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Latvia

Latvia US Consular Information Sheet
October 02, 2008
COUNTRY DESCRIPTION:
Latvia is a stable democracy with a developing economy. Most tourist facilities found in a western European city are available in the capital city of Riga. However,
some of the goods and services taken for granted in other countries are not yet available in other parts of the country. Read the Department of State Background Notes on Latvia for additional information.
ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS: Latvia is a party to the Schengen agreement. As such, U.S. citizens may enter Latvia for up to 90 days for tourist or business purposes without a visa. The passport should be valid for at least three months beyond the period of stay. For further details about travel into and within Schengen countries, please see our fact sheet. Travelers remaining in Latvia for more than 90 days, including 180 day periods that cross over two half-calendar years, must apply for temporary residence. All travelers must have a valid insurance policy, covering medical expenses while in Latvia. Repatriation costs, including funeral and disposition of remains costs also have to be covered by the policy. In addition, upon entering or exiting the country, travelers must declare cash in excess of 10,000 euros to Latvian customs. For more information, travelers may contact the Latvian Embassy, at 2306 Massachusetts Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20008, tel. (202)328-2840, fax (202) 328-2860. For further information, visit http://www.latvia-usa.org. Within Latvia, contact the Ministry of Interiors Office of Citizenship and Migration Affairs at Ciekurkalna 1, linija 1,k,3,Riga, LV 1026. Tel. (371)67219645, (371)67219679, (371)80007657, fax (371)67219654, e-mail: pmlp@pmlp.gov.lv, web site http://www.ocma.gov.
Any traveler to Russia, even in transit, is advised to obtain a visa prior to entry into Latvia. The process of obtaining a visa at the Russian Embassy in Riga can be lengthy, and involve surrender of the passport for an undetermined period of time. Visit the Embassy of Latvia web site at http://www.latvia-usa.org for the most current 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.
SAFETY AND SECURITY:
Civil unrest is not a problem in Riga. Nonetheless, in the past, Riga has seen large, peaceful demonstrations related to internal political issues. While demonstrations have been peaceful, American citizens are nevertheless cautioned to avoid any large public demonstrations. There have been no incidents of terrorism directed toward American interests. Incidents of anti-Americanism are rare. However, instances of racially motivated verbal harassment, and on occasion, physical assaults on non-Caucasian foreigners, have occurred in Riga. There have also been reports of non-Caucasian foreigners being subjected to extra scrutiny by security guards in shops and malls in Riga. Additionally, individuals displaying alternative lifestyles have experienced harassment.

For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department’s 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 security can also be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll free in the U.S., 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 notice A Safe Trip Abroad.
CRIME: Crime in Riga is generally non-violent. The majority of non-violent crime tends toward acts of pickpocketing, identity theft, and personal scams. However, there have been instances of serious violent assaults and robberies. Street crime is a serious problem, particularly for tourists. In addition to pickpockets in all public areas, there are numerous scam artists targeting foreigners in the tourist pubs and restaurants. There have been a number of reports recently of foreign tourists being charged xorbitant prices for drinks in bars. Some have then been assaulted or forced to withdraw money from an ATM to pay the bill. You can avoid situations like this by ensuring that you check the price of drinks before ordering, pay for one round at a time and seek recommendations for bars from trustworthy sources. There have also been a few cases of tourists and residents being drugged in bars and restaurants and then taken outside or to their residences and robbed. In any public area, one should always be alert, particularly to being surrounded by two or more people at once. It is not uncommon for groups of pickpockets to attempt to overwhelm their victim. Gangs of professional pickpockets are specifically targeting foreigners, particularly those carrying backpacks. In addition, Riga has one of the highest rates of car theft in the world.
Internet crime is a growing concern in Latvia. Common fraudulent schemes involve both Internet auction sites and Internet job search sites. In the first scam, criminals offer valuable items for sale at low prices on Internet auctions and request that payments be sent by wire transfer to a bank in Latvia or through a fraudulent escrow site that they have created themselves. In this scheme, the money passes through a bank in Latvia and is quickly withdrawn by ATM or transferred to a bank in another country. It is very difficult in these cases to discover the identities of the account holders or recover the funds.
The second common scam involves identity theft through false job offers. In this scheme, a company claiming to be located in Latvia, but which has a non-existent address, offers the victim employment as a U.S. – based agent or freight forwarder. When the victim responds to the job offer, commonly posted on one of several popular Internet job sites, a Social Security Number and other identifying information needed for the identity theft is required under the guise of conducting a background check.

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 or 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. For more information, see Victims of Crime.
MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION: Medical care in Latvia is steadily improving, but remains limited in several important respects. There are a few private clinics with medical supplies and services, including disposable needles and basic modern diagnostics, which are nearly equal to Western Europe or U.S. standards. However, because of the lack of equipment and resources, most major invasive procedures or surgeries in Latvia are not recommended. Hospital services have shown good progress but are still not equal to Western standards. Elderly travelers and those with existing health problems may be at risk due to inadequate medical facilities. Most, but not all, antibiotics and prescription medications are available but as they are generally produced in Europe or Latvia, they often have different names and instructions are usually not printed in English. Diphtheria, hepatitis and tick-borne encephalitis are present. According to the World Health Organization, tuberculosis is a significant problem in Latvia, with 9% of all cases being multi-drug resistant. For further information, please consult the CDC’s Travel notice on TB at http://wwwn.cdc.gov/travel/yellowBookCh4-TB.aspx. State ambulance service for emergencies is available by dialing 112 anywhere in Latvia. However, response time is poor in rural areas. Air ambulance service is available for medical evacuations. In general, private air ambulance services are very expensive and require advance payment before the patient is transported.
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
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 Latvia is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.
Foreign visitors to Latvia planning to operate a motor vehicle are required to obtain an International Driving Permit. These may be obtained through the American Automobile Association (AAA) or the American Automobile Touring Alliance for a small fee. A U.S. state driver’s license is not sufficient. These requirements apply to those operating rental cars as well, whether or not the rental company chooses to enforce the requirement as a condition of rental. Individuals driving without an International Driving Permit may have their vehicle confiscated by the police. Americans resident in Latvia for more than six months are required to apply for a Latvian driver’s license. Upon receipt of a Latvian driver’s license, American citizens are required to surrender their US driver’s license to the Latvian authorities. The licenses are then returned to their respective states of issuance. For more information, visit the Latvian Road and Traffic Safety Department at http://www.csdd.lv
Latvia has one of the highest rates of automobile accidents and fatalities in Europe. While recent reports show a decrease in the number of traffic accident fatalities, there are still a number of hazards to watch out for. Drivers should be alert for pedestrians and slow moving vehicles in traffic. Additionally, violation of traffic rules is common, and it is not unusual to be overtaken by other automobiles traveling at high speeds, even in crowed urban areas. Drivers do not always yield to pedestrians, even at marked intersections. During winter, most major roads are cleared of snow. However, drivers should be alert for fog, snow, and ice while driving. Driving while intoxicated is a very serous offense and carries heavy penalties. Local authorities use roadblocks and Breathalyzer tests as enforcement tools. Drivers and pedestrians should be alert to the possibility of drunk drivers and drunken pedestrians wandering on the road. Drivers must use their headlights at all times. Speed limits are usually 50 km/hr in the city and 90 km/hr on the highways. Public transportation is generally considered safe, but travelers are encouraged to select well-marked taxis. Emergency services are fair but improving (See section on Medical Facilities above); response time may be especially slow in traffic or in rural settings. Dial 112 for ambulance service.
Please refer to our Road Safety page for information. Visit the website of Latvia’s national tourist office at http://latviatourism.lv/info.php and the national authority responsible for road safety at http://www.csdd.lv/
AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT:As there is no direct commercial air service to the United States by carriers registered in Latvia, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not assessed Latvia’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 www.faa.gov/safety/programs_initiatives/oversight/iasa
SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES:
Banks and currency exchange counters may refuse to accept U.S. currency that is crumpled, torn, discolored or defaced (even small pen stokes, hand written numbers and letters are considered defacing). If such notes are accepted for exchange, an additional processing fee, based on the size of the transaction, may be charged. ATMs are widely available in Riga and in major towns. For security purposes, it is recommended that visitors use ATMs located inside major hotels or shopping malls, versus those located on the street, in high-volume tourist areas. Telephone connections with the United States are reliable. However, 1-800 numbers cannot be accessed from Latvia. Please check with your long distance carrier before departure to see if they offer service in Latvia. Local Internet cafés offer computer access, and fax machines are widely available.
Latvian customs authorities may enforce strict regulations concerning temporary importation into or export from Latvia of items such as firearms, religious materials, antiquities, medications, business equipment, drugs, etc. It is advisable to contact the Embassy of Latvia in Washington or one of the Latvian consulates in the United States for specific information regarding customs requirements at http://www.latvia-usa.org.
Please see our information on 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 Latvian laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned. Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Latvia are strict and convicted offenders can expect jail sentences and heavy fines. Engaging in illicit 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 web pages on intercountry adoption and international parental child abduction.
REGISTRATION/EMBASSY AND CONSULATE LOCATIONS: Americans living or traveling in Latvia are encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. Embassy of Consulate through the State Department’s travel registration website, https://travelregistration.state.gov/ibrs/ui/ and to obtain updated information on travel and security within Latvia. 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 at 7 Raina Blvd. Riga, LV-1510, and may be reached by dialing +371-703-6200. The fax number for the Consular American Citizen Services section is+371-781-4088. You can find the ACS section online at http://riga.usembassy.gov/
* * * * * *
This replaces the Consular Information Sheet dated March 12, 2008 with updated information on Entry Requirements.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

6th December, 2019
HSE Health Protection Surveillance Centre

There is a case of human rabies in Latvia. The case has been clinically and laboratory confirmed (immunofluorescence and PCR). The case is 55 years old female from city Daugavpils, located 35 km from Belarus and Lithuania borders. Symptoms appeared on November, 22, she died on November, 28. 
 
Possible exposures: 
• In May, 2018 she was bitten in both legs (ankles) by puppy travelling in India;
• She worked as volunteer in animal shelter in Daugavpils, in April this year she was bitten/scratched there by a dog, and the dog is healthy now;
• She fed stray cats and dogs in the courtyard of the house in Daugavpils, as well as in a country house outside the city near the forest. Information about bites or other possible exposures is not known.

In none of these cases the person received PEP. Now 61 contacts receive post-exposure treatment (vaccination), mostly as precautions: staff of two hospitals and medical emergency service, and close contacts, including household. In Latvia the last cases of rabies in wild animals were registered in 2010, in 2012 was registered the last case in domestic animals. In 2014, Latvia received the status of a country free of rabies. Latvia continues to implement wild animal’s vaccination progamme. Neighbour countries Belarus and Russian Federation is not rabies free and animals can cross the border.
 
A test report has been received on the results of the rabies virus genotype identification and sequencing reaction (EURL-Rabies Protocol, (AFSSA) P. Meyer, 2009). The rabies virus genotype 1 was detected in the sample. According to the GenBank database, the virus sequence has 99.17% identity to the RV2924 isolate of rabies virus from Nepal. Information and evidence obtained during an epidemiological investigation demonstrated that the human rabies case had a dog bites during her travel in India (Naggar and Manali, state Himachal Pradesh – close to Nepal), in May 2018. No post exposure treatment was received.

No cases of illegally exported pets as the potential source of infection were identified in the relation to this rabies case. According to the literature in rare cases a long (more than one year) incubation period of rabies is observed. Taking into account the epidemiological data and the result of the rabies virus sequencing, the Center for Disease Prevention and Control of Latvia believes that this human rabies case is not epidemiologically linked to Latvia.
Date: Thu, 7 Nov 2019 17:11:10 +0100 (MET)

Riga, Nov 7, 2019 (AFP) - Thousands of doctors and nurses rallied Thursday in front of the Latvian parliament in Riga calling for better pay in what was the Baltic state's largest protest in over a decade.   Police said more than 5,000 people, including patients, turned out for the protest, which featured coffins and signs with slogans such as "United for health", "I only want to work one job" and "Patients supporting doctors and nurses".   The LVSADA medical labour union organised the rally to condemn lawmakers for planning to increase their own salaries next year while reneging on a promise to boost wages in the chronically underfunded medical profession.   "We won't allow the healthcare system to be starved again," LVSADA chief Valdis Keris said at the rally, which state hospital employees attended by taking a day of unpaid leave.

Some doctors also participated in the protest by only performing emergency surgery and tending to emergency patients on Thursday while rescheduling everything else.    "The average monthly wage for a doctor at a Latvian public hospital is only between 1,000-3,000 euros ($1,100-$3,300)," protester and doctor Roberts Furmanis said in a statement sent to media.    "I work my daily shift at one hospital, at night I also work overtime driving around in an ambulance, plus sometimes I lecture at medical schools on my rare days off," he added.   "I get less than 3,000 euros a month for those jobs combined. How am I supposed to support my family?"   Last year, lawmakers voted to raise wages for almost all employees of the government-run healthcare system, but now say that they are unable to find the necessary funds in the 2020 state budget.    "I express deep regret for last year's promise, which we cannot carry out," speaker of parliament Inara Murniece told the rally.

Those protesting, however, point out that the 2020 state budget exceeds 10 billion euros for the first time ever in the country of just 1.9 million people -- or 700 million more euros than this year.    Medical workers are upset that while there is no room for better healthcare wages in the new budget, the country's lawmakers and ministers plan to increase their own salaries next year and have also earmarked taxpayer money for their respective political parties.    Thursday's rally was Latvia's largest since some 10,000 people attended a January 2009 protest against government cuts, which grew violent and resulted in dozens of arrests.
Date: Sat 21 Sep 2019
Source: Food Safety News [edited]
<https://www.foodsafetynews.com/2019/09/latvian-officials-investigate-salmonella-and-e-coli-illnesses/>

Officials in Latvia are investigating 40 _Salmonella_ and Shiga toxin-producing _E. coli_ illnesses with mostly children affected. A total of 36 children and 4 employees of educational institutions are ill, according to the Latvian Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (SPKC). Salmonellosis has been laboratory confirmed in 9 children with symptoms of acute intestinal infection thought to have occurred from [9 to 11 Sep 2019]. Patients have been recorded at Levina and Tornisi kindergartens. Shiga toxin-producing also called enterotoxigenic _E. coli_ (EHEC) infections have been linked to schools identified as Levina, Saulite and Piladzitis in Sigulda, a town in the country.

At least 4 children aged 3 to 6 years old have developed hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS) after EHEC infection from early September 2019 in Sigulda. HUS is a type of kidney failure associated with EHEC infection. It can occur in people of any age but is most common in children under 5 years old. The SPKC has surveyed parents of sick children, visited preschools to obtain information on absent children and staff and the cause, analysed food menus and possible risk factors. A total of 19 infections at 3 other pre-school facilities in Ikskile, Garkalne and Ogre are not thought to be related to those ill in Sigulda.

The Latvian Food and Veterinary Service (PVD) has been investigating catering units at the 3 sites linked to _E. coli_ infection where catering comes from one company. Initial suspicions pointed to contaminated watermelons. Inspections at the catering units did not reveal violations of hygiene requirements that could contribute to the spread of infection. The sites also underwent cleaning and disinfection. PVD suspended operations of a vegetable processing firm called "Jelgavas Augļi" due to violations of hygiene requirements, product traceability and inadequate storage temperature for pre-packed vegetables that were stored at 13 deg. C [approx. 55 deg. F] instead of the required 6 deg. C [approx. 42 deg. F].

The company, through Baltic Restaurants Latvia, supplies fresh fruits and vegetables to Sigulda educational institutions but a connection to the outbreak has not been established. Testing at the firm so far has not found _E. coli_. Other results are pending but the company will be allowed to resume operations if they are negative and when it corrects the deficiencies identified by authorities. Authorities have also found issues with transportation of food by the company "Point to Point" Ltd between educational institutions.
=================
[These are two outbreaks of enteric pathogens that appear to be related to food supplied to schools. The EHEC outbreak has been possibly linked to watermelon. With 9 cases of EHEC and 4 of them developing HUS, it is possible that the strain is a hyperproducer of Shiga toxin but most likely related to use of antimicrobials early in the infection which increases the risk of HUS. - ProMED Mod.LL]

[HealthMap/ProMED map available at: Latvia: <http://healthmap.org/promed/p/119>]
Date: Wed, 15 May 2019 19:20:02 +0200

Riga, May 15, 2019 (AFP) - A second Albanian soldier has died of his injuries from a World War II landmine blast last week during a NATO exercise in Latvia, the Baltic state's defence minister said Wednesday.   Klodian Tanushi, who held the rank of major, died following surgery at a Riga hospital over the weekend, days after the landmine explosion that also killed another soldier.    "I would like to express my deepest sympathy to the soldiers' relatives and friends, to their fellow service members and to the people of Albania," Latvian Defence Minister Artis Pabriks told AFP.    "Latvia is very grateful to our ally Albania for contributing to NATO's expanded presence in Latvia."

In 2016, NATO deployed four multinational battalions to Poland and the Baltic states to guard against possible Russian adventurism.   The defence group's rotating battalion in Latvia is led by Canada and also includes soldiers from Albania, the Czech Republic, Italy, Montenegro, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia and Spain.   Tanushi, a father-of-three, was the commanding officer of the Albanian contingent stationed at the NATO base in the central village of Adazi.    Both world wars left Latvia littered with many unexploded sea and landmines as well as artillery shells, which continue to be found on a daily basis.    Clearing areas of such explosives is a frequent focus of NATO military exercises in the region.
Date: Sun, 22 Jul 2018 18:58:20 +0200

Riga, July 22, 2018 (AFP) - Fires raging for five days have destroyed more than 800 hectares (2,000 acres) of western Latvia, authorities said Sunday, with continuing extreme temperatures hampering firefighters' efforts.   Satellite images showed the fires have wiped out 170 acres of forest, 257 hectares of scrubland and nearly 400 hectares of peatland.

A peat fire in the Courland region broke out last Tuesday and spread eastwards, with the smoke noticeable in the resort town of Jurmala, more than 100 kilometres (60 miles) away in the neighbouring Riga region.   "Peatland fires burn downward, but when there's wind, which brings oxygen, the fires can erupt into flames," Latvian fire services spokesman Inta Palkavniece told reporters.   "The main goal is to prevent the fires from spreading," he added.   The fire services said on its website that firefighting efforts would be "long and troublesome".    "The weather is unfavourable to firefighting and will remain so over the next days," it said.

The Courland region is sparsely populated, with few roads and many areas inaccessible because of its vast marshes.   Residents of Stikli, a village that was evacuated because of the fire, began to return home after the wind changed "of their own accord", the mayor of its municipality Ventspils, Aivars Mucenieks, told reporters.   Pupils of a school for disabled children in Stikli will not return until the situation is fully under control, he added.

Meteorologists warned that the high temperatures are persisting and no rain is expected for the next two weeks.   Latvia has experienced severe drought over the last few months, prompting authorities to declare a natural catastrophe in the agricultural sector.   The Baltic country has not yet asked for help from other European countries and has no proposals to do so for the time being.   But other countries in Europe have been in the grip of an unusually long heatwave for recent weeks with little prospect of rain for the time being.

In Sweden, where temperatures are the highest for a century, farmers are even sending their animals to slaughter because there is no hay left to feed them.   It has asked for help from other European countries, because of the lack of manpower and capacity to tackle such natural catastrophes.   Poland has asked the EU for financial aid after more than 91,000 farms were affected by an unusual spring drought, according to the agriculture ministry.   In Germany, which suffered a drought in May and June, agricultural producers warned the harvest this year will be down by between 20 and 50 percent.
More ...

World Travel News Headlines

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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