Morocco is a North African country and a favourite destination for many Irish tourists. The climate, relative shortness of the flights and the idyllic swimming conditions encourage many to vis
Safety & Security
The border regions of the country can be volatile and travellers planning to visit away from the main tourist routes should take extra precautions. The Western Sahara region is still in dispute though there has been an official cease-fire in place since 1991. The possibility of unexploded mines exists though it should be remembered that this area is many miles away from the normal tourist resorts. The level of street crime in Morocco is low but growing. Busy market places, parks and beaches are popular locations for petty criminals. Tourists should take care not to flaunt personal wealth and to avoid travelling away from the main tourist zones late at night. Travelling alone is a particular risk and only authorised guides and taxis should be used. Tourists have been threatened with serious injury at knife point if they have refused to purchase cannabis.
Laws & Customs
It is an Islamic country and ladies in particular should take care to dress modestly. Islamic festivals can cause significant changes to occur which affect tourists including the holy month of Ramadan when all street cafés close until 5.30pm each day as strict Muslims do not eat during the daylight hours. The main tourist hotels continue to serve food as normal but many shops will remain closed. During these times tourists will need to carefully check their tickets and any travel arrangements may need to be changed. Banks and larger shops will remain open between 9am and 3pm Monday to Friday. Drug offences are treated very seriously and those visiting the Rif Mountains should realise this is a major cannabis growing area. Visitors with Arabic Bibles or those involved in any perceived outreach activity may find they are subjected to prolonged interrogation.
The level of health care available in many of the main hotels and resorts is perfectly adequate but care should be taken if your illness necessitates admission. Communication in English may be difficult and many medications will be unavailable. Frequently small private hospitals are used where standards vary greatly. Check that your travel insurance provides adequate cover for repatriation if required.
Food & Water Facilities
The food and water provided in many of the main tourist resorts is very satisfactory but variations can easily occur and travellers should be careful at all times. Lettuce, undercooked bivalve shellfish (mussels, oysters, clams etc) and untreated water are all frequently implicated in sickness among travellers. Eating previously peeled fruit is also unwise and should be avoided. Bottled water purchased from main shops or hotels should be used for drinking and brushing your teeth.
Insect Bites & Mosquitoes
There is only a very small risk of malaria transmission throughout Morocco and prophylaxis is not recommended for the majority of tourists. However, sandflies do abound during the summer months and can transmit a nasty disease known as Leishmaniasis. These small flies tend to hover close to the ground in shaded areas and can easily bite without the individual noticing. It is essential to use good insect repellent when at risk and to report any slow healing bite or sore to a doctor after your return home.
The level of sun exposure in Morocco during the summer months can be intense. Take care to avoid the midday sun and use high sun blocking creams at all relevant times. Take particular care of children while in such a hot climate. Extra water and salt will be required to replace the amounts lost through perspiration. Salted crisps and nuts will be a useful source of salt.
Water Sports & Activities
Many tourist locations in Morocco offer extended water sport facilities for tourists. Always check out what the standard of care is before agreeing to take part. Ask tourists who arrived before you and check with your holiday representative if possible. Confirm that good safety procedures are in place and that your travel insurance covers any accidents as a result of your activities.
Traveller’s cheques and credit cards are accepted in many of the main tourist resorts. ATM machines are available in Casablanca and Rabat. It may be difficult to reconvert Moroccan money back to sterling and so care should be taken not to change too much initially until you clarify your expenses.
Travel by Train
To visit other parts of the country many travellers use the train journey south from Tangier. However, be wary of any invitation from fellow passengers to alight at Asilah rather than continuing the journey south. A number of tourists have been held hostage and forced to make credit card transactions or cash withdrawals before being freed.
Many tourists to Morocco hire motorbikes or cars to see more of the country. This is regarded as a high-risk activity and special care will be required at all times. Driving practices throughout Morocco are poor and traffic signals do not always function. Modern freeways link the main cities of Tangier, Rabat, Fez and Casablanca. Flash flooding can occur during the rainy season (November – March).
Rabies does occur in Morocco and it is essential that you avoid any and all contact with at risk animals. Typically this includes dogs, cats and monkeys but this viral disease can infect any warm-blooded animal. Take particular care to warn children to avoid animals and to report any contact as soon as possible.
There are no essential vaccines for entry into Morocco from Ireland. However most tourists are advised to consider adequate cover against:
Poliomyelitis (childhood booster)
Tetanus (childhood booster)
Typhoid (food and water disease)
Hepatitis A (food and water disease)
Those planning a longer or more rural trip will also need to consider cover against diseases like Hepatitis B and Rabies.
The majority of tourists visiting Morocco will remain very healthy and well. However, following simple precautions against food and water disease and sun exposure will be essential.
Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS
By Sophie PONS
Rabat, May 6, 2020 (AFP) - Morocco has rapidly expanded its fleet of drones as it battles the coronavirus pandemic, deploying them for aerial surveillance, public service announcements and sanitisation. "This is a real craze. In just weeks, demand has tripled in Morocco and other countries in the region," said Yassine Qamous, chief of Droneway Maroc, African distributor for leading Chinese drone company DJI. Moroccan firms have been using drones for years and Qamous says it "is among the most advanced countries in Africa" for unmanned flight, with a dedicated industrial base, researchers and qualified pilots.
But restrictive regulations have long limited civilian drones to specific applications such as filming, agriculture, monitoring solar panels and mapping. That changed rapidly as the novel coronavirus swept across the world. In recent weeks, authorities have employed drones to issue warnings, identify suspicious movement in the streets and disperse illegal rooftop and balcony gatherings. A strict lockdown imposed in March has not been uniformly respected, with local media reporting on nighttime gatherings of neighbours and collective prayers on roofs, beyond the view of street patrols.
- 'Vital technology' -
Last week local authorities in Temara, a town near the capital Rabat, launched a high-precision aerial surveillance system developed by local company Beti3D, which previously specialised in aerial mapping. Other countries in Europe, Asia and the Middle East have also adopted technology deployed in China since the start of the pandemic, whether for tracking the movements of citizens, disinfecting public spaces or facilitating deliveries. "Drones have quickly emerged as a vital technology for public safety agencies during this crisis as they can safely monitor public spaces," according to the website of DJI, by far the world's top drone maker.
Like most countries, Morocco primarily uses imported Chinese drones. But the emergence of new applications linked to the pandemic is also driving local production of specialised aerial vehicles. "There is real demand," said Abderrahmane Krioual, the head of Farasha, a start-up that has raised funds to produce drones for thermal surveillance and aerial disinfectant spraying. The aeronautics department of the International University of Rabat (UIR) offered its facilities, expertise and prototypes to authorities in March, deploying drones with loudspeakers or infrared cameras able to detect movement at night or spot individuals with high temperatures.
Several projects are underway across the country ahead of the widespread deployment of various models of drones, said Mohsine Bouya, the university's director of technology development and transfer. Teams are also developing tracking applications, but "we'll have to wait for a change to the law" before launching them, he said. Moroccan authorities declined to comment on the use of drones or the numbers deployed since the start of the public health emergency in mid-March.
- 'Toxic lockdown culture' -
Unlike in some countries, the use of surveillance drones has not sparked public debate in Morocco, where the kingdom's authoritarian response to the pandemic is widely supported. Morocco closed its borders early and tasked law enforcement with imposing strict confinement measures on the population.
They include movement restrictions and the compulsory wearing of masks, with a nighttime curfew since the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan -- enforced by a heavy police presence. Those found guilty of violating lockdown measures face one to three months in prison, a fine equivalent to $125, or both. Officials say 59,000 people have been prosecuted for breaching lockdown measures.
Authorities say the measures have limited transmission of the virus, with 5,382 COVID-19 cases reported including 182 deaths since the state of emergency was announced. But the kingdom's high number of arrests -- some 85,000 people by April 30 -- has drawn criticism from Georgette Gagnon, director of field operations at the United Nations' Human Rights Office. Last week she listed Morocco among countries where repressive coronavirus measures have created a "toxic lockdown culture". Morocco disputed this, saying its measures were "in line with legal frameworks respecting human rights".
Rabat, April 13, 2020 (AFP) - More than 4,300 people were arrested over the weekend in Morocco for breaching emergency rules in place to combat the novel coronavirus, according to official figures. More than half of those detained were taken into police custody. Since mid-March, authorities have arrested 28,701 people across the North African country, 15,545 of whom have been referred to court after being held in custody, according to the country's national security force DGSN.
Penalties for violating measures in place to curb the spread of the COVID-19 disease include up to three months in jail and fines of up to 1,300 dirhams ($130), or both. Morocco imposed a public health state of emergency on March 19, confining everyone to their homes except those with a permit to be out for work. Last week, authorities made wearing face masks in public obligatory. Police and security agents supported by soldiers in armoured cars have been deployed around the country, erecting road barriers and control points to enforce the measures.
Morocco has recorded 1,746 COVID-19 cases, with 120 deaths and 196 recoveries. Fewer than 7,000 tests have been carried out. The largest number of arrests were made in the country's economic centre of Casablanca and the capital Rabat, according to the DGSN. Isolation measures have proved most challenging in densely populated, working-class neighbourhoods, according to local media reports.
Economic paralysis brought on by the pandemic has left millions of Moroccans in a precarious existence, with the bulk of the workforce made up of informal workers dependent on odd jobs and lacking access to social safety nets. In the absence of a social database, authorities are working to identify needy families to distribute direct financial aid and food baskets.
Rabat, April 6, 2020 (AFP) - Wearing face masks in public will be obligatory in Morocco from Tuesday in a bid to stem the spread of coronavirus, according to an official decree. The decision was announced late Monday after a government meeting on how to control the epidemic. Morocco imposed a public health state of emergency on March 19, confining everyone to their homes except those with a permit to be out and about for their work.
Police, security agents and soldiers in armoured cars have been deployed around the country, erecting road barriers and control points. The official number of COVID-19 cases in Morocco has doubled in a week to 1,120, including 80 fatalities. The real numbers are likely to be significantly higher as there is a lack of testing gear in the country.
Rabat, March 24, 2020 (AFP) - Morocco has authorised hospitals to use antimalarial drugs in treating the new coronavirus, according to a document seen by AFP, as scientists urge caution over encouraging results from small trials. The Moroccan health ministry on Monday gave hospitals and regional health directors the green light to start using hydroxychloroquine and related compound chloroquine "in the care of confirmed COVID-19 cases".
In a message seen by AFP, it said that "efforts have been made to ensure the availability of these medicines", urging caution in how the stocks are managed. Rabat last week ordered the Moroccan branch of French drug maker Sanofi to hand over its entire stock of Nivaquine and Plaquenil, both of which contain chloroquine. Studies in France and China have found that the drug helped patients suffering from the COVID-19 illness, and France on Monday ordered its use in severe cases.
US President Donald Trump on Monday said chloroquine could be a "gift from God". He has been criticised by scientists for overhyping the drug, and on Monday the World Health Organization urged caution over its use. NBC later reported that a woman in Arizona who heard Trump talk about chloroquine ended up in hospital and her husband died after they took a form of chloroquine she had used to treat her koi fish. Authorities in Nigeria said hospitals had seen cases of chloroquine poisoning after Trump's comments. Experts have urged the public to remain cautious until larger clinical trials validate the smaller studies.
In its note, Morocco's health ministry said it took its decision after consulting with a scientific committee which recommended prescribing chloroquine along with another drug called azithromycine. Morocco's transport minister, Abdelkader Amara, who tested positive for the new coronavirus on March 14, has already said he was taking Nivaquine. "My health is stable. I have no fever or respiratory symptoms. The headaches are almost gone. I just feel a little tired," he told private radio station Medi 1. Morocco has recorded 143 cases of the COVID-19 illness, with four dead. The country has three screening centres and 1,642 intensive care beds for 35 million inhabitants.
By Hamza Mekouar with Sophie Pons in Rabat
Fnideq, Morocco, March 14, 2020 (AFP) - Thousands of tourists were stranded in Morocco on Saturday after the kingdom suddenly announced strict border restrictions in response to the coronavirus, leaving travellers stuck at borders, ports and airports. "We are lost!" said David, an Italian tourist waiting at the closed border with the Spanish enclave of Ceuta in northern Morocco.
Late on Saturday, Rabat announced a suspension of air links with 21 countries including Austria, Denmark, Greece, Norway, Sweden and Switzerland in Europe, as well Turkey and Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Oman, Tunisia, and the United Arab Emirates. Africa's Chad, Mali, Mauritania, Niger and Senegal, and Canada and Brazil were also in the list. Morocco had already suspended air, sea and land links with European countries and Algeria on Friday, as well as taking measures to confine citizens to prevent the spread of coronavirus.
Flights to and from Algeria, Spain, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, Portugal and Italy were suspended "until further notice", while sea links for passengers and Morocco's land borders with Ceuta and a second Spanish enclave, Melilla, were closed. But France announced that Rabat had agreed to allow repatriation flights for French nationals. "New flights are being organised to enable (stranded French tourists) to return to France," President Emmanuel Macron tweeted Saturday. The first flights back to France had already taken off that day, Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said earlier.
The closure of the only land border between Africa and the European Union at Cueta and Melilla saw Spaniards rushing to leave on Thursday evening, as Moroccan day workers hastily returned in the opposite direction. The land borders are busiest in summer and the border sees regular traffic throughout the year. Now though a Moroccan police roadblock bars the road towards the border with Cueta.
- 'Who will pay?' -
David said he tried to go to Spain because links with Italy, a hotspot of the disease, are suspended. After arriving in Morocco for a motorcycle tour with his partner earlier this month, the 33-year-old Italian was stuck at a service station outside Cueta.
The border at Cueta, like that at Melilla, was reopened Friday only for Spaniards. The Spanish embassy in Morocco tweeted Saturday that ferries were still operating between the enclaves and mainland Spain. Its French counterpart also tweeted that "passage (into Ceuta and Melilla) is open to French ferry ticket holders with vehicles."
But except for a few travellers, the normally busy border post near the Moroccan town of Fnideq was deserted. At the service station, camper vans bearing various European license plates were parked waiting. "We don't know how long this will last, no one has told us anything," said Rene, a 71-year-old French man, speaking before Le Drian and Macrons' announcements. "The weather is good here, there's surely fewer cases of coronavirus in Morocco than in France," he said.
Moroccan authorities have reported 17 cases of COVID-19, including one death. France and Spain have together announced more than 210 COVID-19 deaths. Morocco's Transport Minister Abdelkader Amara has tested positive for the disease after an official visit to Europe, his ministry announced Saturday. On the Spanish side at Cueta, stuck Moroccans were wondering why their country would not let them back in. "If I need to get a hotel, who will pay?" asked a man hoping to return home.
At Tangiers port some 30 kilometres to the west, containers and trucks were unloaded as usual but the passenger terminal was closed. The busiest port in North Africa, the facility welcomed 568,000 foreign tourists in 2019, while some 473,000 entered from Cueta and Melilla, according to official figures. The travel restrictions are causing panic in the kingdom's tourism sector, which accounts for 10 percent of GDP and is a key source of foreign revenues.
Mexico is becoming a very popular destination for Irish travellers. The country has many well known tourist destinations including the idyllic resort of Acapulco on the Pacific Ocean and t
The country experiences a wide temperature profile with cool to cold temperatures on the mountainous ranges to a hot sub-tropical climate on the sea coasts. There is a rainy season from June to October and a dry season from November to May each year. Temperatures in April May and June tend to be in the mid 20’s centigrade. The southern and eastern regions tend to experience the heaviest rainfall.
Food & Water
Some tourists visiting Mexico will undertake a trekking holiday for part of their time in the country. This will bring them out from the major cities into many of the poorer regions of the country. In these areas the level of food and water hygiene may be poor and travellers need to exercise continuous caution in this regard. Typically great care should be taken with the consumption of any cold foods. Lettuce would be a common cause of illness and should be avoided. Undercooked shellfish (prawns, oysters, mussels etc.) should be avoided at any time. The risk of contamination with a variety of diseases is just too high.
Many of the larger towns have a number of street vendors selling their produce on the side of the road. In general purchases of food from these vendors should be avoided. This is especially true with regard to buying ‘freshly squeezed’ fruit juice drinks. In some cases potentially contaminated tap water may have been used to supplement the supply. Another particular risk in Mexico involves the purchase of water melons from the market place. These are usually sold by their weight and it is reported that certain vendors may inject them with tap water to increase their value. Be sensible and take care.
This is another viral disease that occurs throughout Mexico. 69 cases of human Rabies were reported in 1990 but this figure has dropped to 24 in 1995. The disease is transmitted through the bite of any infected warm blooded animal (dog, cats, monkey etc.). Animals should be avoided at all costs and any bite (lick or scratch) should be immediately washed out with water and then have a strong antiseptic applied. The individual should then always seek urgent competent medical attention. Cycling in the early morning is a high risk time. Dogs may become agitated and run out at the bicycle.
Protection against Mosquitoes & Sandflys
Travellers will need to exercise care against mosquito bites throughout the year and this has become particularly important due to regular outbreaks of Dengue Fever. This viral disease has swept through the Caribbean region over the past decade and Mexico has also been involved. There were approx. 4,500 cases during 1995 with about 16 deaths. More recently (Oct ‘99) the disease has been reported close to the US border with over 5000 patients affected. The disease seldom kills travellers but causes a severe flu like illness and pronounced skin rash in many of those infected. It is an unpleasant disease and can leave an individual ill for many weeks after infection. The mosquitoes can bite during the day or night. Most tourists should take care against mosquitoes by;
Using adequate Insect Repellent
Covering up well with pale coloured clothing
Refraining from using Perfumes or Aftershaves at the risk times for bites.
For many tourists to Mexico the chance of contracting malaria is negligible. The disease does occur in some of the country and those planning to trek through the rural areas may be advised to consider prophylaxis. The states most affected are Oaxaca, Hiapas, Sinaloa, Campeche, Quintana Roo, Nayarit, Tabasco, Michoacán, Chihuahua and Hidalgo. The risk extends throughout the year and visitors to these regions always should consider adequate malaria prophylaxis.
Walking on the beach above the high tide mark in many of the hotter countries without shoe covering may expose the traveller to infection with the Larva Migrans parasite. Mexico is no exception. This minute worm penetrates through the skin and causes a significant irritation just under the skin in those infected. The rash moves and becomes very itchy. Treatment is straightforward once a diagnosis is reached. Travellers walking along the beaches (above the high tide mark) should always wear shoe covering and avoid sitting straight on the sand.
No vaccines are essential for entry to Mexico however, in most cases, short term travellers will be advised to consider vaccination cover for;
Tetanus (childhood booster)
Typhoid (food & water borne)
Hepatitis A (food & water borne)
For those undertaking a trekking holiday (or those who will live in the region for some months) vaccination cover against Rabies (animal bites), Meningococcal Meningitis (air borne) and Hepatitis B (accidents) may need to be considered.
Further information on staying healthy while abroad may be obtained from the Tropical Medical Bureau.
Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS
By Román ORTEGA, Iván DUARTE y Germán CAMPOS
Puebla, Mexico, May 17, 2020 (AFP) - Scores of Mexicans are dying from drinking adulterated liquor, a consequence of the shortage of mainstream alcoholic beverages during the coronavirus pandemic, authorities say. The first of at least 121 deaths in recent weeks occurred at the end of April in the western state of Jalisco, almost exactly a month after the government declared a health emergency over the spread of COVID-19. Much of Mexico has run out of beer after factories producing liquor and beer were shut down, along with other non-essential firms.
Beer stocks were practically depleted within a month, and in some areas the prices of what was left doubled, according to industry sources. Many of the 53 deaths in central Puebla province have been linked to a wake where people drank moonshine containing methanol -- a wood alcohol that in non-lethal doses can cause blindness and liver damage. Twenty-three people died in the hours following the gathering in the town of Chiconcuautla, according to authorities. The town's mayor said the popular "refino" drink, made from sugarcane, had been adulterated.
German Hernandez said his father died after being poisoned by drink known locally as "tejon" -- a blend of brandy with tejocote fruit (a type of hawthorn), in the Puebla town of Cacaloxuchitl. "They sell it in the stores, and you can buy it and take it out. My father began trembling and feeling weak. He told us he felt bad, and we took him to the hospital," Hernandez told AFP. "This has never happened before." Deaths have also been recorded in the central state of Morelos and Yucatan and Veracruz in the east.
- Mafia trade -
Gangs specializing in bootleg booze are trying to take advantage of the lack of alternative alcohol sources during the shutdown. "They usually have very well-structured mafias, and some escape the surveillance of the authorities," Ricardo Cardenas of the Federal Commission for Protection against Sanitary Risks told AFP. "We presume that, as a result of this shortage and demand being very high, some people are offering or trying to sell methanol instead of ethyl alcohol," said Denis de Santiago, head of Sanitary Risks in Jalisco.
Methanol is used in fuel, solvents and antifreeze. The country's largest beer producers, Grupo Modelo -- which makes the popular Corona beer -- and Heineken, which makes Sol, halted production in early April. Alcohol sales have been banned in some states, including Yucatan. In others, alcoholic beverages can only be purchased at certain times. Some drinks companies have switched production to antibacterial gel that they are donating to the federal government and health workers.
- 'Who would have thought?' -
In Yucatan, where 38 people have died so far, victims unknowingly drank methanol in their usual "pajaretes" -- a common cocktail that includes milk, coffee, vanilla and brand-name sugarcane alcohol. Humberto Macias, 36, said he saw three of his relatives die within days of each other after drinking a pajarete cocktail, made using a trusted brand of alcohol. "We had always drunk it, including myself, many people. Who would have thought it was like this?" Macias said.
In the Yucatan peninsula town of Acanceh, seven people have died from alcohol poisoning. "It's the first time I've heard of a case like this. I don't remember anything similar," the town's mayor Felipe Medina told AFP. In Veracruz, Morelos and Yucatan, investigators are still trying to determine what drinks the victims consumed.
Puebla, Mexico, May 14, 2020 (AFP) - At least 42 people are now dead after drinking adulterated alcohol at a funeral in Mexico's central Puebla state, officials said. Eleven others are fighting for their lives after attending the service in Chinconcuatla, around 200 kilometres (125 miles) northeast of Mexico City, according to a Wednesday statement from the local government.
Dozens of people were rushed to hospitals on Tuesday, vomiting and suffering headaches after drinking the tainted beverages. Authorities said the coronavirus epidemic had led to shortages of beer and other alcoholic drinks, leading to the consumption of dangerous adulterated liquor. Last month, 21 people died in the western state of Jalisco after drinking tainted alcohol.
Guadalajara, Mexico, April 30, 2020 (AFP) - Some 21 people have died and 13 others have been seriously injured in the Mexican state of Jalisco after ingesting contaminated liquor, regional authorities said Wednesday. In total, 56 people have been affected in two municipalities in the western state since Saturday, state health official Huge Esparza said during a press conference, including the 21 who have died and 29 who have become ill. The 13 who became seriously ill were transported via helicopter to hospitals in Guadalajara, the capital of Jalisco, while the rest were discharged, Esparza said.
On Saturday, patients began presenting with "symptoms of blurred vision and/or vision loss, intense abdominal pain, difficulty breathing and convulsions," he said. They had ingested a form of cane alcohol purer than that made for drinking that was manufactured in neighbouring Michoacan state. Some 700 litres of the liquor were seized over the following days. Laboratory tests showed the liquor contained a "high concentration" of methanol used "as an additive to liquid fuels," according to another Jalisco health official, Denis Santiago "This chemical agent is for industrial use," he said. One other person was affected in Michoacan, though Jalisco authorities did not provide details on their condition.
This is an increase of 20 cases in relation to the last cut. Of the 101 cases, 96 were detected in CDMX (Ciudad de Mexico)
Brazil is the largest country in South America and extends from the Atlantic Ocean to the Caribbean to the depths of the Amazon basin. The climate varies throughout the country but generally it experiences a humid
Safety & Security
The level of crime in many of the main urban centres is certainly rising and tourists need to be aware of the risks involved in travelling particularly in the evening hours. It is wise to use an official taxi for any journeys after dark. It is sensible not to flaunt any personal wealth and to use the hotel safety boxes for any valuables and your travel documents. The amount of crime against tourists tends to be greater in areas surrounding hotels, discotheques, bars, nightclubs and other similar establishments that cater to visitors, especially at dusk and during the evening hours. There are frequent reports of theft on city buses and such transportation should be avoided. A number of the main cities have established specialised tourist police units to patrol areas frequented by tourists. Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo and Brasilia all continue to experience a high incidence of crime.
Throughout this huge country the state of the roads varies greatly. In many regions the roads are dirt tracks and assistance would be hard to obtain for those travelling off from the main tourists routes. Bag snatching from traffic lights occurs in the main cities. If considering hiring a car make certain that your travel insurance is sufficient.
After your flight you will experience a degree of jet lag. Travelling from Europe this will be less than when you travel home but nevertheless it will still cause your body to complain for 24 to 48 hours. Try to have a more relaxing time for the first few days (and also after returning home if possible!). Be careful not to fall asleep by the pool and then awaken with sunburn which could ruin your time abroad.
In any country of this size the level of medical care will vary greatly. This is particular true out side the main tourist resorts. English speaking doctors should be available but the level of hospital care can be worrisome. Make certain you carry sufficient supplies of any medication you may require for your entire holiday. Essential drugs (asthma, diabetes, epilepsy etc) should be divided for security.
Sun Exposure and Dehydration
The hot humid tropical climate often leads to quite significant problems for the Irish traveller. Make sure you cover your head when out in the sunlight and drink plenty of fluids to replenish that lost through perspiration. Replace the salt you loose by eating crisps etc orby putting salt on your meal (providing there is no contraindication).
Visiting the Iguassu Falls
These huge waterfalls border Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay. There is only minimal risk of malaria and so malaria prophylaxis is not generally recommended. Also, Yellow fever is not transmitted in this area but mosquitoes can abound. Sensible insect bite precautions should be followed at all times.
Food & Water
Many tourists who visit Brazil stay in the main resorts along the southern coast. The food and water preparation in the hotels is normally excellent but eating food from street vendors is generally unwise. Shell fish (bivalve oysters, mussels, clams etc) are unwise even in a five star hotel. Check the water from the cold water tap in your room. If you can’t easily smell chlorine (swimming pool style) don’t use it even for brushing your teeth. If travelling around the country (Caribbean coast or into the Amazon regions) take significantly more care.
This viral disease occurs throughout Brazil and it is usually transmitted through the bite from an infected warm-blooded animal (eg dogs, cats & monkeys). Any contact should be avoided but if it occurs treat it very seriously and seek competent medical attention immediately after you wash out the area and apply an antiseptic.
The risk of malaria is significant all year throughout the Amazon regions. There is insignificant risk for those staying along the coast up as far as Fortaleza and for those remaining in this region prophylaxis is not usually recommended. The risk in the region of Brasilia is also thought to be minimal though this is an area which has unusually experience an outbreak of Yellow Fever recently, and so the situation will require review.
Mosquito Borne Diseases Apart from malaria the other two main diseases transmitted by mosquitoes which cause problems in Brazil are Dengue Fever (mainly along Caribbean Coast but has been reported much further south) and Yellow Fever (mainly in the Amazon Basin but thought to be spreading to other regions). Avoidance techniques are important at all times throughout the day. Swimming **************************************** Most of the main tourist swimming pools will be well maintained and the smell of chlorine will be evident. If sea swimming is on your agenda make sure you go where there are plenty of others and never swim alone. Look for warning signs and pay attention to local advice. Be very careful of local currents which can be dangerous. Vaccinations **************************************** The Brazilian Embassy is advising all travellers to Brazil to have vaccination cover against Yellow Fever. Also for your personal protection it is wise to consider some further vaccines. Generally we would recommend the following vaccination cover; * Yellow Fever (mosquito borne) * Tetanus (childhood booster) * Typhoid (food & water borne) * Hepatitis A (food & water borne) For those travelling more extensively or staying in the country for longer periods we would usually suggest that further vaccines are considered including Hepatitis B, Meningitis and Rabies. Summary **************************************** Many travellers to Brazil will remain perfectly healthy and well providing they follow some sensible precautions. Further information is available from either of our centres regarding any recent disease outbreaks.
Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS
Sao Paulo, April 6, 2020 (AFP) - The epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak in Latin America, Brazil's Sao Paulo state, said Monday it expects 111,000 deaths in the next six months, and extended its stay-at-home measures another two weeks. The forecast -- an official projection, the state government said -- would appear to put Brazil on track to become one of the worst-hit countries in the world. The global death toll from the virus currently stands at 70,000, according to a tally compiled by AFP.
Sao Paulo, the teeming industrial hub where the new coronavirus first appeared in Latin America, has confirmed 4,620 cases and 275 deaths so far. Governor Joao Doria, who closed non-essential businesses on March 24 and advised people to stay home, said containment measures would be needed for at least two more weeks or the situation would get far worse. "If we continue seeing people in the streets and gathering unnecessarily, we will go to more restrictive measures," he told a news conference. Police are already authorized to break up crowds by force if necessary, he said.
Without containment measures, Sao Paulo -- whose capital is the mega-city of the same name -- would register 270,000 deaths in the next six months, said the head of the state's public health research institute, Dimas Covas. Brazil has been the Latin American country hit hardest by the new coronavirus, with 553 deaths and more than 12,000 confirmed cases so far. Health experts warn under-testing means the real number is likely much higher.
Sao Paulo, a state whose population of 46 million makes it about the size as Spain, has seen more infections and deaths than any other. The state is probably facing another 1,300 deaths this week, Covas said. The governor has openly clashed over containment measures with far-right President Jair Bolsonaro, who claims they are needlessly wrecking the economy over a disease he has compared to a "little flu."
The yellow fever virus was introduced into the Americas approximately 400 years ago, yet the complex interactions that were established after its introduction are far from being elucidated. There is need for more research on the eco-epidemiology of the disease in the continent, specifically on the role of each non-human primate species, and especially in the presence of the persistent anthropogenic global environmental change.
Brasília, March 19, 2020 (AFP) - Brazil on Thursday announced it was closing its land borders for 15 days to nearly all its neighbours to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. A ministerial decree said it was blocking entry "by road or land" from all neighbouring countries with the exception of Uruguay to the south. It shut its border with Venezuela on Tuesday.
Sao Paulo, March 3, 2020 (AFP) - At least 21 people have been killed in torrential rain that hit the Brazilian states of Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, triggering flash floods and destroying homes, authorities said Tuesday. Another 32 people are missing in Sao Paulo, raising fears the toll could rise further. Violent storms in recent days have dumped a month's worth of rain on some areas in a matter of hours, devastating the southern coast of Sao Paulo state and poor neighborhoods on the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro, the country's second most populous city.
At least 16 people were killed early Tuesday in Sao Paulo state after floods and landslides hit the coastal cities of Santos, Sao Vicente and Guaruja, authorities said. One of the victims was a rescue worker who was killed by a landslide. "I express my solidarity with those who are suffering from these heavy rains," Sao Paulo Governor Joao Doria wrote on Twitter. Several highways were blocked by fallen trees and landslides, including some linking Santos, the biggest port in South America, to Sao Paulo, Brazil's largest city and economic capital.
In Rio de Janeiro, authorities said the death toll had risen to at least five after three days of violent rain that destroyed houses, swept away cars, and left some communities covered in water or mud. The victims were electrocuted, buried in landslides or drowned, emergency officials said. The disaster turned political in Rio when the city's Mayor Marcelo Crivella, a far-right evangelical Christian bishop, blamed residents for the flooding. During a visit to an affected community, he complained to journalists that "people can't be throwing trash on hillsides, in storm drains and in the street."
In the middle of the press conference someone pelted Crivella in the face with a mud ball -- which was captured in a video that went viral online. "The water knocked my granddaughter and I and off the sofa. Dirty water came flooding into my kitchen, bathroom, bedrooms, everything. I lost everything," Ivone Cardoso, 65, a resident of Rio's Realengo neighbourhood, told AFP as she swept mud and water out of her house. Brazil is having an especially intense rainy season this summer. In January, more than 50 people were killed in Minas Gerais state, which neighbors Sao Paulo, in several days of violent rain.
June 05, 2008
COUNTRY DESCRIPTION: Panama has a developing economy. Outside the Panama City area, which has many first-class hotels and restaurants, tourist facilities vary in quality. The U.S. dollar is t
ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS: U.S. citizens traveling by air to and from Panama must present a valid passport when entering or re-entering the United States. Sea travelers must have a valid U.S. passport (or other original proof of U.S. citizenship, such as a certified U.S. birth certificate with a government-issued photo ID). American citizens can visit travel.state.gov or call 1-877-4USA-PPT (1-877-487-2778) for information on applying for a passport.
Panamanian law requires that travelers must either purchase a tourist card from the airline serving Panama or obtain a visa from a Panamanian embassy or consulate before traveling to Panama. Further information may be obtained from the Embassy of Panama, 2862 McGill Terrace NW, Washington, DC 20009, tel. (202) 483-1407, or the Panamanian consulates in Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Honolulu, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New Orleans, New York, Philadelphia, San Juan, San Diego, San Francisco or Tampa.
U.S. citizens transiting the Panama Canal as passengers do not need to obtain visas, report to customs, or pay any fees. U.S. citizens piloting private craft through the canal should contact the Panama Canal Authority at 011-507-272-1111 or consult the canal’s web page at http://www.pancanal.com.
In an effort to prevent international child abduction, many governments have initiated procedures at entry/exit points. These often include requiring documentary evidence of relationship and permission for the child's travel from the parent(s) or legal guardian not present. Having such documentation on hand, even if not required, may facilitate entry/departure.
Panamanian law requires all persons to carry official identification documents at all times. This law applies to both Panamanian citizens and visitors to the country. Due to an increase in illegal aliens in Panama, the police have been checking documents more frequently, resulting in the detention of people not carrying identification. For this reason, all Americans are encouraged to carry their passports or other official identification at all times.
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.
Visit the Embassy of Panama web site at http://www.embassyofpanama.org/cms/index4.phpfor the most current visa information.
SAFETY AND SECURITY: U.S. citizens are warned not to travel to Darien Province. Embassy personnel are only allowed to travel to Darien Province on official business with prior approval of the Embassy’s Regional Security Officer. This restricted area encompasses the Darien National Park as well as privately owned nature reserves and tourist resorts. While no incidents have occurred at these resorts, U.S. citizens, other foreign nationals and Panamanian citizens have been the victims of violent crime, kidnapping and murder in this general area. Reliable communications and medical infrastructure are not readily available in the region, which makes travel therein potentially hazardous. Moreover, all around the Panama-Colombia border area the presence of Colombian terrorist groups, drug traffickers and other criminals is common, increasing the danger to travelers. Note: The Secretary of State has designated the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the National Liberation Army (ELN) and the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) as Foreign Terrorist Organizations.
There is increasing evidence that the Revolutionary Armed Forced of Colombia (FARC), a designated foreign terrorist organization, has increased its operations in Panama’s Darien Province, including in areas far removed from the immediate vicinity of Panamanian-Colombian border. In February 2008 encounters between six FARC members and the Panamanian police near the city of Jaque resulted in the arrest of the FARC members.
From time to time, there may be demonstrations protesting internal Panamanian issues, or manifestations of anti-American sentiment by small but vociferous groups. While most demonstrations relate to labor disputes or other local issues and are typically non-violent, it is nonetheless a good security practice to avoid demonstrations. U.S. citizens are advised to exercise caution on the campus of the University of Panama, where members of radical, anti-U.S. student groups are active. For updated security information, contact the U.S. Embassy Consular Section at the address below.
Visitors should be cautious when swimming or wading at the beach. Some beaches, especially those on the Pacific Ocean, have dangerous currents that cause drowning deaths every year. These beaches are seldom posted with warning signs.
On the Pacific coast, boaters should be wary of vessels that may be transporting narcotics northward from Colombia. Special permission is needed from the Ministry of Government and Justice and the National Environment Authority to visit the National Park on Coiba Island. At this time, the island, a former penal colony, has fewer than 20 prisoners. Boaters should avoid the southeastern coast of Kuna Yala Comarca (San Blas Islands), south of Punta Carreto, on the Atlantic Coast.
Local maritime search and rescue capabilities are limited and well below U.S. standards.
For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs’ web site at http://travel.state.gov, where the current Travel Warnings and Travel Alerts, as well as the Worldwide Caution, can be found.
Up-to-date information on safety and security can also be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll free in the U.S. and Canada, or for callers outside the U.S. and Canada, a regular toll-line at 1-202-501-4444. These numbers are available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays).
The Department of State urges American citizens to take responsibility for their own personal security while traveling overseas. For general information about appropriate measures travelers can take to protect themselves in an overseas environment, see the Department of State’s pamphlet A Safe Trip Abroad.
CRIME: Crime in Panama City is moderate but increasing, particularly because of the activities of youth gangs. The city of Colon is a high crime area. Police checkpoints have become commonplace on weekends on roads in both cities. Based upon reported incidents by local police, the high-crime areas around Panama City are San Miguelito, Rio Abajo, El Chorrillo, Ancon, Curundu, Veracruz Beach, Panama Viejo, and the Madden Dam overlook. Crimes there are typical of those that plague metropolitan areas and range from rapes to armed robberies, muggings, purse-snatchings, "express kidnappings" from ATM banking facilities, in which the victim is briefly kidnapped and robbed after withdrawing cash from an ATM, and petty theft. Tourists recently experienced a problem with armed bandits during an organized canoe trip on the Chagres River. There have been several targeted kidnappings, including in Panama City, one of which involved a U.S. citizen, and one which involved the complicity of corrupt law enforcement officials. If concerned for their safety when being stopped by Panamanian law enforcement, U.S. citizens should consider slowing down and turning on their hazard lights, acknowledging the request to stop, and proceeding deliberately to a safe public place at which to stop.
Panama City has a curfew for persons under 18 years of age. Under the law, students attending night classes must have a carnet or permit, issued by the school or, if employed, a Certificate of Employment. Minors who are picked up for a curfew violation are subject to detention at a police station until parents or legal guardians can arrange for them to be released into their custody. Parents or legal guardians may be fined up to U.S. $50.00 for the violation.
INFORMATION FOR VICTIMS OF CRIME: The loss or theft abroad of a U.S. passport should be reported immediately to the local police and the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. If you are the victim of a crime while overseas, in addition to reporting to local police, please contact the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate for assistance. The Embassy/Consulate staff can, for example, assist you to find appropriate medical care, contact family members or friends and explain how funds could be transferred. Although the investigation and prosecution of the crime is solely the responsibility of local authorities, consular officers can help you to understand the local criminal justice process and to find an attorney if needed. The Panamanian Government also sponsors a program for Assistance to Victims of Crimes. The program is managed by the Oficina de Asistencia a Víctimas de Crímenes, located at the Policia Tecnica Judicial in the Ancon area of Panama City, telephone number is 011-507-262-1973 or 011-507-512-2222.
See our information on Victims of Crime.
MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION: Although Panama City has some very good hospitals and clinics, medical facilities outside of the capital are limited. When making a decision regarding health insurance, Americans should consider that many foreign doctors and hospitals require payment in cash prior to providing service and that a medical evacuation to the U.S. may cost well in excess of $50,000. Uninsured travelers who require medical care overseas often face extreme difficulties, whereas travelers who have purchased overseas medical insurance have, when a medical emergency occurs, found it to be life-saving. Some insurance policies also include coverage for psychiatric treatment and for disposition of remains in the event of death. In Panama, most hospitals accept credit cards for hospital charges, but not for doctors' fees.
Information on vaccinations and other health precautions, such as safe food and water precautions and insect bite protection, may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s hotline for international travelers at 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747) or via the CDC’s web site at http://wwwn.cdc.gov/travel/default.aspx. For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad consult the World Health Organization’s (WHO) web site at http://www.who.int/en. Further health information for travelers is available at http://www.who.int/ith/en.
MEDICAL INSURANCE: The Department of State strongly urges Americans to consult with their medical insurance company prior to traveling abroad to confirm whether their policy applies overseas and whether it will cover emergency expenses such as a medical evacuation. Please see our information on medical insurance overseas.
TRAFFIC SAFETY AND ROAD CONDITIONS: While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. The information below concerning Panama is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.
Panama's roads, traffic and transportation systems are generally safe, but traffic lights often do not exist, even at busy intersections. Driving is often hazardous and demanding due to dense traffic, undisciplined driving habits, poorly maintained streets, and a lack of effective signs and traffic signals. On roads where poor lighting and driving conditions prevail, night driving is difficult and should be approached with caution. Night driving is particularly hazardous on the old Panama City – Colon highway.
Buses and taxis are not always maintained in a safe operating condition due to lack of regulatory enforcement. Auto insurance is not mandatory and many drivers are uninsured. If an accident occurs, the law requires that the vehicles remain in place until a police officer responds to investigate. Traffic in Panama moves on the right, as in the U.S., and Panamanian law requires that drivers and passengers wear seat belts.
Flooding during the April to December rainy season occasionally makes city streets impassible and washes out some roads in the interior of the country. In addition, rural areas are often poorly maintained and lack illumination at night. Such roads are generally less traveled and the availability of emergency roadside assistance is very limited. Road travel is more dangerous during the rainy season and in the interior from Carnival through Good Friday. Carnival starts the Saturday prior to Ash Wednesday and goes on for four days.
Traveling on the Pan American Highway: There is often construction at night on Panama's main Pan American highway. There are few signs alerting drivers to such construction and the highway is not well lit at night. When traveling on the highway, travelers should be aware of possible roadblocks. The Pan American Highway ends at Yaviza in the Darien Province of Panama and does not go through to Colombia. The paved portion of the road ends at Santa Fe, with all-weather surface through Canglón. Travelers going to South America by car may wish to ship their cars on a freighter.
Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information. Visit the web site of the country’s national tourist office at http://www.ipat.gob.pa/ and the national authority responsible for road safety at http://www.mop.gob.pa/default0.asp.
AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT: The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the Government of Panama’s Civil Aviation Authority as being in compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards for oversight ofPanama’s air carrier operations. For more information, travelers may visit the FAA’s web site at http://www.faa.gov/safety/programs_initiatives/oversight/iasa.
SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES: Panamanian customs authorities may enforce strict regulations concerning temporary importation into or export from Panama of items such as firearms and ammunition, cultural property, endangered wildlife species, narcotics, biological material, and food products. It is advisable to contact the Embassy of Panama in Washington or one of Panama's consulates in the United States for specific information regarding customs requirements. In many countries around the world, counterfeit and pirated goods are widely available. Transactions involving such products are illegal and bringing them back to the United States may result in forfeitures and/or fines. Please see our Customs Information.
CRIMINAL PENALTIES: While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country's laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law. Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses. Persons violating Panamanian laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned. Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Panama are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines. Engaging in sexual conduct with children or using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is a crime, prosecutable in the United States. Please see our information on Criminal Penalties.
CHILDREN'S ISSUES: For information see our Office of Children’s Issues web pages on intercountry adoption and international parental child abduction.
REGISTRATION / EMBASSY LOCATION:
Americans living or traveling in Panama are encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate through the State Department’s travel registration web site so that they can obtain updated information on travel and security within Panama. Americans withoutInternet 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 and U.S. Consular Section are located in Avenida Demetrio Basilio Lakas, Building No.783 in the Clayton section of Panama City. The international mailing address is: Apartado 0816-02561, Zona 5, Panama, Republic of Panama.
The U.S. mailing address is U.S. Embassy Panama, Department of State, Washington, DC 20521-9100. The telephone numbers for the Embassy are 011-507-207-7000, or for after-hours emergencies, 011-507-207-7200; Consular Section 011-507-207-7030 and fax 011-507-207-7278 or 011-507-207-7303. The Embassy web site is http://panama.usembassy.gov/. E-mail inquiries may be addressed to Panama-ACS@state.gov.
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This replaces the Country Specific Information for Panama dated December 2007, to update sections on Security and Information for Victims of Crimes.
Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS
Panama City, March 31, 2020 (AFP) - The government of Panama on Monday announced strict quarantine measures that separate citizens by gender in an effort to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus. From Wednesday, men and women will only be able to leave their homes for two hours at a time, and on different days. Until now, quarantine regulations were not based on gender.
Men will be able to go to the supermarket or the pharmacy on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, and women will be allowed out on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. No one will be allowed to go out on Sundays.
The new measures will last for 15 days. "This absolute quarantine is for nothing more than to save your life," security minister Juan Pino said at a press conference. According to Pino, more than 2,000 people were detained last week for not abiding by the quarantine. Since the first case was reported on March 10, Panama has confirmed 1,075 cases of the coronavirus, 43 of which are in intensive care, and 27 deaths.
Panama City, March 11, 2020 (AFP) - Panama's health minister on Tuesday confirmed eight cases of the new coronavirus in the country, including one death, the first virus-linked death in Central America. "Of the eight patients we are reporting, one person is in intensive care, another unfortunately died," Minister Rosario Turner said during a press conference in Panama City. According to the ministry, a 64-year-old man who was already suffering from diabetes complications associated with bacterial pneumonia died of the COVID-19 virus on Sunday. Turner said that the deceased man was the director of a school and that two of the other cases were affiliated with the same establishment. The other seven people who tested positive ranged in age from 29 to 59 and all but one had recently travelled abroad.
Panama is the second Central American country to record cases of the COVID-19 virus following Costa Rica, where 13 people tested positive, including three Americans. The Panamanian government ordered public and private schools closed until April 7 in the potentially affected regions. The Health Ministry, meanwhile, called on the population "to remain calm and follow prevention protocols." A total of 117,339 cases of the novel coronavirus have been recorded worldwide, including 4,251 deaths, across 107 countries and territories, according to an AFP tally.
Panama City, May 13, 2019 (AFP) - A 6.1-magnitude earthquake hit Panama on Sunday, injuring at least five people and causing damage to businesses and homes, officials said. The strong quake struck at a depth of 37 kilometers (23 miles) in the far west of the country near the Costa Rican border, according to the US Geological Survey.
It was followed by a smaller 5.4-magnitude quake in Colon province, on central Panama's Caribbean coast, according to the country's National Civil Protection System (Sinaproc). Five people were injured in the first quake, which hit 22 km from the town of Puerto Armuelles, said Sinaproc. Four homes were damaged, including two that collapsed, it said.
President Juan Carlos Varela had said on Twitter earlier that just one person was hurt, in Puerto Armuelles. He reported damage to homes and businesses in the Central American nation. School classes were suspended for Monday in Baru district, where the first quake struck. There was no tsunami alert issued from the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center.
The second quake occurred late Sunday and was not related to the afternoon quake near Puerto Armuelles, Sinaproc said. So far no damage has been reported from the second quake, it added. In November 2017 a 6.5-magnitude quake on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica left buildings swaying in the capital San Jose and contributed to the deaths of two people who had heart attacks. Further north, two months earlier in September 2017 a 7.1-magnitude earthquake killed more than 300 people in Mexico.
World Travel News Headlines
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.
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.
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.
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."
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.