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Macedonia

Macedonia US Consular Information Sheet
August 15, 2008
COUNTRY DESCRIPTION:
Macedonia is a parliamentary democracy that is steadily transforming its economy. Tourist facilities are available in the capital, Skopje, and other major towns.
In tourist centers, such as Skopje and Ohrid, European-standard hotels and other travel amenities are available, while the standard of facilities throughout the rest of the country varies considerably. Read the Department of State Background Notes on Macedonia for additional information.

ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS:
Short trip for business or tourism:
A valid passport is required for travel to Macedonia.
A visa is not required for U.S. passport holders for tourist and business trips up to 90 days during a six-month period.
Entry stamps are issued at airports or land border crossing points, which grant permission to remain 90 days.
All foreign citizens must register with local police within 24 hours of arrival.
Those staying in private accommodation or renting an apartment should register in person at the police station nearest his/her place of residence, and should be accompanied to the station by the owner or landlord of the apartment.
Hotels are responsible for the registration of foreign guests.
If the foreigner changes address in Macedonia, he or she should notify the police station where s/he initially registered and reregister with the police station closest to the new place of residence.

An unaccompanied minor U.S. citizen who enters Macedonia should be in possession of a parental or guardian statement of consent to enter and stay in the country.
The statement of consent must be certified by a competent authority of the country from which s/he arrives or by a diplomatic or consular mission of the Republic of Macedonia abroad.

NOTE:
A U.S. citizen who possesses more than one passport is required to leave the country with the travel document used for entry into the country.

Temporary residence:
Individuals intending to work, study or remain longer then 90 (ninety) days in Macedonia, must obtain an entry visa prior to their arrival in Macedonia.
The practice of switching from tourist status to long-term status when already in Macedonia is no longer allowed.
Those wanting to do so must leave Macedonia and apply for a long-term visa at a Macedonian Embassy of Consulate.
Macedonian visas, as opposed to entry stamps, can only be issued at a Macedonian Embassy or Consulate in a foreign country.

American citizens resident in the United States may apply at:
Macedonian Embassy in Washington D.C.2129 Wyoming Avenue, NW, Washington, D.C. 20008, Tel: (202) 667-0501; Fax: (202) 667-2131;
E-mail: washington@mfa.gov.mk; usoffice@macedonianembassy.org, Website: http://www.macedonianembassy.org.

The passport should be valid for at least three months longer than the validity of the visa.
For additional information about the conditions and procedures for visa issuance, the applicant should contact the Embassy or Consulate of the Republic of Macedonia.
Using the list of diplomatic and consular missions of the Republic of Macedonia abroad (which can be found at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ website at www.mfa.gov.mk), a visa applicant can choose the most convenient Embassy/Consulate to the submit the visa application.

Travelers should be aware that all
border areas apart from designated border crossings are restricted zones. Presence in these zones is forbidden without prior official permission.

Information about dual nationality or the prevention of international child abduction can be found on our web site. For further information about customs regulations, please read our Customs Information sheet.
SAFETY AND SECURITY: The security situation in Macedonia is stable, although occasional criminal violence does occur. Americans should avoid areas with demonstrations, strikes, or roadblocks where large crowds are gathered, particularly those involving political causes or striking workers.

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 overseas callers, a regular toll line at 1-202-501-4444. These numbers are available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays).

The Department of State urges American citizens to take responsibility for their own personal security while traveling overseas. For general information about appropriate measures travelers can take to protect themselves in an overseas environment, see the Department of State’s pamphlet A Safe Trip Abroad.
CRIME: Crime in Macedonia is low by U.S. standards, and violent crime against Americans is rare. Pickpocketing, theft, and other petty street crimes do occur, however, particularly in areas where tourists and foreigners congregate. American travelers are advised to take the same precautions against becoming crime victims as they would in any U.S. city. Valuables, including cell phones and electronic items, should not be left in plain view in unattended vehicles. Windows and doors should be securely locked when residences are not occupied. Organized crime is present in Macedonia; organized criminal activity occasionally results in violent confrontations between members of rival organizations. ATM use is safe, as long as standard safety precautions are taken.
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 a victim of a crime while overseas, in addition to reporting to the local police, please contact the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate for assistance. The Embassy/Consulate staff can, for example, assist you to find appropriate medical care, to contact family members or friends, and explain how funds could be transferred. Although the investigation and prosecution of the crime is solely the responsibility of local authorities, consular officers can help you to understand the local criminal justice process and find an attorney if needed.

The local equivalent to the “911” emergency line in Macedonia is:
police 192 and ambulance 194
If you are outside the city of Skopje you need to dial 02 first.

For additional assistance see our information on Victims of Crime.
MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION: Although many Macedonian physicians are trained to a high standard, and a number of well-equipped private clinics are available especially in Skopje, most public hospitals and clinics are not equipped and maintained at U.S. or Western European standards. Basic medical supplies are usually available, but specialized treatment may not be obtainable. Travelers with previously diagnosed medical conditions may wish to consult their physician before travel.

The U.S. Department of State is unaware of any HIV/AIDS entry restrictions for visitors to or foreign residents of [country]. 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 Macedonia is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.

Driving safely in Macedonia requires excellent defensive driving skills. Many drivers routinely ignore speed limits and other traffic regulations, such as stopping for red lights and stop signs. Drivers may make illegal left turns from the far right lane, or drive into oncoming lanes of traffic. The combination of speeding, unsafe driving practices, poor vehicle maintenance, the mixture of new and old vehicles on the roads, and poor lighting contributes to unsafe driving conditions. Pedestrians should exercise extreme caution when crossing the street, even when using crosswalks, as local drivers rarely slow down or stop for pedestrians.

A valid U.S. driver’s license in conjunction with an International Driving Permit is required for Americans driving in Macedonia. Driving is on the right side of the road. Speed limits are generally posted. Most major highways are in good repair, but many secondary urban and rural roads are poorly maintained and lit. Horse-drawn carts, livestock, dead animals, rocks, or other objects are sometimes found in the roadway. Some vehicles are old and lack standard front or rear lights. Secondary mountain roads can be narrow and poorly marked, lack guardrails, and quickly become dangerous in inclement weather. Overall, public transportation in Macedonia is dilapidated. Roadside emergency services are limited.
In case of emergency, drivers may contact the police at telephone 192, the Ambulance Service at telephone 194, and Roadside Assistance at telephone 196.

Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information.
AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT: As there is no direct commercial air service to the United States by carriers registered in Macedonia, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not assessed Macedonia’s Civil Aviation Authority for compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards. For more information, travelers may visit the FAA’s web site at http://faa.gov/safety/programs_initiatives/oversight/iasa.
SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES: Macedonian customs authorities may enforce strict regulations concerning temporary importation to or exportation from Macedonia of certain items, including items deemed to be of historical value or significance. Taking photographs of anything that could be perceived as being of military or security interest may result in problems with authorities. Visitors should always observe “no photographing” signs. If in doubt, please ask permission before taking photographs.

The local currency is the denar. While credit cards are accepted in larger stores and restaurants, cash in local currency is advised for purchases in small establishments.

Upon entry into Macedonia, every foreigner must declare all cash amounts of foreign currency greater than EUR 2,000 at the Customs Control Office. Failure to report funds in excess of this amount may result in the confiscation of the entire amount by the customs service. After going through the court system, an individual is normally required to pay a fine and the National Bank will also keep a certain percentage of the undeclared amount before it is released.
Please also 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 Macedonian laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested, or imprisoned. Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Macedonia 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. Prostitution is illegal in Macedonia. 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 Macedonia are encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate through the State Department’s travel registration web site and to obtain updated information on travel and security within Macedonia. Americans without Internet access may register directly with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. By registering, American citizens make it easier for the Embassy or Consulate to contact them in case of emergency. The U.S. Embassy in Skopje is located at Ilindenska bb, 1000 Skopje, tel. (389) (2) 311-6180, fax (389) (2) 321-3767, email: consularskopje@state.gov; web site: http://macedonia.usembassy.gov
* * *
This replaces the Country Specific Information for Macedonia dated March 05, 2008 to update the section on Entry/Exit Requirements.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Mon 29 Jul 2019
Source: Institute of Public Health of Republic of North Macedonia [abridged, edited]

Information on the situation of measles in the Republic of North Macedonia in 2018-2019, 25 Jul 2019
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
In the period from 20 Jul-25 Jul 2019, a total of 5 cases of measles were reported. From the total number of newly reported cases, 4 cases are from Skopje, while one is from Kumanovo.

In total, since the onset of the epidemic in December 2018 as of 25 Jul 2019, 1870 cases of measles have been registered in the Republic of North Macedonia with a disease rate of 90.4 per 100,000 inhabitants.

Due to the epidemiological criteria, a measles epidemic is ongoing in the entire territory of the Republic of North Macedonia.

According to the place of permanent living, measles cases are registered in 24 towns, of which 979 cases are from Skopje, Kumanovo 231, Tetovo 194, Struga 112, Kicevo 59, Veles 53, Gostivar 69, Ohrid 35, Gevgelija 19, Debar 22, Prilep 11, Stip 40, and in other cities less than 10 cases were registered (Chart 1). The highest incidence is registered in Skopje (158.5/100 000, Struga (165.1/100 000, Kumanovo 161.9/100 000)

According to the vaccine status, 1501 or 80.3% of diseased people are unvaccinated, incompletely vaccinated or with unknown vaccine status. >From the non-vaccinated persons, 320 (21.3%) are under the age of 12 months and are not subject to vaccination, according to the Immunization Calendar.

According to the results obtained from the samples sent to Luxembourg's reference measles laboratory, the B3 Dublin genotype circulates in the country, which is circulating also in the neighbouring countries.
 
The total number of immunized people aged 14 years with MRP [morbilli, rubella, and parotitis epidemica/MMR measles, mumps, rubella] vaccine since the start of the epidemic in the republic is 33,729.  From the beginning of the epidemic to present date, in the Centers for Public Health, a total of 6032 people have been vaccinated, of which more than 60% are health workers, students, and pupils in secondary medical schools, the rest are persons over 14 years of age.

[Available at the source URL:]
Chart 1. Geographic distribution of measles in N. Macedonia, December 2018-July 2019
----------------------------------------------
Communicated by:
Aleksandar Jovicic
==========================
[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map of Republic of North Macedonia:
Date: Fri 29 Mar 2019
Source: Institute of Public Health of Republic of Macedonia [abridged, edited]

Information on the situation of measles in the Republic of North Macedonia in 2018-2019, 29 Mar 2019
-------------------

In the period 23 Mar-29 Mar 2019, a total of 109 cases of measles (laboratory confirmed or related to the epidemiological link) were reported.

Out of the total number of newly reported cases, 49 cases are from Skopje, with 89.8% of them incomplete vaccinated, unvaccinated, or with unknown vaccine status. The remaining 60 patients are from 11 other cities in North Macedonia:

- From Kumanovo and Struga, 30 cases (15 cases in each) were reported, of which 90% were unvaccinated, incomplete vaccinated, or with unknown vaccine status;
- From Tetovo and Debar: in 7 cases from Tetovo, 6 were unvaccinated, incomplete vaccinated, or with unknown vaccine status; from Debar, one case was unvaccinated and one with unknown vaccine status;
- From Gostivar, there are 6 cases, of which 5 are unvaccinated, incomplete vaccinated, or with unknown vaccine status;
- 4 cases were reported from Kicevo, with 2 of them unvaccinated and incomplete vaccinated;
- From Veles, 2 cases, with 1 unvaccinated and 1 incomplete vaccinated;
- 1 new case each was reported from Stip (unknown vaccine status), Ohrid (incomplete vaccinated), Radovis (not vaccinated), and Prilep (completely vaccinated).

In total, since the onset of the epidemic in Skopje in December 2018, as of 29 Mar 2019, 767 measles cases were registered in the Republic of North Macedonia, of which 575 were epidemiologically related and reported in the epidemic in Skopje.

According to the place of permanent living, measles cases were registered in 20 towns in Macedonia, of which 521 were from Skopje, 63 from Tetovo, 61 from Kumanovo, 27 from Struga, 18 cases from Gevgelija and Debar, 15 from Gostivar, 12 from Veles, 11 from Kicevo, 4 from Kocani and Shtip, and in sporadic cases in the other 9 cities. The highest incidence per 100 000 inhabitants is registered in Struga (97.3), Skopje (84.4), Debar (64.9), Kumanovo (42.8), and Gevgelija (41.8).

The largest number of cases are from the age group over 30 years, with 305 or 39.8% of the total. A high percentage of patients is also registered in the age group of 0-4 years, with 37.9% of the total number of cases (n = 291).

Out of 150 children aged 1-4 years, 137 or 91.3% were unvaccinated or with unknown vaccine status; from 412 patients in persons over 20 years of age, 69.2% (n = 285) were unvaccinated, incomplete vaccinated, or with unknown vaccine status.

Out of the total number of 767 registered cases of measles, the highest number and percentage, 369 or 48.1%, are laboratory confirmed, 193 or 25.2% are epidemiologically linked, while 205 cases (26.7%) are measles with clinical features.

>From the beginning of the epidemic in Skopje, the total number of vaccinated people under 14 years of age who are subject to 1st or 2nd vaccination is 11 475 children. In the rest of the republic, from the beginning of the epidemic, the total number of vaccinated people up to 14 years of age with a 1st or 2nd dose is 6776 children.

The total number of immunized people aged 14 years with the MRI vaccine since the beginning of the epidemic is 18,251.  Submitted by: Aleksandar Jovicic.
=========================
[HealthMap/ProMED map of North Macedonia
http://healthmap.org/promed/p/55666. - ProMED Mod.MPP]
Date: Fri 8 Mar 2019
Source: IPH (Institute of Public Health of Republic of Macedonia) [abridged, edited]

This week [week of Mon 4 Mar 2019], a total of 81 cases of measles have been reported (laboratory confirmed or with an epidemiological link). A total of 45 cases of measles have been reported from Skopje (of whom 73.3% were incompletely vaccinated, unvaccinated, or with unknown vaccine status) while the other 36 are from 9 other cities in Macedonia.

From Gevgelija, 7 cases were reported, 6 of them unvaccinated. From Kumanovo, 8 cases were reported, 7 unvaccinated. From Tetovo, 7 new cases were reported, 6 of which were not vaccinated, with incomplete vaccine status. From Struga, 5 cases were reported, of which 3 were incompletely vaccinated with unknown vaccine status. Three new cases have been reported from [each of] Debar and Veles; [of these,] 5 persons have been incomplete vaccinated or with unknown vaccine status. Also, one new case from [each of] Kriva Palanka (not vaccinated), Kicevo (unknown vaccine status), and Kocani (completely vaccinated) [were reported].

A total of 493 cases of measles have been registered in Macedonia since the beginning of the epidemic in Skopje since December 2018, of which 410 have been linked to the epidemic in Skopje.

According to the place of permanent living, measles cases were registered in 17 towns in Macedonia, of which 366 cases were from Skopje, 39 from Tetovo, 25 from Kumanovo, 16 from Gevgelija, 9 from Debar, 7 from Struga, 6 from Gostivar, 6 from Veles, 5 from Kichevo, and 4 from Kocani, and the other 7 cities are sporadic cases.

The largest number of cases are from the age group 0-4 years: 220, or 44.6% of the total. A high percentage of patients is also registered in elderly groups. Persons older than 30 years account for 36.9% (n = 182) and persons from 20-29 years for 10.3% (n = 51).

Out of a total of 122 cases of children aged 1-4 years, 105 (86%) were unvaccinated, and out of 233 cases in people over 20 years of age, 70.8% (n = 165) were unvaccinated, incompletely vaccinated, or had unknown vaccine status.

From the total number of registered 493 cases of measles, the highest number and percentage -- 278 (56.4%) -- are laboratory confirmed; 117 (23.7%) are epidemiologically related, while 98 cases (19.9%) are measles [presumably this means clinically diagnosed but not laboratory confirmed. - ProMED Mod.SH].

Since the onset of the epidemic, in Skopje, total of 9958 children under 14 years of age have been vaccinated as part of the response to the outbreak with a 1st or 2nd dose. In the rest of the republic, since the epidemic began, a total of 5193 children up to 14 years have been vaccinated with a 1st or 2nd dose. The total number of those aged 14 years [and under] who have received MRP vaccine since the start of the epidemic in the Republic of Macedonia is 15 151.
Date: Sat 9 Feb 2019
Source: China.org.cn, a Xinhua report [edited]

The Macedonian Health Minister Venko Filipce confirmed on [Fri 8 Feb 2019] the death of a 6-month-old baby related to measles. According to Filipce, the baby was under treatment for lung complications and was not vaccinated.

The minister said vaccination in Macedonia should continue in order to strengthen the immunity of the population after the significant drop on vaccination coverage in 2014.  Filipce also confirmed that 2 children are treated for lung complications but are not in life-threatening conditions. The minister made the remarks after his visit at the Neurology Clinic in Skopje. On [2 Jan 2019], the Health Ministry in Macedonia declared the outbreak of measles in the capital of Skopje.
Date: Wed 2 Jan 2019
Source: Outbreak News Today [abridged, edited]

Health officials in Macedonia are reporting a measles outbreak in the capital city of Skopje. Minister of Health Assoc. Dr. Venko Filipce announced the outbreak declaration today [2 Jan 2019].

In addition to the 7 cases that appeared in the Skopje settlement Radishani 10 days ago, there are now 12 new cases from almost all municipalities in Skopje, of which 6 are officially laboratory confirmed and 6 have a clear clinical picture and are awaiting official laboratory confirmation. The outbreak has affected both children and adults, all of whom were unvaccinated.

"Of the 15 000 unvaccinated children with vaccine calls, only 310 were vaccinated, which is a small figure. It is a good circumstance that schools [were closed] because of the holidays.

"But, of course, we have the situation under control. This is an extremely serious disease that, unfortunately, is sometimes fatal to the lives of children. Any disregard for the recommendations is an additional risk for the health of the whole population," said Minister Filipche (computer translated).  [Byline: Robert Herriman]
=========================
[A total of 310 children vaccinated of 15 000 is only 2% of the children immunized. This is an unacceptably high risk for the children. - ProMED Mod.LK]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map:
Skopje, Macedonia (FYROM): <http://healthmap.org/promed/p/1999>]
More ...

World Travel News Headlines

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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