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Lebanon

Lebanon - US Consular Information Sheet
August 20, 2008
COUNTRY DESCRIPTION:
The Republic of Lebanon is a parliamentary republic. Political power is concentrated in the office of the President, Prime Minister and Speaker of Parliament, eac
representing one of Lebanon's three largest religious sects (Maronite Christians, Sunni and Shi'a Muslims). Since 1973, Lebanon has been in a state of war with Israel. Read the Department of State Background Notes on Lebanon for additional information.

ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS: Passports and visas are required.
American citizens coming to Lebanon for tourism can purchase a short-term visa at the border.
Travelers holding passports that contain visas or entry/exit stamps for Israel will likely be refused entry into Lebanon.
Travelers whose passports contain Israeli stamps or visas and who also hold an "Arab nationality" may be subject to arrest and imprisonment.
Travelers who have overstayed their entry visa validity in Lebanon have to adjust their status with the Central Department of Surete General (Department of Passport and Immigration) prior to their departure.

Further information on entry/exit requirements can be obtained from the Embassy of Lebanon, 2560 28th Street NW, Washington, DC, 20008, tel. (202) 939-6300.
Travelers may also contact one of the following Consulates General:
1959 E. Jefferson, Suite 4A
Detroit, MI 48207
(313) 567-0233
2400 Augusta, Suite 308
Houston, TX 77057
(713) 268-1640
7060 Hollywood Blvd., Suite 510
Los Angeles, CA 90028
(323) 467-1253
6600 S.W. 57th Avenue, Suite 200
Miami, FL 33143
(305) 665-3004
(Honorary Consul, for Florida residents only)
9 E. 76th Street
New York, NY 10021
(212) 744-7905
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:
A Department of State Travel Warning advises U.S. citizens against travel to Lebanon.
Recent events underscore the need for caution and sound personal security precautions.
U.S. citizens who are in Lebanon despite this Travel Warning should exercise particular caution when traveling in parts of the southern suburbs of Beirut, portions of the Bekaa Valley and areas south of the Litani River in South Lebanon.
Hizballah maintains a strong presence in many of these areas, and there is the potential for action by other extremist groups.
The situation remains tense and a resumption of sporadic violence remains a possibility.
On May 7, 2008, Hizballah militants blocked the road to Rafiq Hariri International Airport.
The action rendered the airport inaccessible and travelers were unable to enter or leave the country via commercial air carriers.
Armed Hizballah and other opposition members proceeded to enter areas of Lebanon not traditionally under their control resulting in heavy fighting and a number of casualties.
While there is now full access to the airport, widespread hostilities have subsided, and the government of Lebanon has successfully elected a president and formed a cabinet, the United States remains concerned about Hizballah's willingness to use violence to achieve political ends with little or no warning.
Since the May hostilities there have been violent outbreaks in Tripoli that left over ten dead and dozens wounded.

Americans have been the targets of numerous terrorist attacks in Lebanon in the past.
The perpetrators of many of these attacks are still present and retain the ability to act.
On January 15, 2008, a U.S. Embassy vehicle was involved in a bomb attack that killed three Lebanese bystanders.
American citizens should thus keep a low profile, varying times and routes for all required travel.
Americans should also pay close attention to their personal security at locations where Westerners are generally known to congregate, and should avoid demonstrations and large gatherings.
Unofficial travel to Lebanon by U.S. Government employees and their family members requires prior approval by the Department of State.
Palestinian groups hostile to both the Lebanese government and the U.S. operate largely autonomously inside refugee camps in different areas of the country.
Intra-communal violence within the camps has resulted in violent incidents such as shootings and explosions.
Travel by U.S. citizens to Palestinian camps should be avoided.
Asbat al-Ansar, a terrorist group with apparent links to Al-Qaida, has targeted Lebanese, U.S. and other foreign government interests.
It has been outlawed by the Lebanese government but continues to maintain a presence in Ain al-Hilweh refugee camp.
Americans traveling to Lebanon should also be aware that personnel from the U.S. Embassy are not able to travel in all areas of Lebanon.
In the case of an emergency involving a U.S. citizen in areas where it is unsafe for Embassy personnel to travel, the Embassy may not be able to render assistance.
In addition, dangers posed by landmines and unexploded ordnance throughout south Lebanon are significant and also exist in other areas where civil war fighting was intense.
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, including the Travel Warning for Lebanon, 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 overseas callers, a regular toll line at 1-202-501-4444.
These numbers are available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays).
The Department of State urges American citizens to take responsibility for their own personal security while traveling overseas.
For general information about appropriate measures travelers can take to protect themselves in an overseas environment, see the Department of State's pamphlet A Safe Trip Abroad.
CRIME: The crime rate in Lebanon is moderate, but both car theft and home break-ins occur.
Violent crime and sexual assault are rare, although petty theft -- such as pick pocketing and purse snatching -- is common in crowded public areas.
Police are responsive but often unable to effect a positive outcome.
There are no special concerns with regard to targeted victimization of Americans or to scams or confidence schemes.
There have, however, been recent kidnappings of Lebanese-American women by their Lebanese relatives in an effort to force these women into marriage.

In many countries around the world, counterfeit and pirated goods are widely available.
Transactions involving such products may be illegal under local law.
In addition, bringing them back to the United States may result in forfeitures and/or fines.
More information on this serious problem is available at http://www.cybercrime.gov/18usc2320.htm.
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, to 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.
The local equivalent to the “911” emergency line in Lebanon is 112.
See our information on Victims of Crime.
MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION: In Beirut and the surrounding areas, modern medical care and medicines are widely available.
Such facilities are not always available in outlying areas, although no location in the country is more than three hours from the capital.
Doctors and hospitals often expect immediate cash payment for services, and without such payment, may deny service even in emergency cases.
A list of doctors who speak English and a list of hospitals are available from the U.S. Embassy and at the Embassy's web site at http://lebanon.usembassy.gov/
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.

The U.S. Department of State is unaware of any HIV/AIDS entry restrictions for visitors to or foreign residents of Lebanon.

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 Lebanon is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.
Drivers in Lebanon often maneuver aggressively and pay little regard to traffic lights and stops signs.
Lanes are generally unmarked and roads outside of the capital may be poorly lit.
Pedestrians, especially, should exercise great caution.
Inter-city directional signs are improving throughout the country, but side roads are often not signposted at all.
Public transportation is generally safe.
Emergency services in Lebanon are adequate.
In case of a road accident, emergency numbers are “140” for the Red Cross and “125” for the emergency civil police.
Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information.
Visit the website of Lebanon's national tourist office at http://www.destinationlebanon.gov.lb.
AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT:
As there is no direct commercial air service to the United States by carriers registered in Lebanon, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not assessed Lebanon’s 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: In addition to being subject to all Lebanese laws, U.S. citizens who also possess Lebanese nationality may also be subject to other laws that impose special obligations on them as Lebanese citizens.
Lebanese citizens who are discovered to have associated with or traveled through Israel, are subject to arrest and detention.

Military Service:
Mandatory military service in Lebanon was abolished on February 4, 2007.
However, travelers with questions about prior military service, desertion, or failure to register in the past should contact the Military Office of the Embassy of Lebanon, 2560 28th Street, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20008, or call (202) 265-2335 or fax (202) 667-0063 for details prior to traveling to Lebanon. Information about military service can also be found at the Lebanese government web site at http://www.lebarmy.gov.lb/English/FlagService.asp
Lebanese Customs authorities may enforce strict regulations concerning import and export of such items as firearms or antiquities.
It is advisable to contact the Embassy of Lebanon in Washington, D.C., or one of Lebanon's consulates in the United States for specific information regarding customs requirements. Please see our information on customs regulations.
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 Lebanese laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned.
Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Lebanon 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.
For more information 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 Lebanon are encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate through the State Department's travel registration website, and to obtain updated information on travel and security within Lebanon.
Americans without Internet access may register directly with the U.S. Embassy in Beirut.
By registering, American citizens make it easier for the Embassy to contact them in case of emergency.
The U.S. Embassy is located in Awkar, near Antelias, Beirut, Lebanon.
Public access hours for American citizens are Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday, 8:00 a.m. to 11:00 am for regular consular services.
Consular Report of Births Abroad (birth certificates for newborns) are handled Wednesdays only from 8:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m.
The telephone numbers are (961-4) 542-600, 543-600, and fax 544-209, and American citizens who require emergency services outside of these hours may contact the Embassy by telephone at any time.
American citizens registering at the embassy can receive updated information and warden messages via e-mail by subscribing to join-wardenmessagebeirut@mh.databack.com.
Information on consular services and registration can be found at http://lebanon.usembassy.gov or by phone at the above telephone numbers between 2:00 p.m. and 4:00 p.m. Monday through Friday local time.
* * * * * *
This replaces the Country Specific Information dated December 27, 2007 to update the sections on Safety and Security, Crime, Information for Victims of Crime, Medical Facilities and Health Information and Aviation Oversight.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

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: Sun, 5 Apr 2020 22:20:37 +0200 (METDST)

Beirut, April 5, 2020 (AFP) - Lebanon on Sunday started repatriating nationals who were stranded abroad in its first flights in weeks since it closed its international airport to stem the novel coronavirus.   Many Lebanese work abroad, in the Gulf or in Africa, while thousands of youth study in Europe.   The first of four planes touched down at the Beirut international airport late in the morning bringing in 78 passengers from Riyadh, local television reported.

A second carrying 79 passengers from Abu Dhabi followed in the afternoon, the National News Agency said.   Local television showed health personnel in protective gear taking the temperature of disembarking passengers.   The Mediterranean country announced a lockdown and closed its airport from March 19 as part of measures to curb the spread of COVID-19, which has officially infected 527 people and killed 18 nationwide.   An AFP photographer saw a dozen buses outside the airport, which the health ministry said were to transport the passengers to their homes to self-quarantine or to a hotel to await the results of tests on arrival.

Health Minister Hamad Hassan said at a news conference Sunday evening that all the tests carried out on passengers arriving from Saudi Arabia were negative.    But he added the passengers will still have to self-quarantine.    Prime Minister Hassan Diab had arrived earlier amid heavy deployment of the Lebanese army.   Authorities said more than 20,000 people had signed up to be repatriated in total this week or at the end of the month.   Lebanese carrier Middle East Airlines said flights would land in Beirut later on Sunday from Lagos and Abidjan.   It has also announced return trips to Paris, Madrid and Kinshasa on Tuesday.

- Steep fares -
Lebanese returning home must either test negative for the virus no longer than three days before their return, or be tested immediately upon arrival, according to government guidelines.   They must pay for their own ticket and their families are not allowed to meet them at the airport.   The government has said priority will be given to those with critical health conditions such as diabetes or cancer, those aged over 60 and under 18, and families.   But critics have complained of steep ticket fares, while a financial crisis has severely restricted transactions from Lebanese bank accounts.

Coronavirus is the latest crisis to hit Lebanon, which is already reeling under a crumbling economy.   Due to an acute liquidity crisis, banks have since September increasingly been restricting access to dollars and have halted money transfers abroad.   On Monday, however, the banking association agreed to allow dollar transfers to Lebanese students outside the country to help them face the coronavirus pandemic, the finance ministry said.   Diab on Sunday told reporters the government was studying the possibility of supporting returning Lebanese students with a ticket.

The public transport minister said the MEA would offer half-price tickets to students in need, while the foreign and health ministers said Lebanese donors would cover the other half, according to the NNA.   Lebanese expatriates and activists have clamoured online for MEA to lower the price of its tickets and help those who cannot afford it.   The airline on Friday claimed tickets were more expensive -- $650 for an economy class seat from Riyadh and $1,800 for a cheaper fare from Abidjan for example -- because planes would be empty on the way out to evacuations.
Date: Tue, 31 Mar 2020 22:17:01 +0200 (METDST)

Beirut, March 31, 2020 (AFP) - Lebanese authorities said Tuesday they would allow expatriates to return despite a lockdown in response to the coronavirus pandemic, a move that could affect up to 20,000 people.   The cabinet gave its initial approval for the proposal, which could be put in motion "in principle" from Sunday, a government statement said, without giving details of how it would be implemented.

An estimated 20,000 people "want to return to Lebanon", Foreign Minister Nassif Hitti told local television.  Beirut's international airport has been closed for nearly two weeks, along with schools, universities, restaurants and bars, and Lebanese have been urged to stay at home to stem the spread of COVID-19.   Lebanon has reported 463 official cases of the virus and 12 deaths.
Date: Fri, 21 Feb 2020 14:55:57 +0100 (MET)

Beirut, Feb 21, 2020 (AFP) - The first case of the novel coronavirus in Lebanon was confirmed on Friday, the health minister said, adding that two other suspected cases were being investigated.   "We confirmed the first case today," Hassan Hamad said at a press conference in Beirut.

The COVID-19 virus was found in a 45-year-old Lebanese woman who had travelled from Qom in Iran, he said.   A medical source at the hospital where the woman is being treated told AFP that she returned from Iran with a high fever, but that her immunity was good and her condition stable.

Hamad said that all the people who were on the same flight from Iran had been contacted by the health authorities.   He said that anyone returning from Iran would be asked to observe a two-week home quarantine.   The COVID-19 outbreak first appeared in Iran on Wednesday.

Tehran has now confirmed a total of four deaths and 18 infections by the SARS-like virus, which first emerged in China in late December.   Thousands of Lebanese travel to Iran every year to visit Shiite holy sites in Qom and other cities.   China on Friday raised the death toll to 2,236 -- most of them in the province of Hubei, where the virus was first detected. More than 75,000 have now been infected in China and over 1,100 abroad.
Date: Thu, 26 Dec 2019 12:29:06 +0100 (MET)

Beirut, Dec 26, 2019 (AFP) - Flooding at Beirut's only Jewish cemetery has swept away entire graves after heavy rainfall hit the Lebanese capital.   The floodwater destroyed a retaining wall at the graveyard in the Ras al-Nabaa district overnight into Thursday, dragging sarcophagi and large chunks of rubble onto the pavement below.

Nagi Georges Zeidan, an expert on Lebanon's tiny Jewish community and a volunteer at the graveyard, said at least four graves were damaged, all in part of the cemetery for people buried in the 1940s.   Zeidan said the skeletons of the deceased remained concealed but have yet to be removed from beneath the rubble. He urged authorities to intervene to make sure they are preserved.   The cemetery has 3,407 graves, according to Zeidan, who keeps a record of all the names of the deceased.   It is owned by the Lebanese Jewish Community Council and dates back to the 1820s, he added.

Lebanon was once home to thousands of Jews but they left steadily for Israel, Brazil, Europe and the United States after the State of Israel was established.   According to Zeidan, only 29 Jews remain in Lebanon.   A handful of buildings that were once synagogues still stand, including one in the northern city of Tripoli that has been turned into a fabric dye shop, and one in the southern city of Sidon.   A severe downpour overnight led to floods across Lebanon, blocking roads and damaging homes.
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."