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Nigeria

Nigeria US Consular Information Sheet
June 02, 2008
COUNTRY DESCRIPTION:
Nigeria is a developing country in western Africa that has experienced periods of political instability. It has the largest population on the continent, estimated at
44 million people, and its infrastructure is not fully functional or well maintained. Read the Department of State’s Background Notes on Nigeria for additional information.

ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS: A passport and visa are required. The visa must be obtained in advance from a Nigerian Embassy or Consulate. Visas cannot be obtained on arrival at the airport. Promises of entry into Nigeria without a visa are credible indicators of fraudulent commercial schemes in which the perpetrators seek to exploit the foreign traveler's illegal presence in Nigeria through threats of extortion or bodily harm. U.S. citizens cannot legally depart Nigeria unless they can prove, by presenting their entry visas, that they entered Nigeria legally. Entry information may be obtained at the Embassy of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 3519 International Court NW, Washington, DC 20008, telephone (202) 822-1500, or at the Nigerian Consulate General in New York, telephone (212) 808-0301. Overseas, inquiries may be made at the nearest Nigerian embassy or consulate.

Visit the Embassy of Nigeria web site at http://www.nigeriaembassyusa.org/ for the most current visa information.

Information about dual nationality or the prevention of international child abduction can be found on our web site. For further information about customs regulations, please read our Customs Information sheet.

SAFETY AND SECURITY:
The Department of State continues to caution U.S. citizens about the possible dangers of travel to some parts of Nigeria. [Please also see the Crime Section below.] In light of the risk of kidnapping, crime, militant activity, or armed attacks, the U.S. Mission restricts the travel of U.S. government personnel to the following states to official travel only: Delta, Bayelsa, Rivers and Akwa Ibom in the Niger Delta, and Edo and Imo in the south. Only essential travel by non-official Americans is recommended to these areas. In addition, the military's Joint Task Force patrols the creeks in the Niger Delta because of ongoing militant and piracy incidents, especially against oil-related facilities or infrastructure, so individuals may be questioned, detained or arrested when traveling in these sensitive areas without evidence of permission from the Nigerian government or for carrying electronic equipment such as cameras, recorders, etc. Periodically, travel by U.S. mission personnel is restricted in certain parts of Nigeria based on changing security conditions, often due to crime, general strikes, or student/political demonstrations or disturbances. See the Department of State’s Travel Warning for Nigeria for more information.

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 current Travel Warnings, Travel Alerts, and 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: Violent crime committed by individual criminals and gangs, as well as by some persons wearing police and military uniforms, is a problem, especially in Lagos, Abuja and other large cities, although it can occur anywhere. Some visitors and resident Americans have experienced armed muggings, assaults, burglary, carjacking, kidnappings and extortion, often involving violence. Home invasions are on the rise in Lagos, with armed robbers accessing even guarded compounds by following, or tailgating, residents or visitors arriving by car into the compound, subduing guards and gaining entry into homes or apartments. Armed robbers in Lagos also access waterfront compounds by boat. U.S. citizens, as well as Nigerians and other expatriates, have been victims of armed robbery on roads to airports during both daylight and evening hours. Law enforcement authorities usually respond to crimes slowly or not at all, and provide little or no investigative support to victims. U.S. citizens and other expatriates have experienced harassment and shakedowns at checkpoints and during encounters with Nigerian officials.

Nigerian-operated fraud scams, known as 419s, are noted for their cleverness and ingenuity. These scams target foreigners worldwide, posing risks of both financial loss and personal danger to their victims. Scams are often initiated through internet postings or from internet cafes, by unsolicited emails, faxes, and letters, or can involve credit card use. As anywhere else, no one should provide personal or financial information to unknown parties or via Nigerian telephone lines. The expansion of bilateral law enforcement cooperation, which has resulted in numerous raids on commercial fraud premises, has reduced the overall level of overt fraud activity, but new types of sophisticated scams are introduced daily.

American citizens are very frequently the victims of Nigerian confidence artists offering companionship through internet dating websites. These confidence artists almost always pose as American citizens visiting or living in Nigeria who unexpectedly experience a medical, legal, financial or other type of “emergency” that requires the immediate financial assistance of the American citizen in the United States. In these cases, we strongly urge the American citizen in the United States to be very cautious about sending money to any unknown person purportedly acting on their behalf, or traveling to Nigeria to meet someone with whom their sole communications have been via the internet. Other common scams involve a promise of an inheritance windfall, work contracts in Nigeria, or an overpayment for goods purchased on-line. For additional information on these types of scams, see the Department of State's publication, International Financial Scams.

Commercial scams or stings that targets foreigners, including many U.S. citizens, continue to be a problem. One needs to be alert to scams that may involve U.S. citizens in illegal activity, resulting in arrest, extortion or bodily harm. These scams generally involve phony offers of either outright money transfers or lucrative sales or contracts with promises of large commissions or up-front payments, or improperly invoke the authority of one or more ministries or offices of the Nigerian government and may cite, by name, the involvement of a Nigerian government official. In some scams, government stationery and seals are also improperly used to advance the scam. The ability of U.S. consular officers to extricate U.S. citizens from unlawful business deals or scams and their subsequent consequences is extremely limited. U.S. citizens have been arrested by police officials and held for varying periods on charges of involvement in illegal business activity or scams. Nigerian police or other law enforcement officials do not always inform the U.S. Embassy or Consulate immediately of the arrest or detention of a U.S. citizen. The U.S. Department of Commerce has advisories to the U.S. business community on a variety of issues that should be seriously reviewed with respect to doing business in Nigeria. To check on a business’s legitimacy while in the United States, contact the Nigeria Desk Officer at the International Trade Administration, Room 3317, Dept. of Commerce, Washington, D.C. 20230, telephone 1-800-USA-TRADE or (202) 482-5149, fax (202) 482-5198. If you are abroad, contact the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate.

The Department of State encourages all travelers abroad to register their travel. The most convenient way to do so would be through the online travel registration page. Travelers may also register in person at the U.S. Embassy in Abuja or the U.S. Consulate General in Lagos. See the section on Registration / Embassy Location below.

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, for example, can provide you with a list for appropriate medical care, or contact family members or friends and explain how funds could be transferred to you to cover unexpected costs. 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.

See the Department of State’s information on Victims of Crime.

MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION: While Nigeria has many well-trained doctors, medical facilities in Nigeria are in poor condition, with inadequately trained nursing staff. Diagnostic and treatment equipment is most often poorly maintained, and many medicines are unavailable. Caution should be taken as counterfeit pharmaceuticals are a common problem and may be difficult to distinguish from genuine medications. This is particularly true of generics purchased at local pharmacies or street markets. Hospitals often expect immediate cash payment for health services.

Information on vaccinations and other health precautions, such as safe food and water precautions and insect bite protection, may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s hotline for international travelers at 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747) or via the CDC’s web site at http://wwwn.cdc.gov/travel/default.aspx. For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad, consult the World Health Organization’s (WHO) web site at http://www.who.int/en. Further health information for travelers is available at http://www.who.int/ith.

MEDICAL INSURANCE: The Department of State strongly urges Americans to consult with their medical insurance company prior to traveling abroad to confirm whether their health insurance policy applies overseas and whether it will cover emergency expenses such as a medical evacuation from a foreign country to the United States or another location. Please see the our brochure 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 Nigeria is provided for general reference only and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.

Roads in many areas are generally in poor condition, causing damage to vehicles and contributing to hazardous traffic conditions. There are few working traffic lights or stop signs. The rainy season from May to October is especially dangerous because of flooded roads and water-concealed potholes.

Excessive speed, unpredictable driving habits, and the lack of basic maintenance and safety equipment on many vehicles are additional hazards. Motorists seldom yield the right-of-way and give little consideration to pedestrians and cyclists. Gridlock is common in urban areas. Chronic fuel shortages have led to long lines at service stations, which disrupt or block traffic for extended periods.

Public transportation vehicles are unsafe due to poor maintenance, high speeds and overcrowding. Motorbikes, known in Nigeria as "okadas," are a common form of public transportation in many cities and pose particular danger to motorists, their own passengers and pedestrians. Motorbike drivers frequently weave in and out of traffic at high speeds and observe no traffic rules. Motorbikes are banned within Abuja's city limits. Passengers in local taxis have been driven to secluded locations where they were attacked and robbed. Several of the victims required hospitalization. The U.S. Mission advises that public transportation throughout Nigeria be avoided.

It is recommended that short-term visitors not drive in Nigeria. A Nigerian driver's license can take months to obtain, and to date an international driving permit is not recognized. Major hotels offer reliable car-hire services complete with drivers. Reliable car-hire services can also be obtained at the customer service centers at the airports in Lagos, Abuja, and Kano. Inter-city travelers must also consider that roadside assistance is extremely scarce, and as noted above medical facilities and emergency care are poor, meaning that being involved in a traffic incident might result in a lack of available medical facilities to treat either minor or life-threatening injuries.

All drivers and passengers are reminded to wear seat belts, lock doors, and raise windows. It is important to secure appropriate automobile insurance. It is also important to be aware that drivers and passengers of vehicles involved in accidents resulting in injury or death have experienced extra-judicial actions, i.e., mob attacks, official consequences such as fines and incarceration or involvement with the victim's family. Night driving should be done with extreme caution, but it is recommended to avoid driving between 6:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m. as bandits and police roadblocks are more numerous at night. Streets are very poorly lit, and many vehicles are missing one or both headlights, tail lights, and reflectors.

The Government of Nigeria charges the Federal Road Safety Commission with providing maps and public information on specific road conditions. The Federal Road Safety Commission may be contacted by mail at: Ojodu-Isherri Road, PMB 21510, Ikeja, Lagos; telephone [243] (1) 802-850-5961 or [234] (1) 805-684-6911.
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 Nigeria, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not assessed Nigeria’sCivil Aviation Authority for compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards. For more information, travelers may visit the FAA’s web site at http://www.faa.gov/safety/programs_initiatives/oversight/iasa.

The Port Harcourt International Airport, which was closed in mid-2006 for rehabilitation, resumed operations in December 2007 for domestic daylight flights. Installations and improvements needed for international flights and night operations are expected to be completed in 2008.

For additional information on aviation safety concerns, see the Department of State’s Travel Warning for Nigeria.
SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES:
Permission is required to take photographs or videotape any government buildings, airports, bridges, and in areas where the military is operating throughout the country. These sites include, but are not limited to, Federal buildings in the Three Arms Zone (Presidential palace area, National Assembly, Supreme Court/Judiciary) of the capital of Abuja, other government buildings around the country and foreign Embassies and Consulates. Many restricted sites are not clearly marked, and application of these restrictions is subject to interpretation by the Nigerian security services and can result in detention. Permission may be obtained from Nigeria's State Security Services, but even permission may not prevent the imposition of penalties or detention. Penalties for unauthorized photography or videography may include confiscation of the still or video camera, exposure of the film or deletion of film footage, a demand for payment of a fine or bribe, and/or detention, arrest, or physical assault. For these reasons, visitors to Nigeria should avoid taking still photos or videotaping in and around areas that are potentially restricted sites, including any government sites.

The Nigerian currency, the naira, is non-convertible. U.S. dollars are widely accepted. Nigeria is a cash economy, and it is usually necessary to carry sufficient currency to cover the expenses of a planned visit, which makes travelers an attractive target for criminals. Credit cards are rarely accepted beyond a few upscale hotels. Due to credit card fraud in Nigeria and by cohorts in the United States, credit card use should be considered carefully. While Citibank cashes some traveler’s checks, most other banks do not. American Express does not have offices in Nigeria; however, Thomas Cook does. Inter-bank transfers are often difficult to accomplish, though money transfer services such as Western Union are available. For further information, visitors may contact the U.S. Embassy or Consulate.

Please see the Department of State’s information on Customs Information.

CRIMINAL PENALTIES: While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country's laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law. Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses. Persons violating Nigerian laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, detained, arrested or imprisoned. Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Nigeria 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 the Department of State’s information on Criminal Penalties.

CHILDREN'S ISSUES: For information see the Department of State’s Office of Children’s Issues web pages on intercountry adoption and international parental child abduction.

REGISTRATION / EMBASSY LOCATION:
Americans living or traveling in Nigeria are encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate through the State Department’s travel registration website so that they can obtain updated information on travel and security within Nigeria and other general information.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 is located at 1075 Diplomatic Drive, Central Area, Abuja. American citizens can call [234] (9) 461-4176 during office hours (Monday through Thursday, 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.; Friday, 7:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.). For after-hours emergencies, call [234] (9) 461-4000. The email address for the Consular Section in Abuja is ConsularAbuja@state.gov.

The U.S. Consulate General is located at 2 Walter Carrington Crescent, Victoria Island, Lagos. American citizens can call [234] (1) 261-1215 during office hours (7:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.). For after-hours emergencies, call [234] (1) 261-1414, 261-0050, 261-0078, 261-0139, or 261-6477. The e-mail address for the Consular Section in Lagos is Lagoscons2@state.gov.

The Embassy and Consulate website is http://nigeria.usembassy.gov/.
* * *
This replaces the Consular Information Sheet dated April 16, 2007, to update sections on Country Description, Safety and Security, Crime, Traffic Safety and Road Conditions, Aviation Safety Oversight, Special Circumstances and Registration / Embassy Location.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Mon, 18 May 2020 18:20:03 +0200 (METDST)

Abuja, May 18, 2020 (AFP) - Nigeria's government on Monday extended a coronavirus lockdown on the northern region of Kano after it became a hotspot for new infections.    The head of the country's coronavirus taskforce, Boss Mustapha, said the lockdown on the economic hub -- which includes Nigeria's second biggest city -- would be prolonged for two weeks.    The authorities will also start to impose "precision" lockdowns in any other areas that report a "rapidly increasing number of cases, when the need arises", he said.    The outbreak in Kano has become a major cause of concern after medics and residents last month began reporting a spike in deaths.

Regional officials at first put the "unexplained" fatalities down to other ailments, but government investigators later said coronavirus was suspected in most cases.    Neighbouring states to Kano have also begun reporting suspicious surges in death tolls that authorities are scrambling to investigate.    Nigeria has confirmed 5,959 infections and 182 deaths from the novel coronavirus across the country.    Kano is the second hardest hit region with 825 confirmed cases and 36 fatalities.   The region has already been under lockdown for a month but enforcement has been lax and measures have been eased sporadically for people to buy food during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

Testing has been a key problem across Nigeria and only 35,345 samples have so far been screened in Africa's most populous nation of 200 million people.    Mustapha insisted there had been a slowdown in the transmission rate of the virus, "elongating the doubling time" from seven to 11 days.    But he announced that measures would remain in place limiting businesses and restricting crowds across the rest of the country despite earlier plans to gradually roll them back.     "Nigeria is not yet ready for full opening of the economy and tough decisions have to be taken for the good of the greater majority," he said.   The government has also imposed a night-time curfew and made mask wearing mandatory in all regions.     Mustapha complained that "non-compliance was rampant" with social distancing measures.     "The fight against COVID-19 is long-term as the virus is not likely to go away very soon," he said.
Date: Sat, 9 May 2020 22:47:22 +0200 (METDST)

Lagos, May 9, 2020 (AFP) - Africa's largest city Lagos could return to lockdown to halt the coronavirus if residents continue to ignore social distancing rules, the governor warned Saturday.    Nigeria's economic hub emerged on Monday from a five-week stay at home order that left the city's large number of poor struggling to make ends meet.

But since the easing of the restrictions people have been seen thronging markets and banks despite orders remaining in place to avoid mass gatherings.     "It is disappointing to see the crowd at banks and markets across the state flouting the guidelines," Lagos governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu wrote on Twitter.   "We will be forced to take the painful decision of bringing the state under lockdown if it remains clear that Lagosians are determined to flout the rules."   Nigeria, Africa's most populous nation, has confirmed 3,912 infections and 117 deaths from the novel coronavirus.

Lagos, a city of some 20 million people, has been the country's main hotspot and the daily increase in recorded cases has doubled in the past few days.   Sanwo-Olu said that Lagos state would change its "isolation strategy" and that district healthcare facilities would handle "mild-to-moderate" cases.    Half of Nigeria's 200 million population live in dire poverty, making it a major challenge to impose lockdowns cutting them off from daily earnings.    Measures introduced in place of the total lockdown include a night-time curfew and the mandatory wearing of masks in public.
Date: Mon, 27 Apr 2020 22:07:52 +0200 (METDST)

Abuja, April 27, 2020 (AFP) - Nigeria will start easing a coronavirus lockdown covering its largest city Lagos and capital Abuja from May 4, President Muhammadu Buhari said on Monday.    "I have approved a phased and gradual easing of lockdown measures," Buhari said in a televised broadcast.   He unveiled new measures including a nationwide night-time curfew, mandatory wearing of facemasks and a ban on "non-essential" travel between different regions.   He also announced an immediate two-week lockdown in northern Nigeria's largest city Kano after officials said they were probing a spate of "mysterious deaths".      More than 25 million residents in Abuja, Lagos and neighbouring Ogun state have been under federal lockdown since March 30 and other states have introduced their own restrictions.

The government faces a difficult balancing act trying to curb the spread of the virus and contain growing the desperation of vast numbers living hand to mouth in Africa's most populous country.    "Such lockdowns have also come at a very heavy economic cost," Buhari said in the address.   "Many of our citizens have lost their means of livelihood. Many businesses have shut down."   He said the new measures were "implementable policies that will ensure our economy continues to function while still maintaining our aggressive response to the COVID-19 pandemic".

Nigeria, with a population of 200 million, has reported 1,273 confirmed infections, including 40 deaths.    But testing has been limited and the head of the disease control agency has put out an appeal for kits.    Buhari said officials were looking to bolster the rate of testing by accrediting private laboratories.    He announced the federal government would deploy "all the necessary human, material and technical resources" to support Kano state in controlling the pandemic.    The state's governor on Monday said officials were investigating a spike in "mysterious deaths", but insisted initial indications suggested they were not linked to coronavirus.
Date: Mon, 27 Apr 2020 19:01:32 +0200 (METDST)

Kano, Nigeria, April 27, 2020 (AFP) - Authorities in Nigeria's northern hub Kano said Monday they were probing a spate of "mysterious deaths" while insisting they did not appear to be linked to the coronavirus.    Health workers however warned of a backlog in testing and said the pandemic had severely hit medical services for people suffering other diseases.    "Over the past week there have been reports of mysterious deaths in our great Kano State and I'm here to assure everyone that investigations are already ongoing," state governor Abdullahi Umar Ganduje wrote on Twitter.

"Autopsies are still being carried out but so far there's been nothing to suggest that they are linked with COVID-19."   Information commissioner Mohammed Garba said preliminary reports suggested most of the deaths were caused by "complications arising from hypertension, diabetes, meningitis and acute malaria".    Kano state, with a population of some 13.5 million, has officially registered 77 infections from the novel coronavirus and one fatality, making it the third worst hir region in Nigeria.

The city's only COVID-19 test laboratory at the Aminu Kano Teaching Hospital (AKTH) was shut last week when some of its workers tested positive for the virus.   As a result, samples must be transported hundreds of kilometres (miles) to the capital Abuja.   Ibrahim Musa, a doctor at AKTH, said the shuttering of the lab had caused a backlog in testing and warned that authorities could be missing "a huge number" of potential infections.    Other medical professionals pointed to drastic cuts in services at hospitals as a possible contributor to the uptick in deaths.

Kano has been under lockdown for over a week in a bid to stop the spread of the virus.    Hospitals, including private facilities, have sent patients home while pharmacies have closed, blocking access to drugs for sick residents.   Usman Lawan, a nurse at the city's largest public hospital, said hundreds of inpatients had been discharged, save for a handful of "very critical cases".    "Without medical care and vital medications most of them would die. So, COVID-19 is indirectly killing people," Lawan said.

The medical worker said that Kano usually sees an increase in malaria and typhoid deaths during the hottest time of the year from April to June.   A gravedigger at the Abbatoir cemetery at Fagge area of the city told AFP there had been an "influx of the dead" in recent days.   "We bury several, some times dozens, every day," said the man in his 60s who has been on the job for three decades.   Nigeria -- Africa's most populous country with some 200 million people --  has confirmed 1,273 cases and 40 deaths from the coronavirus.
Date: Sun, 26 Apr 2020 11:32:57 +0200 (METDST)

Lagos, April 26, 2020 (AFP) - Authorities in Nigeria's largest city of Lagos have made wearing of masks mandatory in a bid to halt the coronavirus, a spokesman said Sunday.   "Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu announced on Saturday that wearing of face masks in public was now compulsory in the state," his spokesman Gboyega Akosile told AFP.   He said the measure was aimed at halting the spread of the virus in the megacity of over 20 million people.   The disease has so far infected 1,182 and killed 35 in Nigeria, Africa's most populous nation of 200 million inhabitants.   Of this figure, Lagos accounted for 689 infections and 19 deaths.

Sanwo-Olu was quoted as saying that the state was firmly in the community transmission phase of the pandemic, prompting the need for more precautions.   He said failure by people in Lagos to use face masks in public places would attract sanctions.   "Let me now formally announce that face masks are now compulsory in public places in Lagos state. Failure to use masks in public will invite sanctions and penalties," the governor was quoted as saying.   "We have commenced arrangements for the production of large quantities of face masks for the use of the people of Lagos state. This is indeed a great opportunity for many businesses, small and large, in the state, to contribute to the COVID-19 response while also getting a chance to do business and earn money," he added.

Lagos, nearby Ogun state and Abuja, the nation's capital have been on lockdown since March 30 as part of measures imposed by President Muhammadu Buhari to stop the spread of the disease.   A decision to either lift or extend the lockdown which is due to expire on Monday was expected from Buhari shortly.
More ...

World Travel News Headlines

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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