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Montenegro

General:
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Cuba is an independent island country situated in the Caribbean. It is the largest of the islands and covers 42,000sq miles. The climate is sub tropical throughout the year with most of the rainfall in
the northern parts of the country. Temperatures of between 20C to 35C are fairly standard throughout the year. Generally the winter effects of the American continent only last for short periods.
Safety & Security:
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The majority of tourists visiting Cuba will have no difficulty but bag snatching and other street crime appears to be increasing. The old Havana area and other major tourist resorts may be particular areas of concern in this regard. On arrival be careful to only use your recognised tour operator. If you are taking a taxi at any stage make sure it is a registered one and not a private vehicle. It is unwise to carry large quantities of money or jewellery away from your hotel and try not to flaunt wealth with your belongings. Pickpockets are too common an occurrence on buses and trains and at train stations so be careful with your essential documents and credit cards. Valuables should not be stored in suitcases when arriving in or departing from Havana as there have been a number of thefts from cases during the time the cases are coming through baggage handling. There is an airport shrink-wrap facility for those departing Havana which reduces the risk of tampering. Remember to carry a photocopy of your main documents (passport, flight tickets etc).
Road Safety:
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Following a number of serious road accidents involving tourists, you are advised not to use mopeds for travelling around Cuba or in Havana. Also, if you are involved in any accident a police investigation will be required to clear you and this may significantly delay your travel plans. On unlit roads at night there have been a number of accidents associated with roaming cattle (sounds like Ireland!). The traffic moves on the right side of the roads. There is a main highway running the length of the country but many of the country roads are in poor repair.
Local Laws & Customs:
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When arriving into Cuba make sure you are not carrying any items which could be considered offensive. Any illicit drug offense is treated very seriously and Cuban law allows for the death penalty to be used under these circumstances. If you require personal medication for your health, make sure it is in original packing and carry a letter from your doctor describing the medication. Never agree to carry any item for another individual and always secure your cases once they are packed. Taking photographs of military or police installations or around harbours, rail and airport facilities is strictly forbidden.

Currency:
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Since 1993 it is now possible to use US dollars for all transactions within Cuba. Remember, there is a 20$ airport departure tax. Certain travellers cheques and credit cards may not be acceptable within Cuba. This is particularly true of American Express cheques and cards but check your situation with the travel operator before departure.
Health Facilities:
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Generally healthcare facilities outside of Havana are limited and many standard medications may not be available. It is important to carry sufficient quantities of any medications which may be required for the duration of your time in Cuba.
Food & Water:
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The level of food and water hygiene varies throughout the country and between resorts. On arrival check the hotel cold water supply for the smell of chlorine. If it is not present then use sealed bottled water for both drinking and brushing your teeth throughout your stay. Cans and bottles of drinks are safe but take care to avoid pre-cut fruit. Peel it yourself to make sure it is not contaminated. Food from street vendors should be avoided in most cases. Bivalve shellfish are also a high risk food in many countries and Cuba is no exception in this regard. (Eg Mussels, Oysters, Clams etc)
Malaria & Mosquito Borne Diseases:
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Malaria transmission does not occur within Cuba and so prophylaxis is not required. However, a different mosquito borne disease called Dengue has begun to reoccur in the country over the past few years. This viral disease can be very sickening and even progress to death. It is rare for tourists to become infected but avoiding mosquito bites is a wise precaution.
Swimming, Sun & Dehydration:
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The extent of the Cuban sun (particular during the summer months (April to October) can be very excessive so make sure your head and shoulders are covered at all times when exposed. Watch children carefully as they will be a significant risk. Drink plenty of fluids to replace what will be lost through perspiration and, unless there is a reason not to,
take extra salt either on your food or in crisps, peanuts etc. Take care if swimming in the Caribbean to stay with others and to listen to local advice. Never swim after a heavy meal or alcohol.
Rabies Risk in Cuba:
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This viral disease does occur throughout Cuba and it is essential that you avoid any contact with all warm blooded animals. Dogs, cats and monkeys are the most commonly involved in spreading the disease to humans. Don't pick up a monkey for a photograph! If bitten, wash out the wound, apply an antiseptic and seek urgent medical attention.
Vaccinations for Cuba:
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There are no essential vaccines for entry / exit if coming from Ireland. However, for your own personal protection travellers are advised to have cover against the following;
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Tetanus (childhood booster)
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Typhoid (food & water borne disease)
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Hepatitis A (food & water borne disease)
For those planning a longer or more rural trip vaccine cover against conditions like Hepatitis B and Rabies may also need to be considered.
Summary:
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Cuba is becoming a popular destination for tourists and generally most will stay very healthy. However commonsense care against food and water borne disease is essential at all times. Also take care with regard to sun exposure, dehydration and mosquito bites.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Wed, 14 Aug 2019 14:19:50 +0200 (METDST)

Podgorica, Montenegro, Aug 14, 2019 (AFP) - Smoking indoors in public places was banned from Wednesday in Montenegro, a major challenge in the tobacco-mad Balkan country with some of the highest smoking rates in Europe.    More than one third of adults among the population of just  650,000 are regular smokers, according to the public health institute.    Under the new law, lighting up is  prohibited in all closed public places, including restaurants and cafes where smoking was previously common as elsewhere across the region.   The exception is casinos, where smoking will still be allowed. Businesses can also set up separate rooms solely for smoking.

Fines for violating the law range from 500 euros ($560) to 20,000 euros ($22,370) under legislation that also regulates cigarette sales and warnings on the  packaging.    On Wednesday, cafes in the capital Podgorica had put up notices about the ban in their windows and removed ashtrays from indoor tables.    "Fines are high and we have to comply with the ban," said barista Milan.   But the ban is not without its critics.   "This law is hypocritical. If its adoption was motivated by health concerns, casinos should not have been exempted," says Dusan, a customer.

Montenegro, which is hoping to join the European Union, had already adopted an anti-tobacco law in 2004, but it was not respected.    Regulations passed in 2012  requiring restaurants to pay additional taxes for allowing smoking inside were similarly ineffective.   "The Ministry will persevere in its efforts to enforce every section of the law to the letter," assured Health Minister Kenan Hrapovic.    According to the health ministry, some 400 Montenegrins are diagnosed with lung cancer every year.   The medical treatment is costly -- amounting to some 70,000 euros per patient.    Smoking indoors is widespread in the Balkans, though Croatia and North Macedonia have similar bans on closed public places.
Date: Wed, 22 Aug 2018 05:37:28 +0200
By Sally MAIRS and Olivera NIKOLIC

Kotor, Montenegro, Aug 22, 2018 (AFP) - Montenegro's medieval walled city of Kotor, an Adriatic seaport cradled in a spectacular fjord-like bay, has survived centuries of weather and warfare.    Now it is facing a different kind of assault, that of gargantuan cruise ships disgorging throngs of tourists threatening a place that was only a few years ago commonly described as a "hidden gem".    The coastline the poet Lord Byron called the "most beautiful merging of land and sea" is now one of unbridled real estate development.

With rocky slopes jutting into azure waters, Kotor's bay and its white-stone old town have been hailed as an alternative for travellers looking to avoid the mass tourism choking Dubrovnik some 70 kilometres (45 miles) up the coast in Croatia.   Last year the hugely popular Dubrovnik -- like Kotor, a medieval walled city and a UNESCO World Heritage site -- became synonymous with the global "overtourism" scourge, showing up on lists of destinations to avoid.

Dubrovnik has seen a marked surge of visitors since scenes of the HBO series "Game of Thrones" were set there.   Now there are fears Kotor could meet a similar fate.   "Kotor was once known for being more authentic (than Dubrovnik), but now we're in the same place," said Sandra Kapetanovic from Expedito, a local architecture group that advocates sustainable development.    "We are being transformed into a city of souvenir shops," she said, noting that rising prices have forced out a library, hair salon, market and shoemaker in the past year.   Last week a Lonely Planet travel writer tweeted a photo of a massive cruise ship moored in Kotor, which welcomes up to four of them at once, contributing to some 10,000 daily visitors at the height of the season.

- Tipping point? -
"There were 3 of these obnoxious giants clogging up the bay yesterday," wrote Peter Dragicevich. "They've killed #Venice and #Dubrovnik. Here's hoping they don't kill #Kotor as well."   UNESCO, which named Kotor a World Heritage site in 1979, has been warning for years that rampant construction in the bay is threatening its main appeal -- the city's "harmony" with the natural landscape.   In 2016 the UN cultural body threatened to revoke Kotor's heritage status -- a wakeup call for the Montenegro authorities, who imposed a temporary moratorium on construction last year.   "The question is what happens next?" asked Ana Nives Radovic, head of Kotor's local tourism body.   "We are witnessing an era where we either make big changes, or we will be completely devastated if we just choose some profit from investments," she warned.

Montenegro was once a magnet for the glitterati, drawing American movie stars like Elizabeth Taylor and British royalty like Princess Margaret in the 1960s.   But the tourism industry collapsed with the wars leading to the break-up of Yugoslavia in the 1990s.    After the tiny country of just 600,000 people declared independence 2006, it went on a construction spree.    Foreign investors -- mostly Russians -- drove a property boom that saw apartment complexes blight the coast.    Tourism was largely spared the ravages of the 2008 global financial crisis, and today accounts for nearly a quarter of Montenegro's gross domestic product.

The annual influx totals around two million visitors -- mostly in summer, and mostly on the coast.   During that time, tourism puts "great pressure on cities, on the area, on communal infrastructure," said Damir Davidovic, a senior tourism ministry official.    Authorities are "analysing" the situation to find the right balance, he told AFP.   One key concern is the rise of private accommodation -- a model that hurts hotel operators and is changing the character of communities, as many locals evacuate for the summer to rent their homes.    The explosion of online rental platforms like Airbnb has only amplified the problem.   "It is really a serious issue," said Davidovic, estimating that more than half the private accommodation for tourists operate in a "grey zone", with owners evading taxes by not registering their properties.   Rade Ratkovic, a professor of tourism in nearby Budva, another hotspot marred by over-construction, said the town was being "attacked by huge buildings".

- Love-hate -
For now, many locals are trapped in a love-hate relationship with the visitors.    Gazing at a jam-packed beach in Ulcinj farther south, local journalist and tourism expert Mustafa Canka shook his head.   "Traffic, parking, electricity... with such huge numbers of tourists it is an attack on the infrastructure -- and on the nerves of the local people," he said.   "But," he added, "all of us who work in tourism live for these 45 days."   Without other industries in Montenegro's coastal towns, the crucial income from travellers has so far staved off "overtourism" protests like those seen in Barcelona and Venice.    Yet Canka is worried about the future.    "We are not worthy of this city and its history," he said, gesturing towards Ulcinj's ancient castle, perched on a rocky peninsula.   "Greed is what is happening, and this consumerism is eating up our space and our people -- and now our future."
Date: Mon, 17 Jul 2017 23:08:04 +0200

Podgorica, Montenegro, July 17, 2017 (AFP) - Montenegro asked Monday for international help to fight wildfires in the Lustica peninsula on the country's Adriatic coast, while forest fires in neighbouring Croatia spread to suburbs of the coastal city of Split.   "The situation at Lustica is critical. The interior ministry of Montenegro asked for the European Union Civil Protection Mechanism" to be activated to help extinguish the fire, the government said in a statement.   Mayors of the threatened coastal towns of Kotor, Tivat and Herceg Novi urged the government to ask neighbouring nations -- Croatia, Bosnia and Serbia--  to send fire-extinguishing aircraft.   Fanned by strong winds, the forest fires forced the evacuation of more than a hundred campers. 

Firefighters aided by the armed forces and volunteers have been battling the blazes since Sunday, boosted by police aircraft on Monday, the interior ministry said.   Further north, wildfires on Monday evening spread to the suburbs of Split, Croatia's  second largest city on the central Adriatic coast, where a shopping centre had to be evacuated and several cars were burned, local media reported.   The city waste dump was set on fire, HRT state-run television reported, while the town was covered with thick black smoke.

Some dozen wildfires were raging for the second consecutive day in the Split area villages, burning several houses, local media reported.   Some 400 firefighters were trying to fight the blaze, helped by more than 100 soldiers and firefighting planes.   "Current situation is apocalyptical, the blaze engulfed a large area, all is in smoke and fire," head of the Split county, Blazenko Boban, told reporters.   The cause of the fires is not known.
Date: Sat, 11 Jun 2016 05:02:47 +0200
By Olivera Nikolic

Kotor, Montenegro, June 11, 2016 (AFP) - With its winding cobbled streets and stunning Adriatic bay, the Montenegrin town of Kotor draws crowds of visitors each summer.   But deadly gang violence threatens to cloud the tourist boom.

Dozens of anti-terrorist police officers have descended on the medieval fortress town in the past week after a string of public shootouts between rival drug-trafficking clans.   "Kotor is a hostage town," Montenegro's Interior Minister Goran Danilovic told reporters after the special forces were sent into the Balkan resort last weekend.   "Kotor has to stop being centre of clashes between criminal gangs."

According to police sources, Kotor's main drugs cartel split into three feuding gangs in 2014 over the disappearance of 200 kilograms (440 pounds) of South American cocaine in the Spanish town of Valencia.   Their quarrels have led to at least five murders in the past year across the region -- and at least four murder attempts in the past two months in Kotor, all of them in public places.

The latest on June 3 -- although there were no casualties -- pushed the authorities to deploy an anti-terrorist unit that has nearly 70 members, the police sources said, speaking on condition of anonymity.   "The town is in a drugs hell, left to criminals," said 52-year-old Mladen, working in an art gallery in the town centre.   Like most local residents who spoke to AFP, he was afraid to give his full name because of the tensions in the small community.   "I fear for the future of my two sons," he said, complaining that authorities "do nothing" to stop rampant crime.

- Lonely Planet's top city -
The heightened security comes as Kotor, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, gears up for a bumper tourist season.   Kotor was named the top city in the world to visit in 2016 by travel guide Lonely Planet, and tourism officials expect up to a million visitors this year.   Many of them arrive on cruise ships carrying up to 3,000 people, and the restaurants, churches and museums behind the 12th-century walls are already filling up.   For now, the police presence is subtle: an AFP reporter saw one black armoured vehicle parked at the entrance to the old town, about 20 metres from anchored cruise liners.

But some locals are worried the security forces could turn off holiday-makers.   "I'm afraid that sending them only few weeks before the start of the tourist season will damage it," said Branko, a 55-year-old former sailor, sitting in a cafe in the old town.   With nearly 850,000 visitors last year, making it the country's top tourist destination, Kotor sums up the Montenegrin dilemma: a growing tourism sector under the threat of powerful organised crime.   The nation of fewer than 650,000 people is a candidate for European Union membership, but the EU's progress report on Montenegro last year said "further efforts are needed, in particular to investigate wider criminal networks and to counter money laundering".

- From sailing to trafficking -
Kotor has a rich seafaring history and was once home to successful shipping company Jugooceanija, which fell apart with the break up of Yugoslavia.    Some out-of-work sailors are thought to have subsequently got involved in lucrative cocaine trafficking.   The sense of impunity among Kotor's criminal gangs today is such that they installed surveillance cameras around town to control each other's movements -- something a prosecutor is now investigating.   Balkans "cocaine king" Darko Saric, who was jailed for 20 years by a Serbian court last year, had several companies in Kotor including a nightclub popular with tourists, according to local media.

Foreign visitors who spoke to AFP expressed little awareness of Kotor's darker side.    Canadian cruise-goer Claire Tremblay, 58, said she had chosen Montenegro over Istanbul owing to recent terrorist attacks in Turkey.   "Now we see that we got a bonus. Kotor and the Adriatic Sea are beautiful," she said.   Kotor's Mayor Aleksandar Stjepcevic said the situation had improved since the special police arrived, but he regretted that his town had become "the scene of clashes" between gangs.   "I am disappointed that such scenes became part of everyday life. They should not be a characteristic of this ancient town," he said.
Date: Tue, 29 Mar 2016 14:35:21 +0200

Podgorica, Montenegro, March 29, 2016 (AFP) - Montenegro has deported 58 foreign members of a Japanese doomsday cult, most of them Russians, for lacking the right permits to visit the Balkan country, police said on Tuesday.   "Police received information from partner security services showing that a group of foreign nationals, who were members of a closed religious group, were staying in Montenegro," a police statement said.    The statement did not specify the religious group, but a police source told AFP anonymously that they belonged to Aum Shinrikyo, the Japanese doomsday cult that carried out a deadly sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway in 1995.   Local media also reported that the expelled group belonged to the cult.

Police briefly detained the group at a hotel in the central town of Danilovgrad on Friday and found they were not in possession of valid visitor permits, so they were asked to leave the country, the statement said.   The group was made up of 43 Russian nationals, seven from Belarus, four from Japan, three from Ukraine and one from Uzbekistan. Police did not elaborate on their reasons for being in Montenegro.    An earlier Russian foreign ministry statement said 60 foreign nationals, including Russians, had been detained by Montenegro police on suspicion of involvement in "international organised crime" but were released without charge after questioning.   It said however they were to be deported for failing to register their stay.
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World Travel News Headlines

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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