WORLD NEWS

Getting countries ...
Select countries and read reports below or

Peru

General Information:
***********************************
The number of Irish holiday makers heading to Peru to complete the Inca Train is increasing. This is partly due to easier travel arrangements but the beauty of this region is also attracti
g many. Overall the majority will remain healthy but some will become sick by exposure to a variety of situations which should be protected against. The Inca Trail is situated in southern Peru and the most commonly visited regions include Lima (the capital), Cusco, Machu Picchu and Lake Titicaca. This includes some high mountainous regions of the country and many of the trekking paths are poorly maintained.
Personal Health:
***********************************
Generally those planning a holiday along the Inca Trail will be trekking for a part of their time abroad. It is essential that these individuals realise that they may reach significant altitude and that this is not a ‘restful’ holiday. Good general health is required and those with heart problems or respiratory conditions may find that they will be unable to complete the journey. Having a general medical check before booking your ticket may be worth considering for any patient with a chronic illness.
Travelling Alone:
***********************************
If you are travelling alone or in a small group it will be essential to take care at all times. In Lima, the level of crime is high and resistance to violent crime often provokes greater violence, while those who do not resist usually do not suffer serious physical harm. Street crime is also prevalent in tourist cities in Peru's interior, including Cusco, Arequipa, Puno and Juliaca, and pickpockets frequent the market areas.
In Cusco, "choke and grab" muggings are common, particularly on streets leading off the main square and in the area around the train station.
Travellers should use only registered taxis in Cusco and should not accept offers of transportation or guide services from individuals seeking clients on the streets.
The number for the tourist police in Lima is (51-1) 225-8698 or 225-8699, or fax 476-7708.
There are also tourist police offices in 15 other cities, including all major tourist destinations such as Cusco, Arequipa, and Puno.
Altitude problems:
***********************************
Along the Inca Trail the elevation above sea level can be significant. For instance Cusco is at 10,000 feet and Lake Titicaca is at 13,000 feet. Those visiting these regions should be aware that it is essential to take time to adjust to the altitude, which can adversely affect blood pressure, digestion and energy level.
In 1999, several U.S. citizens died in Peru from medical conditions exacerbated by the high altitude. (See separate TMB leaflet on Altitude Sickness). Adventure travellers should be aware that rescue capabilities in the region are limited.
In recent years, several hikers have died and others have had to be rescued after serious accidents in the Huaraz region of the Cordillera Blanca mountains, where Peru's highest peaks are located.
Coca Tea:
***********************************
On arriving in many of these regions you will find street vendors and restaurants selling Coca tea to relieve altitude sickness. Generally this is safe providing the water is boiling but take care of the hygiene for the cup which is used to drink from. Advice would usually be to avoid chewing the leaves of the Coca plant.
Avoiding Insect Bites:
***********************************
One of the biggest problems facing travellers to this region is the risk of insect bites. Along the Inca Trail you will often find that many travellers have been bitten significantly by both mosquitoes and sandflys. There are a number of diseases transmitted by these insects in this region and so it is essential to protect yourself. Wearing long sleeved pale coloured clothing and applying good insect repellent (with DEET 30-50% at least) will help. This will be particularly important on the day that you visit Machu Picchu.
Leishmaniasis:
***********************************
This is a parasitic disease transmitted by sandflys. The skin ulcers associated with this condition can take months to heal.
Malaria:
***********************************
Fortunately this dangerous disease does not occur in southern Peru along the Inca Trail. Those visiting the jungle areas east of the Andes will need protection.
Food and Water:
***********************************
It is essential to take care to ensure that all food is fresh and well prepared. Eating from street vendors is a high risk activity and bivalve shellfish should be avoided at all times.
Rabies:
***********************************
The risk of this viral disease occurs throughout the country. Avoid all warm blooded animals and seek adequate medical treatment after any bite, lick or scratch. Dogs, cats and monkeys commonly transmit the disease but it can be from any warm blooded animal.
Vaccines:
***********************************
For entry/exit purposes it is recommended that all travellers receive cover against Yellow Fever. Having cover also against Typhoid, Tetanus and Hepatitis A is well worthwhile for personal protection. Those planning a longer trip or more extensive trekking will need to consider cover against conditions like Hepatitis B and Rabies.
Summary:
***********************************
Make sure you are fit enough for this trip. Trek within your limits and have good shoes and clothing. Bring plenty of insect repellent!
Further Information:
***********************************
Contact the Tropical Medical Bureau at the numbers below. This leaflet must not be used in place of a detailed medical consultation.

Wanderlust April/May 2001
Web. www.wanderlust.co.uk
****************************************
Visiting Machu Picchu is almost a rite of passage for Latinophiles and for the adventurous there is only one way - along the Inca Trail. While romantics and old-timers lament the loss of independent trekking this remains one of the world’s classic walks. If you want to see Machu Picchu and you like trekking, the euphoric jubilation of passing through the Gate of the Sun is close to unbeatable.
The dry season in the highlands runs from May to October and makes for clearer skies and generally better views. Off-season the weather can be risky, but there are far fewer people.
To be fair this is not the only trek in Peru. Scribes from Pizarro to Parris have waxed lyrical about the breathtaking beauty of the Cordilleras Blanca and Huayhuash. Sheer walls of ice and granite hang precariously above scrubby grassland basking in the warm equatorial sun. As one of the most popular trekking areas in South America, the central cordilleras are ideal for hiking, with most activities starting from the mountain-fringed setting of Huaraz at almost 3,lOOm.
Whitewater rafting is also popular and most is based out of Cuzco; a quick and complete drenching in the River Apurimac takes in awesome scenery and exhilarating Class IV rapids. Trips also head to the source of the Amazon and down to the dramatic Colca Canyon which is twice as deep as the Grand Canyon.
Mountain biking is popular in the central cordilleras along with some challenging opportunities through dramatic Andean scenery in the Cuzco area.
Manu National Park in the Amazon lowlands north of Cuzco is one of the continent’s great untouched wildernesses. Set aside for research and ecotourism, Manu is one of the best places to visit the rainforest and sightings of big cats, although not common, are regular. The nearby town of Puerto Maldonado, close to the famous macaw salt lick in the Tambopata-Candamo Reserve, is a popular spot for jungle tours mixing short hikes with river trips; they generally last a few days.
Adventurous independent travellers may want to join the locals and travel down the Amazon in a hammock on a cargo boat from Pucallpa. Short jungle treks and canoe trips from the northern Amazon town of Iquitos explore small tributaries and indigenous villages to help you encounter the natural wonders of the Amazon rainforest face to face.
Peter Hutchison is editor of Footprint’s
Mexico & Central America Handbook 2001
*******************************************************

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Fri, 3 Apr 2020 02:16:41 +0200 (METDST)

Lima, April 3, 2020 (AFP) - Peruvian President Martin Vizcarra announced on Thursday a new measure restricting public movement by gender, as the country tries to curb the spread of the new coronavirus.   Men will only be allowed to leave their homes on Mondays, Wednesday and Fridays, while women are authorized to step outdoors on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.   No one is allowed out on Sundays.   "We have 10 days left, let's make this extra effort to control this disease," said Vizcarra.   He said the restrictions would apply until April 12, the original end date to a lockdown he imposed on March 16.   Panama announced a similar measure on Monday that went into effect two days later and will last for 15 days.

By Thursday, Peru had recorded just over 1,400 coronavirus cases and 55 deaths.   Vizcarra said the new measure aims to reduce by half the number of people circulating in public at any one time.   "The (existing) control measures have given good results, but not what was hoped for," said Vizcarra.   These restrictions will not apply to people employed in essential services, such as grocery stores, banks, pharmacies and hospitals.   Vizcarra added that security forces tasked with patrolling the streets have been told to be respectful toward the gender identities of homosexual and transgender people.   "The armed forces and police have been instructed not to have homophobic attitudes," said the president.
Date: Tue, 17 Mar 2020 01:15:05 +0100 (MET)

Montevideo, March 17, 2020 (AFP) - Chile and Peru announced a total closure of their borders on Monday while Latin America's largest airline said it was reducing operations by 70 percent as the region scrambled to stem the rapidly-spreading coronavirus pandemic.   Latin America has registered more than 800 cases and seven deaths, according to an AFP count, after the Dominican Republic became the latest nation to report a fatality.   "We've decided to close all our country's terrestrial, maritime and aerial borders for the transit of foreigners," said Chile's President Sebastian Pinera.   The announcement came as Chile revealed on Monday its number of coronavirus cases had more than doubled since Sunday to 155.   Peru followed suit soon afterwards with President Martin Vizcarra announcing a two-week measure "today, from midnight."   It's part of the state of emergency declared late on Sunday but like Chile, cargo will not be affected by the border closures.

Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay and Paraguay confirmed partial closures of their borders, while the government in Asuncion imposed a night time curfew.   "Only foreign residents, diplomats and members of international organizations can enter" from Argentina and Brazil, said Paraguay's migration director Maria de los Angeles Arriola.   Due to the spate of border closures "and the subsequent fall in demand," Latam said it was reducing operations by 70 percent, just four days after already cutting back by 30 percent.   "If these unprecedented travel restrictions increase over the coming days, we're not ruling out being forced to decrease our operations even more," said Latam's commercial vice-president Roberto Alvo.   Mexico President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador bucked the trend, though, saying he won't ban public gatherings or stop greeting people with "hugs" until public health officials tell him the time has come.

- Stocks tumble -
Chile rolled out a number of coronavirus control measures as the central bank slashed interest rates by 75 points to 1.0 percent.   It didn't prevent the Santiago stock exchange closing down 14 percent, its worst fall in three decades as investors continued to panic.   Stocks throughout the region were hit hard as the Sao Paulo exchange lost almost 14 percent, Argentina's Buenos Aires exchange close to 10 percent and Colombia was down more than 15 percent before suspending trading until Tuesday.   Brazil's real closed below five to the dollar for the first time.   The government then announced an emergency investment of almost 150 billion reals ($27.5 billion) into the economy to try to mitigate the effects of the
pandemic.

Chile's closed borders caused a problem for a quarantined cruise ship in the deep south of the country.   More than 200 passengers and crew aboard the Silver Explorer in the remote port of Caleta Tortel, some 2,400 kilometers (1,500 miles) south of the capital Santiago, are in lockdown after six people tested positive for coronavirus.   They have been taken to hospital and health authorities want to evacuate the remaining passengers back to their home countries, but may need special permission.   "We've taken the decision to ask the countries whose nationals are preent on this ship... to conduct an evacuation operation from the Puerto Montt
airbase" more than 1,00 kilometers away, said Health Minister Jaime Manalich.

- Cuba helping Nicaragua -
Cuba, though, said it was allowing a British cruise ship to dock despite five people on board being infected with the coronavirus and nearly 40 others in isolation with flu-like symptoms.   "We are working around the clock to arrange evacuation flights from Cuba to the UK as soon as possible for passengers on the Braemar cruise ship," a British foreign ministry spokesman said.   Cuba is also sending specialist doctors to Nicaragua to help the central American country treat COVID-19 patients.

Ecuador, which has seen 58 cases and two deaths, banned tourists from the Galapagos Islands on Monday while authorities in Rio de Janeiro used megaphones to order people at the beach to go home.   Rio's Flamengo, the reigning Copa Libertadores champions, revealed that their Portuguese coach Jorge Jesus is the latest sports star to have tested positive for the virus.   Honduras announced a week-long lockdown that will prevent people from going to work, using public transport or taking part in religious activities.   People are only allowed to leave their homes to buy food or medicine or to go to health centers or authorized employment such as in pharmacies.
Date: Fri, 6 Mar 2020 16:44:42 +0100 (MET)

Lima, March 6, 2020 (AFP) - President Martin Vizcarra said Friday Peru has detected its first case of the new coronavirus in a 25-year-old man who had travelled to Europe.   The president called for calm and said Peru had taken "all the medical measures" to treat the patient, who had been in Spain, France and the Czech Republic and was in a stable condition.

Authorities have prepared isolation areas in five hospitals in the capital Lima in anticipation of the first cases, while setting up health care positions in the city's international airport and several ports.   Latin America was the last region to confirm coronavirus infections but over the last week seven countries have been affected, the worst being Ecuador, with 13 cases.   While fears over coronavirus have gripped Peruvians, an outbreak of dengue fever in Amazon areas has left 15 people dead this year, according to official figures.
Date: Fri, 24 Jan 2020 00:46:15 +0100 (MET)

Lima, Jan 23, 2020 (AFP) - Peru's government promised on Thursday to protect the Machu Picchu sanctuary and other Inca ruins when building a new airport to serve the ancient civilization's capital of Cusco.   Machu Picchu and the Inca road system are UNESCO World Heritage sites, and the UN agency has previously expressed concerns over the proposed airport at Chinchero, less than 60 kilometers from the Inca sanctuary that was built in the 15th century.   "We have made a commitment that before work begins on constructing the Chinchero airport, in June of this year, we will present the heritage impact study that UNESCO demands," Transport Minister Edmer Trujillo, who is responsible for the project, told journalists.

UNESCO has told Peru that even though the airport will be built outside of the archeological areas, it is necessary to study how a potential increase in tourists would affect them.   The new airport will be able to receive six million passengers per year -- 60 percent more than the current Cusco airport, which has a capacity for 3,000 passengers a day but receives 5,000.

The existing airport cannot grow because it is inside Cusco, a major Andean city in southeast Peru.   Machu Picchu -- the most iconic site from the Inca empire that ruled a large swathe of western South America for 100 years before the Spanish conquest in the 16th century -- is Peru's most popular tourist attraction, located about 100 kilometers (60 miles) from Cusco.   Trujillo said construction of the new airport would be constantly monitored
by culture ministry experts in case archeological ruins are found.

The airport will be built at 3,780 meters above sea level in the old Inca Sacred Valley.   Many have criticized the impact it could have not only on the country's national treasures but on rural communities.   "Building an airport in the Sacred Valley will have irreparable effects in terms of noise, increase in traffic and uncontrolled urbanization," historian Natalia Majluf said in August.   But local Cusco authorities say it will bring in vital tourism revenue, which the region depends on.
Date: Tue, 21 Jan 2020 20:58:18 +0100 (MET)

Lima, Jan 21, 2020 (AFP) - Peru is installing security cameras at its world renowned Machu Picchu site after it was damaged earlier this month by foreign tourists, authorities said Tuesday.   "We are going to strengthen security at Machu Picchu by installing high-tech cameras," Jose Bastante, head of the archaeological park, told AFP.   Bastante said 18 cameras will be located at three strategic points of the citadel as well as access points from surrounding mountains.   "This will allow us to better control visitors and avoid any action or infraction to the regulations, also any type of risk," he said, adding that drones were also being used for security.

Five tourists accused of damaging the iconic site were deported to Bolivia last week and barred from returning to the country for 15 years.    A sixth, from Argentina, was fined $360 and must pay $1,500 to the culture ministry for repairs after he admitted to damaging the Temple of the Sun at the ancient Inca sanctuary.

The Argentine, 28-year-old Nahuel Gomez, also received a suspended sentenced of three years and four months, but can leave the country once the fines are paid.   Gomez admitted to causing a stone slab to fall from a temple wall. It was chipped when it fell, causing a crack in the floor.   "The damaged caused is significant. The integrity of Machu Picchu has been broken," Bastante said.   Members of the group were also suspected of defecating inside the 600-year-old temple.

The Machu Picchu complex -- which includes three distinct areas for agriculture, housing and religious ceremonies -- is the most iconic site from the Inca empire, which ruled over a large swath of western South America for 100 years before the Spanish conquest in the 16th century.   Machu Picchu, which means "old mountain" in the Quechua language indigenous to the area, is at the top of a lush mountain and was built during the reign of the Inca emperor Pachacuti (1438-1471).
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."