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Pakistan

Pakistan - US Consular Information Sheet
October 02, 2008
COUNTRY DESCRIPTION:
Pakistan is a parliamentary federal republic in South Asia, with a population of nearly 170 million people. Following successful elections in February 2008, Pak
stan has a coalition government led by Prime Minister Yousef Gilani. Pakistan is a developing country, with some tourist facilities in major cities but limited in outlying areas. The infrastructure of areas of Kashmir and the Northwest Frontier Province was devastated as a result of the October 8, 2005 earthquake and is not yet recovered. Read the Department of State Background Notes on Pakistan for additional information.

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ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS: All U.S. citizens traveling to Pakistan for any purpose are required to have valid U.S. passports and Pakistani-issued visas. Further information on entry requirements can be obtained from the Embassy of Pakistan at 3517 International Court Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20008; telephone: 202-243-6500; e-mail: info@pakistan-embassy.org; web site: http://www.pakistan-embassy.org/.

Travelers may also contact one of the Consulates General of Pakistan in:
Boston: 20 Chestnut Street, Needham, MA 02492; telephone: (781) 455-8000; fax: (617) 266-6666; email: pakistan@tiac.net
Chicago: 333 North Michigan Ave., Suite 728, Chicago, IL, 60601; telephone: (312) 781-1831; fax: (312) 781-1839; email: parepchicago@yahoo.com
Houston: 11850 Jones Road, Houston, TX, 77070; telephone: (281) 890-2223; fax: (281) 890-1433; email: parephouston@sbcglobal.net
Los Angeles: 10850 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 1100, Los Angeles, CA 90024; telephone: (310) 441-5114; fax: (310) 441-9256; email: info@pakconsulatela.org
New York: 12 East 65th St., New York, NY 10021; telephone: (212) 879-5800; fax: (212) 517-6987; web site: www.pakistanconsulateny.org
If a traveler plans to stay longer than the time listed on the visa, he or she must extend the stay with the local passport office of the Ministry of Interior. Visit the Embassy of Pakistan web site at http://www.pakistan-embassy.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:
A number of extremist groups within Pakistan continue to target American and other Western interests and high-level Pakistani government officials. Terrorists and their sympathizers have demonstrated willingness and capability to attack targets where Americans are known to congregate or visit. Terrorist actions may include, but are not limited to, suicide operations, bombing -- including vehicle-borne explosives and improvised explosive devices -- assassinations, carjacking, assault or kidnapping. U.S. Government personnel are not permitted to stay at or frequent major hotels in Islamabad, Karachi, Lahore and Peshawar.

Government personnel have also been advised to restrict the number and frequency of trips to public markets, and to avoid public restaurants in Islamabad, Karachi, and Peshawar.

In September 2008, over fifty people, including three Americans, were killed and hundreds were injured when a suicide bomber set off a truck filled with explosives outside a major international hotel in Islamabad. In August 2008 gunmen stopped and shot at the vehicle of an American diplomat in Peshawar. In March 2008, a restaurant frequented by westerners in Islamabad was bombed, killing one patron and seriously injuring several others, including four American diplomats. On March 2, 2006, an American diplomat, his locally employed driver, and three others were killed when a suicide bomber detonated a car packed with explosives in front of the U.S. Consulate General in Karachi. Fifty-two others were wounded in the attack.

Sectarian and extremist violence has resulted in fatal bomb attacks in Islamabad, Rawalpindi, Karachi, Peshawar, Quetta, Lahore, and other Pakistani cities since 2006. Since 2007, over 1,000 bombings have killed more than 1,000 people throughout Pakistan and injured many more. Rallies, demonstrations, and processions occur from time to time throughout Pakistan on very short notice and have often taken on an anti-American or anti-Western character. Because of the possibility of violence, Americans are urged to avoid all public places of worship and areas where Westerners are known to congregate.

During the Islamic (Shi’a) religious observance of Moharram, rivalries and hostilities often increase.

In 2007 and 2008, several American citizens throughout Pakistan were kidnapped for ransom or for personal reasons. Kidnappings for ransom are particularly common in some parts of Pakistan, such as the Northwest Frontier Province and Sindh Province.

It is best to avoid public transportation. For security reasons, U.S. Mission personnel are prohibited from using taxis or buses. (See the Traffic Safety and Road Conditions section below.)

Women are advised to dress conservatively, with arms and legs covered, and avoid walking around alone. It is unwise for anyone to travel on the streets late at night. Visitors to Pakistan should attempt to maintain a low profile, blend in, be aware of their surroundings, and seek security with their family or sponsoring organization.

Northern Areas – While we continue to discourage non-essential travel to Pakistan, we advise Americans wishing to trek in Gilgit, Hunza or Chitral to use only licensed guides and tourist agencies. While overall crime is low, there have been occasional assaults on foreign visitors.

Northwest Frontier Province - The Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) along the Afghan border, and certain areas within the Northwest Frontier Province (NWFP), are designated as tribal areas and are not subject to normal government jurisdiction. The Government of Pakistan requires all citizens of countries other than Pakistan and Afghanistan to obtain permission from the Home and Tribal Affairs Department prior to visiting these locations. The permit may stipulate that an armed escort must accompany the visitor. Even in the settled areas of the NWFP there is occasional ethnic, sectarian, and political violence. There have been dozens of bombings in Peshawar of varying sophistication since September 2006. Members of the Taliban and Al-Qaida are known to be in the FATA, and may also be in the settled areas.

Kashmir - While direct military hostilities between India and Pakistan across the Line of Control (LOC) are infrequent, militant groups engaged in a long-running insurgency on the Indian side of the LOC are reported to have bases and supporters operating from the Pakistani side. Most of these groups are anti-American, and some have attacked Americans and other Westerners. The Government of Pakistan restricts access to many parts of this region and requires that visitors obtain a permit from the Ministry of Interior before traveling.

Punjab Province - Violence has increased in Punjab Province. Since September 2007, several suicide operations have taken place, including attacks in Rawalpindi and Lahore. As a precaution against these possible dangers, U.S. citizens are cautioned to avoid public transportation and crowded areas. The Wagah border crossing into India near Lahore remains open daily (from 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.) for travel to and from India if the passport holder has a valid visa for both countries. Visitors are advised to confirm the current status of the border crossing prior to commencing travel.

Sindh Province - In Karachi and Hyderabad, there has been recurring violence characterized by bombings, violent demonstrations and shootings. An October 2007 suicide attack on former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto killed more than 130 and injured approximately 375 people in Karachi. In the aftermath of her December 2007 death, rioting in Karachi led to multiple deaths and injuries, as well as widespread property damage. In May 2008, clashing groups of lawyers burned buildings and vehicles in several areas of the city, resulting in at least 11 fatalities. Americans and other westerners continue to be a particular target of hostility and occasional anti-Western mob violence. The Consulate General in particular has been the target of several major terrorist attacks or plots in recent years, including the deadly March 2006 suicide attack described above. Non-essential travel to these cities is strongly discouraged. In rural Sindh Province, the security situation is hazardous, especially for those engaged in overland travel. The Government of Pakistan recommends that travelers limit their movements in Sindh Province.

Balochistan Province - The Province of Balochistan, which borders both Iran and Afghanistan, is notorious for narcotics and other forms of cross-border smuggling. Members of the Taliban and Al-Qaida are also believed to be present there. Tribal unrest sometimes turns violent. Because provincial police presence is limited, travelers wishing to visit the interior of Balochistan should consult with the province’s Home Secretary. Advance permission from provincial authorities is required for travel into many areas. Local authorities have detained travelers who lacked proper permission. Quetta, the provincial capital, has experienced an increase in bombings, occasional gun battles in the streets, and the imposition of curfews. Terrorist attacks against Pakistani government installations and infrastructure have been reported throughout 2005 and 2006.

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, including the Travel Warning for Pakistan, Travel Alerts, as well as the Worldwide Caution, can be found.

Up-to-date information on safety and security can also be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll free in the U.S. and Canada, or for callers outside the U.S. and Canada, a regular toll-line at 1-202-501-4444. These numbers are available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays).

The Department of State urges American citizens to take responsibility for their own personal security while traveling overseas. For general information about appropriate measures travelers can take to protect themselves in an overseas environment, see the Department of State’s pamphlet A Safe Trip Abroad.

CRIME: Crime is a serious concern for foreigners throughout Pakistan. Carjacking, armed robberies, house invasions, and other violent crimes occur in many major urban areas. Petty crime, especially theft of personal property, is common. American travelers to Pakistan are strongly advised to avoid traveling by taxi and other forms of public transportation, and have members of their host organizations or families meet them at the airport.

In many countries around the world, counterfeit and pirated goods are widely available. Transactions involving such products may be illegal under local law. In addition, bringing them back to the United States may result in forfeitures and/or fines. More information on this serious problem is available at http://www.cybercrime.gov/18usc2320.htm
INFORMATION FOR VICTIMS OF CRIME: The loss or theft abroad of a U.S. passport should be reported immediately to the local police and the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. If you are the victim of a crime while overseas, in addition to reporting to local police, please contact the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate for assistance. The Embassy/Consulate staff can, for example, assist you to find appropriate medical care, contact family members or friends and explain how funds could be transferred. Although the investigation and prosecution of the crime is solely the responsibility of local authorities, consular officers can help you to understand the local criminal justice process and to find an attorney if needed.

The local equivalent to the “911” emergency line in Pakistan is: 15
See our information on Victims of Crime.

MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION: Adequate basic non-emergency medical care is available in major Pakistani cities, but is limited in rural areas. Facilities in the cities vary in level and range of services, resources, and cleanliness, and Americans may find them below U.S. standards; facilities in rural areas are consistently below U.S. standards. Medical facilities require prepayment and do not accept credit cards.

Water is not potable anywhere in Pakistan and sanitation in many restaurants is inadequate. Stomach illnesses are common.

Effective emergency response to personal injury and illness is virtually non-existent in Pakistan. Ambulances are few and are not necessarily staffed by medical personnel. Any emergency case should be transported immediately to a recommended emergency receiving room. Many American-brand medications are not widely available, but generic brands from well-known pharmaceuticals usually are. The quality of the locally-produced medications is uneven.

The U.S. Department of State is unaware of any HIV/AIDS entry restrictions for visitors to or foreign residents of Pakistan.
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. As noted above, emergency medical care in Pakistan is very limited. Medical evacuations from Pakistan may cost in excess of $45,000 for uninsured travelers requiring emergency assistance. 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 Pakistan is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.

Traffic in Pakistan moves on the left, opposite of U.S. traffic. In addition to this source of potential confusion, travel by road in Pakistan has a variety of other risks. Roads are crowded, drivers are often aggressive and poorly trained, and many vehicles, particularly large trucks and buses, are badly maintained. Donkeys, cattle, horse carts, and even the occasional camel can pose roadside hazards in some areas. Roads, including most major highways, also suffer from poor maintenance and often have numerous potholes, sharp drop-offs and barriers that are not sign-posted. Drivers should exercise extreme caution when traveling at night by road, as many vehicles do not have proper illumination or dimmers nor are most roads properly illuminated or signed. Driving without experienced local drivers or guides is not recommended.

It is best to avoid public transportation. For security reasons, U.S. Mission personnel are prohibited from using taxis or buses. (See Safety and Security section above.)

Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information. Visit the website of Pakistan’s national tourist office at http://www.tourism.gov.pk/ and the national authority responsible for road safety at http://www.nha.gov.pk/.

AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT: The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the Government of Pakistan’s Civil Aviation Authority as being in compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards for oversight of Pakistan’s air carrier operations. For more information, travelers may visit the FAA’s web site at http://www.faa.gov/safety/programs_initiatives/oversight/iasa.

SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES:
Pakistan is largely a cash economy. Personal checks are not commonly accepted. Most Pakistanis do not use checking accounts for routine transactions. Outside major cities, even credit cards and travelers’ checks are generally not accepted, and there have been numerous reports of credit card fraud. There are bank branches as well as registered moneychangers in all international airports. ATMs can also be found in major airports. English is widely spoken by professional-level airport staff.

Please see our Customs Information.

CRIMINAL PENALTIES: While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country’s laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law. Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses. Persons violating Pakistani laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned. Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Pakistan are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines. Engaging in sexual conduct with children or using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is a crime, prosecutable in the United States.

Please see our information on Criminal Penalties.
CHILDREN'S ISSUES: For information see our Office of Children’s Issues web pages on intercountry adoption and international parental child abduction.

REGISTRATION / EMBASSY LOCATION:
Americans living or traveling in Pakistan are encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate through the State Department’s travel registration web site so that they can obtain updated information on travel and security within Pakistan. 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 Islamabad is located at Diplomatic Enclave, Ramna 5; telephone: (92-51) 208-0000; Consular Section telephone: (92-51) 208-2700; fax: (92-51) 282-2632; website: http://islamabad.usembassy.gov/
The U.S. Consulate General in Karachi, located at 8 Abdullah Haroon Road, closed its public operations indefinitely due to security concerns. U.S. citizens requiring emergency assistance should call the Consular Section in Karachi; telephone: (92-21) 520-4200; fax: (92-21) 568-0496; web site: http://karachi.usconsulate.gov/
The U.S. Consulate in Lahore is located on 50 Sharah-E-Abdul Hamid Bin Badees (Old Empress Road), near Shimla Hill Rotary; telephone: (92-42) 603-4000; fax: (92-42) 603-4200; web site: http://lahore.usconsulate.gov/; email: amconsul@brain.net.pk
The U.S. Consulate in Peshawar is located at 11 Hospital Road, Cantonment, Peshawar; telephone: (92-91) 526-8800; fax: (92-91) 528-4171; web site: http://peshawar.usconsulate.gov/
* * *
This replaces the Country Specific Information dated August 7, 2008 to update the section on Safety and Security.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Thu, 7 May 2020 15:08:59 +0200 (METDST)

Islamabad, May 7, 2020 (AFP) - Pakistan will begin easing its nationwide lockdown over the weekend, Prime Minister Imran Khan said Thursday, citing the economic havoc the measures have wreaked, even as increased testing shows a rise in new coronavirus cases.

Khan called on the public to continue following social distancing guidelines as businesses start to reopen in phases, saying another lockdown would be imposed if cases spiked again.    "We need to discipline ourselves," said Khan in a televised address announcing the easing of the lockdown would begin on Saturday. "We can't send the police to make raids. In an independent society this doesn't happen."   Schools will remain closed until mid-July, while there were no plans to restart public transportation or domestic flights just yet.

The easing of the lockdown comes with many across the country already openly flouting its restrictions and gathering in public, especially during the evenings as people celebrate the holy month of Ramadan.    Last month, authorities buckled under pressure from religious groups ahead of Ramadan and allowed mosques to hold daily prayers and evening congregations after clerics promised to instruct religious leaders to clean their facilities regularly.

Thousands of shoppers have also thronged popular markets, including many without wearing protective gear, to buy food for the evening iftar meal that celebrates the end of each day's fasting.    Infections have been rising steadily as testing has increased, with over 23,000 cases recorded in the nation of over 210 million.    The death toll in Pakistan however remains low, at 564, according to government figures.
Date: Thu 26 Mar 2020
Source: The News [edited]

At a time when health authorities are dealing with the threat of coronavirus in the country, cases of Crimean-Congo haemorrhagic fever (CCHF), which is a lethal viral disease, have started surfacing in Sindh, and 2 people have been diagnosed with the tickborne viral ailment within a week.

"Today, we had a 37 year old female patient from Tharparkar, who was bleeding from her nose and mouth. We sent her sample to the lab and the lab test confirmed that she is infected with Crimean-Congo haemorrhagic fever (CCHF)," said Dr Seemin Jamali, the executive director of the JPMC [Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Centre], while talking to The News on Wednesday [25 Mar 2020].

It is the 2nd case of the Congo fever in the current year [2020], she said, adding that earlier a 40 year old person from the Pak Colony of the city had been referred to the JPMC from the Civil Hospital Karachi, who tested positive for the CCHF. Dr Jamali maintained that the previous patient, who was a butcher by trade, had recovered and been discharged from the hospital, but the new patient, a woman from the Tharparkar district of Sindh, was under treatment and in a precarious condition.

Experts say Crimean-Congo haemorrhagic fever is a tickborne viral disease whose mortality rate is over 40 per cent, and it is mostly people who deal with livestock, including butchers and shepherds, who contract the disease after coming into contact with infected animals.
======================
[This is the 2nd case of CCHF from Karachi in 2020. The 1st case has already been reported in an earlier post. The CCHF cases in Pakistan show biannual peaks, between the months of March-May and August-October. Many factors, including poor sanitation, unhygienic transportation, and numerous animal slaughter sites, inefficient tick-control programs, post-slaughter piles of animal remains, nomadic lifestyle, and lack of general awareness contribute to the spread of CCHF.

Pakistan has confirmed cases of CCHF in almost every province: Sindh (Karachi), Punjab (Faisalabad, Multan, and Rawalpindi), Balochistan (Quetta) and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (Peshawar). There is a need to educate the general public, farmers, and healthcare workers about the causes, transmission, and risks of CCHF and advise on practical preventive measures. - ProMed Mod.UBA]

[Maps of Pakistan:
Date: Sat 21 Mar 2020
Source: Pakistan Today, Pakistan Press International (PPI) report [edited]

A Crimean-Congo haemorrhagic fever (CCHF) case was reported at Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Centre (JPMC) here on Saturday.

Executive Director, JPMC, Dr Seemin Jamali, while talking to PPI, said a 40-year-old man, a resident of Pak Colony, was reported in the emergency department with Congo fever related complications. She informed that the patient is a butcher by profession and he is patient with a positive PCR CCHF.

She informed that the patient was first shifted to Civil Hospital Karachi where the administration refused to get him admitted, and he was later brought to JPMC for treatment. She further informed that this was the 1st Congo patient reported in JPMC this year [2020] so far.

Experts said Congo fever is a fatal viral disease that spreads through a tick bite, which is a parasite and lives in the blood of animals. The [disease is mainly contracted by] people who deal with cattle and livestock.

The major symptoms of [CCHF] include backache, joints pain, pain in the abdomen, high grade fever, and bleeding from any part of the body.
============================
[This is the 1st case of CCHF reported from Pakistan in 2020; the last case was reported in November 2019.

"The hosts of the CCHF virus include a wide range of wild and domestic animals such as cattle, sheep, and goats. Many birds are resistant to infection, but ostriches are susceptible and may show a high prevalence of infection in endemic areas. For example, a former outbreak occurred at an ostrich abattoir in South Africa. "Animals become infected by the bite of infected ticks and the virus remains in their bloodstream for about one week, allowing the tick-animal-tick cycle to continue when another tick bites.

"The CCHF virus is transmitted to people either by tick bites or through contact with infected animal blood or tissues during and immediately after slaughter. The majority of cases have occurred in people involved in the livestock industry such as agricultural workers, slaughterhouse workers, and veterinarians. "Human-to-human transmission can occur resulting from close contact with the blood, secretions, organs, or other bodily fluids of infected persons. Hospital-acquired infections can also occur due to improper sterilization of medical equipment, reuse of needles, and contamination of medical supplies.

"The length of the incubation period depends on the mode of acquisition of the virus. Following infection by a tick bite, the incubation period is usually 1 to 3 days, with a maximum of 9 days. The incubation period following contact with infected blood or tissues is usually 5 to 6 days, with a documented maximum of 13 days.  There are no vaccines available for use in animals or humans. However, steps can be taken to reduce the risk of infection in people. "In the absence of a vaccine, the only way to reduce infection in people is by raising awareness of the risk factors and educating people about the measures they can take to reduce exposure to the virus.

Reducing the risk of tick-to-human transmission:
- wear protective clothing (long sleeves, long trousers);
- wear light coloured clothing to allow easy detection of ticks on the clothes;
- use approved acaricides (chemicals intended to kill ticks) on clothing;
- use approved repellent on the skin and clothing;
- regularly examine clothing and skin for ticks;
- seek to eliminate or control tick infestations on animals;
- wear gloves and other protective clothing while handling animals;
- avoid close physical contact with CCHF-infected people;
- wear gloves and protective equipment when taking care of ill people;
- wash hands regularly after caring for or visiting ill people."

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map of Pakistan:
Date: Fri, 13 Mar 2020 10:19:08 +0100 (MET)

Lahore, Pakistan, March 13, 2020 (AFP) - Hundreds of thousands of Islamic worshippers gathered in eastern Pakistan this week amid the novel coronavirus pandemic, ignoring government warnings that such events could propagate the disease.   Organisers late Thursday curtailed the annual Tablighi Ijtema congregation, which had drawn people from across the country, but cited rainy weather as the cause.

The early closure came after about 250,000 people had already congregated in camps near Lahore since Wednesday for the five day festival.   "Most of the people have returned to their homes but still tens of thousands of people are here. They will return today," one of the event's organisers Ehsanullah, who goes by one name, told AFP on Friday.   Pakistan has only recorded 21 confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus and no deaths, but officials have tested fewer than 500 potential cases in the country of about 215 million, where health care is frequently inadequate.

Many countries are advising against large gatherings in a bid to slow the spread of the highly communicable virus. Some nations -- like France and Italy -- have banned them altogether.   The federal government has yet to enforce nationwide measures to contain a possible outbreak, leaving provinces to act independently. Organisers of the Tablighi Ijtema were free to ignore government advice to postpone.   "The government asked us to cancel the gathering because of the coronavirus, but our elders and organisers decided that the gathering will proceed as planned," Ehsanullah said.

The movement was founded by religious scholars more than five decades ago and focuses exclusively on preaching Islam.   It usually sees hundreds of camps and sub-camps set up on a dusty site outside Lahore to accommodate people from across Pakistan, giving the gathering a festival feel.   Schools in three of Pakistan's four provinces are closed for March and authorities are conducting basic screenings of passengers arriving by air from overseas.   Prime Minister Imran Khan was set to meet with his national security team later Friday to discuss the global coronavirus crisis.
Date: Wed, 4 Mar 2020 05:47:12 +0100 (MET)
By Kaneez Fatima

Pipli Pahar, Pakistan, March 4, 2020 (AFP) - Pakistan's farmers are struggling to combat the worst locust plague in nearly three decades as insect swarms decimate entire harvests in the country's agricultural heartlands and send food prices soaring.   Heavy rains and cyclones sparked "unprecedented" breeding and the explosive growth of locust populations on the Arabian peninsula early last year, according to the United Nations.

The insects have since fanned out and wreaked havoc on farms from East Africa to India before making their way into Pakistan from the desert on the country's southwestern border with Iran.    The crisis is so severe that the government has declared a nationwide emergency and urgently appealed for help from the international community.

Officials in southern Sindh province fear the infestation will devastate the supply of cotton, the local cash crop, ahead of its harvest in the coming months.    Local surveys of the damage are continuing, but the Sindh Chamber of Agriculture says nearly half of all crops have been destroyed near the port city of Karachi.   "I have not seen an infestation like this one in my career," said Shehbaz Akhtar, an agricultural official charged with locust eradication efforts in the village of Pipli Pahar in central Punjab province.

- 'Combat operation' -
Local authorities had "launched a combat operation" to clear the area of infestation with pesticide sprays, he said.    Clouds of the noxious gas envelop the nearby fields each morning, where villagers gather the husks of dead insects for an official bounty of 20 rupees (13 cents) per kilogramme bag.   "We spray twice a day here," says Fayyaz Azeem, clad in a face mask and thick industrial gloves on top of a tractor discharging pesticide into rows of crops.   But the process is slow and time-consuming, and by the time locusts are killed off in one field they have often already destroyed the next.   The pesticides used by officials are also dangerous for consumption, so even when the locusts are dead the remaining crops have to be discarded.   Some farmers have been forced to opt for more desperate solutions while waiting for their fields to be sprayed and have attempted to scare off the swarms by shouting and banging pots.

A team of Chinese experts has arrived in Pakistan to survey the crisis, food security ministry chief Muhammad Hashim Popalzai told AFP.   Beijing could also offer aerial spraying -- a much faster and more efficient method of pest control -- and Pakistan may also import pesticides from China.   Earlier reports circulating online suggested China was planning to send thousands of ducks to Pakistan to devour the scourge. Pakistani officials said no such plans were being considered.   The UN Food and Agriculture Organization has also set up meetings between India and Pakistan to prevent the swarms from spreading, Popalzai said.

- 'What can I do?' -
Agriculture accounts for 20 percent of Pakistan's GDP but the sector has already struggled for years in the face of drought and dwindling water supplies.   The country is also experiencing 12-year inflation highs, with the cost of sugar nearly doubling and flour prices jumping 15 percent in the past year.   Years without a locust attack meant the government "had become complacent" about the risks of a new infestation, said Pakistan Farmers Bureau president Zafar Hayyat.

Though he applauded the steps being taken to fight the plague, Hayyat warned of the risk that swarms would return mid-year after the next locust breeding season.    For many farmers in Pipli Pahar, the extermination campaign has already come too late.    Sitting in the corner of a wheat field with her cow, Rafiya Bibi watches the flurry of pesticide spraying around her.    The locusts have already destroyed her crops of canola, sunflower, chili and tobacco, which she had bought after borrowing 45,000 rupees from the government.   With no harvest, she has no way to repay the loan.    "What can I do?" she said. "All I can do is cry, what else can I do?"
More ...

World Travel News Headlines

Date: Mon, 1 Jun 2020 10:23:53 +0200 (METDST)

Yerevan, June 1, 2020 (AFP) - Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan and his family have tested positive for the coronavirus, he said Monday, as the rate of new infections soared in the Caucasus nation.   "My coronavirus test was positive yesterday," Pashinyan said in a self-recorded video message on Facebook, adding that his family were also infected.   He said he had no "viable symptoms" of the virus and would be working from home.   The prime minister and his wife Anna Hakobyan, who is a journalist, have four children.   The ex-Soviet republic of some three million has so far reported 9,492 cases of the coronavirus and 139 deaths.

Coronavirus patients have overwhelmed Armenia's hospitals and last week health officials said that intensive care treatment could be soon restricted to patients with the best chance of survival.   Pashinyan's announcement came nearly one month after Armenia on May 4 lifted a state of emergency imposed in March to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

The prime minister acknowledged his government had failed to enforce anti-virus measures and there had been widespread quarantine violations.   Pashinyan was elected prime minister in the wake of mass popular protests he led two years ago against veteran leader Serzh Sarkisian and his Republican Party.   He has since led a relentless crusade against graft and initiated sweeping judicial reforms.
Date: Mon, 1 Jun 2020 09:17:15 +0200 (METDST)

San Salvador, June 1, 2020 (AFP) - Tropical Storm Amanda triggered flash floods, landslides and power outages as it barrelled through El Salvador and Guatemala Sunday, killing 14 people, authorities said, warning of further heavy rain to come.   El Salvador President Nayib Bukele declared a 15-day state of emergency to cope with the effects of the storm, which he estimated to have caused $200 million in damage, but which weakened later in the day as it moved into Guatemala.

Amanda, the first named storm of the season in the Pacific, unleashed torrents of floodwater that tossed vehicles around like toys and damaged about 200 homes, the head of the Civil Protection Service William Hernandez said.   The fatalities were all recorded in El Salvador, Interior Minister Mario Duran said, warning that the death toll could rise.   One person is still missing, senior government official Carolina Recinos added.   "We are experiencing an unprecedented situation: one top-level emergency on top of another serious one," San Salvador mayor Ernesto Muyshondt said, referring to the coronavirus pandemic.

He added that half of those killed died in the capital, and that 4,200 people had sought refuge in government-run shelters after losing their homes or being forced to leave because they were in high-risk areas.   In some flooded areas, soldiers worked alongside emergency personnel to rescue people.   "We lost everything, we've been left with nowhere to live," said Isidro Gomez, a resident of hard-hit southeastern San Salvador, after a nearby river overflowed and destroyed his home.

Another victim, Mariano Ramos, said that at dawn residents of his San Salvador neighborhood were slammed by an avalanche of mud and water. An elderly man died in the area, officials said.   El Salvador's environment ministry warned residents of the "high probability" of multiple landslides that could damage buildings and injure or kill people.

Nearly 90 percent of El Salvador's 6.6 million people are considered vulnerable to flooding and landslides due to its geography.   In neighboring Guatemala, officials said roads had been blocked by at least five landslides and some flooding was reported, but no evacuations were underway.   Even though Amanda weakened to tropical depression status, Guatemalan officials warned that heavy rain would continue, with swollen rivers and possible "landslides affecting highways ... and flooding in coastal areas."
Date: Mon, 1 Jun 2020 06:55:18 +0200 (METDST)

Lima, June 1, 2020 (AFP) - Peru on Sunday reported 8,800 new COVID-19 infections, setting a new daily record for a country that already has the second highest number of novel coronavirus cases in Latin America after Brazil.   The death toll is now at 4,506, the third highest in the region -- itself the new hotspot of the deadly disease -- after Brazil and Mexico, with President Martin Vizcarra warning the country is only halfway through the crisis.

Infections have jumped in Peru despite a months-long mandatory lockdown and a nigh time curfew and the government ordering international borders to be closed.   The spike is concentrated around the capital Lima, where one third of the population lives, and put tremendous strain on Peru's economy and healthcare system.   Four out of every ten Peruvians lost their source of income when the lockdown began, according to one study, and last week Peru secured a two-year, $11 billion credit line from the International Monetary Fund.

- 'Tremendous challenge' in Chile -
Neighbouring Chile on Sunday reported 57 more fatalities in the past 24 hours, a new record that brings the country's COVID-19 death toll to 1,054.   "We are facing the largest pandemic of the past 100 years," said Deputy Health Minister Paula Daza, as she announced the latest figures.    "It is a tremendous challenge; we are living very difficult times in our country."

In Santiago, where the 80 percent of the virus cases were reported, 96 percent of the emergency room beds were taken, officials said.   Officials reported a sharp increase in cases over the past two weeks.   In early May the government of President Sebastian Pinera said that the number of virus cases had hit a plateau, and lockdown restrictions would be loosened.
Date: Mon, 1 Jun 2020 03:38:38 +0200 (METDST)
By Anna SMOLCHENKO

Moscow, June 1, 2020 (AFP) - Shopping malls and parks are set to reopen in Moscow on Monday as the Russian capital eases coronavirus restrictions despite having the world's third-largest caseload.   The relaxation of the confinement orders in Moscow, the epicentre of Russia's outbreak with a population of more than 12 million, comes after President Vladimir Putin announced the epidemic had passed its peak in the country.

Under lockdown since March 30, residents of Europe's most populous city were until now only allowed to leave their homes for brief trips to shop, walk dogs or travel to essential jobs with a permit.   While Muscovites welcomed the opportunity to return to parks and malls after weeks of being cooped up at home, many ridiculed the Moscow mayor's "experiment" aimed at regulating people's walks and exercise.

As a two-week test measure, Sergei Sobyanin said residents of Moscow will be allowed to take walks according to a staggered schedule based on their home address.   "Regular walks are allowed between 9am and 9pm but no more than three times a week -- twice on weekdays and once on a weekend," said Sobyanin on his blog, adding that a detailed schedule would be released separately.   People can jog or exercise between 5am and 9am but must wear masks, according to the new rules.   Sobyanin said he feared that without limits on walking, people would throng the streets in scenes reminiscent of May Day outpourings in Soviet times.

- 'Sheer lunacy' -
The new regulations unleashed a flood of mockery on social media, with political commentator Alexander Golts calling them "sheer lunacy".   Critics quipped that life in Moscow was beginning to imitate dystopian fiction such as the novels of Aldous Huxley and Yevgeny Zamyatin.

Popular comedian Maxim Galkin, who has nearly eight million followers on Instagram, released a sketch in which Putin and Sobyanin discuss a "breathing schedule" for Moscow residents.   The five-minute parody has been viewed nearly six million times over the past few days.   When the restrictions are relaxed, dry-cleaners, laundry services and repair workshops will be allowed to reopen, while restaurants, cafes and cinemas will remain closed for now.

Moscow authorities also said that no mass gatherings would be allowed during the city-wide quarantine that will remain in place until at least June 14.   On Thursday authorities sentenced prominent reporter and activist Ilya Azar to 15 days in jail for staging a lone protest in central Moscow.   Dozens of his supporters have also been briefly detained over the past few days.   Rights organisations including Amnesty International and the Council of Europe have warned Moscow against using the coronavirus lockdown as a pretext to muzzle activists.

Many critics have also questioned the move to lift the restrictions as Russia reported more than 9,000 new infections on Sunday.   With more than 405,000 confirmed infections and over 4,600 deaths, the country has the world's third-largest caseload after the United States and Brazil.   Analysts say Putin is keen to open up the Russian economy and has recently ordered a World War II victory parade postponed by the contagion to be held on June 24.   The 67-year-old leader is also widely expected to announce a new date for a vote on constitutional reforms that could pave the way for him to potentially stay in power until 2036.
Date: Sun, 31 May 2020 11:16:20 +0200 (METDST)

Mogadishu, May 31, 2020 (AFP) - At least 10 people died and 12 were wounded when an explosive device ripped through a minibus outside the Somali capital Mogadishu on Sunday, the government said.   The deadly explosion occurred near Lafole village along the Afgoye-Mogadishu where the passenger bus was travelling early in the day.   "At least 10 civilians were killed in an explosion at Lafole area this morning, those who died were all civilians," the information ministry said in a statement, adding that the victims were on their way to a funeral.

Witnesses said the minibus was completely destroyed, and described an horrific scene with everyone on board either dead or wounded and many bodies ripped apart or burned beyond recognition.   "This was a horrible incident this morning, the explosive device went off as the bus was passing by the area and destroyed it completely," said Daud Doyow, a witness.   "Bodies of civilians were strewn in pieces and most of the people died," he added.   "There were more than 20 people on board and 10 of them were confirmed dead while the rest are seriously wounded and taken to hospital, this is a horrible scene here," said another witness, Abdirisak Adan.   No group immediately claimed responsibility for the bombing, but Somalia's al Qaeda-aligned Shabaab group carries out regular attacks in and around the capital, often killing civilians.
Date: Wed, 27 May 2020 17:58:12 +0200 (METDST)

Nairobi, May 27, 2020 (AFP) - Kenya said Wednesday it had documented a record 123 cases of coronavirus in the past 24 hours, a "staggering" figure although one also explained in part by wider testing.   "Today, I come to you with sombre news," Health Minister Mutahi Kagwe said.   "Our figures today are staggering. Out of the 3,077 samples tested, we have 123 positive cases. For the first time we have hit a triple digit.    "This is the highest number of positive cases we have ever recorded in a single day since we recorded the first case on March 13."

A total of 1,471 cases of COVID-19 have been recorded in Kenya since the start of the epidemic. Of these, 55 have been fatal.   The tally of infections has doubled since mid-May but the country has also tripled its number of daily tests, from less than 1,000 to nearly 3,000, which has helped unearth more cases.

Kagwe sounded a warning about the vulnerability of crowded slums in the capital Nairobi, which leads the list of new cases followed by the port city of Mombasa.   "There is a raging number of infections in these areas," he said, adding: "No-one should have a false sense of security about their immunity to COVID-19."   Among its anti-coronavirus measures, Kenya has a national 7pm-5am curfew, which is currently in force until June 6, and has a ban on entering or exiting the cities of Nairobi, Mombasa, Kilifi, Kwale and Mandera.
Date: Wed, 27 May 2020 16:38:21 +0200 (METDST)

Nicosia, May 27, 2020 (AFP) - Cyprus hopes to attract tourists after its coronavirus lockdown by paying the medical costs of anyone who tests positive for COVID-19 while holidaying on the island, officials said Wednesday.   The plan was outlined in a letter to tour operators and airlines detailing the measures Cyprus is taking to ensure the safety of its tourism sector.   The letter was made public Wednesday and signed by the ministers of foreign affairs, transport, and tourism.

The Mediterranean island is marketing itself as a safe holiday destination during the global pandemic.   The Republic of Cyprus has reported 939 novel coronavirus cases and only 17 deaths.   The government said it is "committed to taking care of all travellers who test positive during their stay, as well as their families and close contacts".   It pledged to cover accommodation, dining and medical care if a tourist falls ill with the virus.   The "traveller will only need to bear the cost of their airport transfer and repatriation flight," it said.

- 'Quarantine hotels' -
A 100-bed hospital will be available exclusively for tourists who test positive, with more beds available "at very short notice if required".   An additional 112 beds in intensive care units with 200 respirators will be reserved for critically ill patients.   Designated "quarantine hotels" will have 500 rooms available for family members and close contacts of patients.

Other hotels on the island will be allowed to remain open if a guest tests positive, but their room will "undergo a deep clean".   Authorities have forecast a 70 percent decline in tourist arrivals in 2020.    Tourism earned Cyprus EUR2.68 billion ($2.94 bn) in 2019 -- about 15 percent of gross domestic product -- down one percent from the previous year, which was bolstered by a record 3.97 million arrivals.   Cyprus plans to reopen its airports on June 9 to arrivals from 13 countries considered low risk.   These include Israel, Greece, Germany, Austria and Malta but the island's two biggest markets Britain and Russia are not on the approved list.

hose arriving between June 9-19 will need to provide a health certificate proving they do not have the virus.   That requirement will be dropped from June 20, when another six countries will be added to the approved list, including Switzerland and Poland.   Cyprus says it will update the list of approved countries on a weekly basis based on scientific advice.

Officials will administer temperature checks and free random testing of arrivals.   Having tested over 10 percent of its population, Cyprus says it has one of the lowest coronavirus infection rates in Europe.   "Very few countries worldwide, especially in the Mediterranean, can boast about such statistics," the letter said.
Date: Wed, 27 May 2020 14:45:11 +0200 (METDST)

Stockholm, May 27, 2020 (AFP) - Airline SAS said Wednesday it would resume flights on several domestic and international routes in June, over two months after the operator grounded most of its fleet over the new coronavirus' impact on travel.   "This primarily includes domestic flights within and between the Scandinavian countries, but flights to New York, Chicago and Amsterdam from Copenhagen are also set to resume," SAS said in a statement.

The Scandinavian airline announced in mid-March it was halting most of its traffic and furloughing around 90 percent of its staff.   In late April the airline, whose two largest shareholders are the Swedish and Danish states, announced it was laying off about 5,000 people, representing 40 percent of the company's workforce.

In early May the company secured a state-guaranteed credit line of 3.3 billion Swedish kronor ($344 million or 313 million euros) to help it navigate the impact of the new coronavirus.   Even with the resumption of some flights, the airline continues to operate at a reduced capacity, but the added routes means an effective doubling of the aircraft in use from 15 to 30, according to SAS.   Finnair, of Nordic neighbour Finland, announced early last week it would start resuming its long-haul flight to Asia in July.
Date: Wed, 27 May 2020 14:25:21 +0200 (METDST)

Yerevan, May 27, 2020 (AFP) - Virus cases have overwhelmed Armenia's hospitals, officials said Wednesday, raising the prospect that intensive care treatment could be restricted to patients with the best chance of survival.   The tiny Caucasus nation of some three million has so far reported 7,774 coronavirus cases and 98 deaths.   At a cabinet meeting on Wednesday, Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan said "the situation with the coronavirus pandemic is very severe in Armenia."

Health ministry spokeswoman Alina Nikoghosyan told AFP: "if the current situation persists, in the coming days, intensive care will only be available for the patients with the best survival chances."   Health Minister Arsen Torosyan said Sunday that out of the country's 186 intensive care beds for coronavirus patients, only 32 remained empty and would soon be filled.

The prime minister called for stricter enforcement of measures aimed at containing the outbreak such as the wearing of face masks in public spaces.   This comes after the country lifted a state of emergency on May 4 which it had declared in March because of the pandemic.   Pashinyan said his government had failed to enforce anti-virus measures and there had been widespread quarantine violations.   "Our mistake was that we put too much trust in our citizens' sense of responsibility," he said.

Deputy Prime Minister Tigran Avinyan said he did not rule out that the government could have to impose a fresh nationwide lockdown.   Analysts have criticised the government's handling of the crisis, saying a decision to close borders was taken too late and officials sent the public "confusing messages."   "Officials were calling for the wearing of face masks, but they themselves didn't wear them until recently," said analyst Tatul Hakobyan.
Date: Wed, 27 May 2020 09:53:01 +0200 (METDST)

New Delhi, May 27, 2020 (AFP) - India is wilting under a heatwave, with the temperature in places reaching 50 degrees Celsius (122 degrees Fahrenheit) and the capital enduring its hottest May day in nearly two decades.   The hot spell is projected to scorch northern India for several more days, the Meteorological Department said late Tuesday, "with severe heat wave conditions in isolated pockets".   As global temperatures rise, heatwaves are a regular menace in the country -- particularly in May and June. Last year dozens of people died.

Met officials said Churu in the northern state of Rajasthan was the hottest place on record on Tuesday, at 50 Celsius, while parts of Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh sweltered in the high 40s.   Parts of the capital, New Delhi, recorded the hottest May day in 18 years with the mercury hitting 47.6 Celsius.   No deaths have been reported so far this year, but last year the government said the heat had killed 3,500 people since 2015. There have been fewer
fatalities in recent years.

The country of 1.3 billion people suffers from severe water shortages with tens of millions lacking running water -- to say nothing of air conditioning.   Parts of Delhi and elsewhere regularly see scuffles when tankers arrive to deliver water. Last year Chennai made international headlines when the southern city ran out of water entirely.   The heatwave adds to problems the country already has dealing with the spread of coronavirus.   India now has the 10th highest number of coronavirus cases globally, climbing above 150,000 on Wednesday with almost 4,500 deaths.

Last week cyclone Amphan killed more than 100 people as it ravaged in eastern India and Bangladesh, flattening villages, destroying farms and leaving millions without power.   Huge swarms of desert locusts, meanwhile, have destroyed nearly 50,000 hectares (125,000 acres) of crops across western and central India, and may enter Delhi in coming days.   The north-eastern states of Assam and Meghalaya are also currently experiencing floods, with more heavy rainfall forecast in the coming days.