the northern part of the country. Those 3 provinces combined account for 52.8% of newly confirmed cases in the past 24 hours, representing a drop from the previous 24 hours when they represented 56.% of nationally reported cases. Another active province is Piemonte with a total of 8206 cases and represents 10.3% of newly reported cases. In the past 24 hours Tuscany has reported 5.9% of newly reported cases, a slight drop from the preceding day when it was reporting 6.1% of newly confirmed cases. There is an excellent interactive map at <http://opendatadpc.maps.arcgis.com/apps/opsdashboard/index.html#/b0c68bce2cce478eaac82fe38d4138b1> to visualize the caseloads per region in near real time.

On 9 Mar 2020, Italy announced a lockdown for the northern provinces where the outbreak was concentrated. On 10 Mar 2020, this was expanded to be countrywide. On 11 Mar 2020, Italy announced the closure of non-essential businesses. It is now 19 days since the start of the lockdown in the north and 18 days since the countrywide lockdown.

A map of Italy showing regions can be seen at
HealthMap/ProMED-mail map at <http://healthmap.org/promed/p/75>. - ProMed Mod.MPP]