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Poland

Poland US Consular Information Sheet
September 10, 2008
COUNTRY DESCRIPTION:
Poland is a stable, free-market democracy, and has been a member of the European Union since 2004..
Tourist facilities are not highly developed in all areas,
and some services taken for granted in other European countries may not be available in some parts of Poland, especially in rural areas.
Read the Department of State Background Notes on Poland for additional information.

ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS:
A valid passport is required.
Be sure to check your passport's validity -- Poland will not admit you if your passport is expired.
(Remember that U.S. passports for persons under 16 are valid for five, not ten, years).
On December 21, 2007, Poland joined the Schengen Zone.
U.S. citizens do not need visas for stays of up to 90 days for tourist, business, or transit purposes. That period begins when you enter any of the Schengen countries:
Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, and Sweden.

Note:
Although European Union regulations require that non-EU visitors obtain a stamp in their passports upon initial entry to a Schengen country, many borders are not staffed with officers carrying out this function.
If an American citizen wishes to ensure that his or her entry is properly documented, it may be necessary to request a stamp at an official point of entry.
Under local law, travelers without a stamp in their passports may be questioned and asked to document the length of their stay in Schengen countries at the time of departure or at any other point during their visit, and could face possible fines or other repercussions if unable to do so.

Polish immigration officials may ask travelers for proof of sufficient financial resources to cover their proposed stay in Poland, generally viewed as 100 zloty per day.
Additionally, citizens of non-EU countries, including the United States, should carry proof of adequate medical insurance in case of an accident or hospitalization while in Poland.
Polish immigration officials may ask for documentation of such insurance or proof of sufficient financial resources (at least 400 zloty per day) to cover such costs.
Those who lack insurance or access to adequate financial resources may be denied admission to Poland.
Medicare does not cover health costs incurred while abroad.

Poland requires Polish citizens (including American citizens who are or can be claimed as Polish citizens) to enter and depart Poland using a Polish passport.
Americans who are also Polish citizens or who are unsure if they hold Polish citizenship should contact the nearest Polish consular office for further information.

For further information on entry requirements, please contact the consular section of the Embassy of the Republic of Poland at 2224 Wyoming Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20008, tel. (202) 234-3800, or the Polish consulates in Chicago, Los Angeles or New York.
Visit the Embassy of Poland web site at http://www.polandembassy.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:
Poland remains largely free of terrorist incidents.
However, like other countries in the Schengen area, Poland’s open borders with its Western European neighbors allow the possibility of terrorist groups entering/exiting the country with anonymity.
Americans are reminded to remain vigilant with regard to their personal security.

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.

For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Bureau of Consular Affairs’
web site at http://travel.state.gov, where the current Travel Warnings and Travel Alerts, including the Worldwide Caution, can be found.
Up-to-date information on safety and security can also be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll-free in the U.S. and Canada, or for overseas callers, a regular toll line at 1-202-501-4444.
These numbers are available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays).

CRIME:
While Poland generally has a low rate of violent crime, the incidence of street crime, which sometimes involves violence, is moderate.
Major cities have higher rates of crime against residents and foreign visitors than other areas.

Organized groups of thieves and pick-pockets operate at major tourist destinations, in train stations, and on trains, trams, and buses in major cities.
Thieves will target overnight trains.
Most pick-pocketing on trains occurs during boarding; in the most common scenario, a group of well-dressed young men will surround a passenger in the narrow aisle of the train, jostling/pick-pocketing him or her as they supposedly attempt to get around the passenger.
Keep an eye on cell phones; they are prized by thieves.
Beware of taxi drivers who approach you at the airport or who do not display telephone numbers and a company name; these drivers usually charge exorbitant rates.
Order your taxi by telephone and at the airport use only taxis in the designated taxi ranks.

Car thefts and car-jackings are significantly declining; however, theft from vehicles remains a constant concern.
Drivers should be wary of people indicating they should pull over or that something is wrong with their cars; when such drivers pull over to see if there is a problem, they may find themselves suddenly surrounded by thieves from a second vehicle.
Drivers encountering someone indicating that there is trouble with their car and the problem is not apparent should continue driving until they find a safe spot (a crowded gas station, supermarket, or even police station) to inspect their vehicles.
There also have been incidents of thieves opening or breaking passenger-side doors and windows in slow or stopped traffic to take purses or briefcases left on the seat beside the driver.
Those traveling by car should remember to keep windows closed and doors locked.
Extremist youth gangs are a threat, particularly in urban areas.
Verbal harassment and physical attacks have been directed against members of racial minorities or those who appear to be foreign, particularly those of Asian or African descent.

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 Poland is: 112
See our information on Victims of Crime.

MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION:
Adequate medical care is available in Poland, but hospital facilities and nursing support are not comparable to American standards.
Physicians are generally well trained but specific emergency services may be lacking in certain regions, especially in Poland's small towns and rural areas.
Younger doctors generally speak English, though nursing staff often does not.
Doctors and hospitals often expect immediate cash payment for health services.
Medications are generally available, although they may not be specific U.S. brand-name drugs.

The U.S. Department of State is unaware of any HIV/AIDS entry restrictions for visitors to, or foreign residents of, Poland.
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 (CDC) 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:
Polish immigration law requires travelers either to carry adequate medical insurance in case of accident or hospitalization while in Poland or to be able to document access to sufficient financial resources (at least 400 zloty per day) to cover such medical emergencies.
Failure to carry insurance or the inability to provide documentation of sufficient financial resources if requested may result in a traveler being denied admission to Poland.
Medicare does not cover Americans in Poland.

The Department of State strongly urges Americans to consult with their medical insurance company prior to traveling abroad to confirm whether their policy applies overseas and whether it will cover emergency expenses such as a medical evacuation.
Please see our information on medical insurance overseas.

TRAFFIC SAFETY AND ROAD CONDITIONS:
While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States.
The information below concerning Poland is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.

An International Driving Permit (IDP), obtained prior to departure from the U.S., must accompany a U.S. driver's license.
A U.S. driver's license without an IDP is insufficient for use in Poland, and Americans cannot obtain IDPs in Poland.
Only two U.S. automobile associations — the American Automobile Association (AAA) and the American Automobile Touring Alliance (AATA) — have been authorized by the U.S. Department of State to distribute IDPs.
Polish roadside services, while not at Western levels, are rapidly improving.
Polski Zwiazek Motorowy Auto-Tour has multilingual operators and provides assistance countrywide; they can be reached by calling 9281 or 9637 preceded by the city code (outside of Warsaw 022-9281).
The police emergency number is 997, fire service is 998, and ambulance service is 999.
Mobile phone users can dial 112 for emergency assistance.
Seat belts are compulsory in both the front and back seats, and children under the age of 10 are prohibited from riding in the front seat.
You must use Headlights at all times, day and night.
Using your cellular phone while driving is prohibited, except for “hands-free” models.

There has been a substantial increase in the number of cars on Polish roads.
Driving, especially after dark, is hazardous.
Roads are generally narrow, poorly lighted, frequently under repair (especially in the summer months), and are often also used by pedestrians and cyclists.
The Ministry of Infrastructure has a program called “Black Spot” (Czarny Punkt), which puts signs in places with a particularly high number of accidents and/or casualties.
These signs have a black spot on a yellow background, and the road area around the “black spot” is marked with red diagonal lines.

Alcohol consumption is frequently a contributing factor in accidents.
Polish laws provide virtually zero tolerance for driving under the influence of alcohol, and penalties for driving under the influence of alcohol (defined as a blood alcohol level of 0.02 or higher) include a fine and probation or imprisonment for up to two years. Penalties for drivers involved in accidents are severe, and can be imprisonment from six months to eight years

Within cities, taxis are available at major hotels and designated stands or may be ordered in advance. Some drivers accept credit cards and/or speak English.
Travelers should be wary of hailing taxis on the street, especially those that do not have a telephone number displayed, because these may not have meters, and many of them charge more.
Do not accept assistance from “taxi drivers” who approach you in the arrivals terminal or outside the doors at Warsaw Airport.
Travelers availing themselves of these “services” often find themselves charged significantly more than the usual fare.
Use only taxis at designated airport taxi ranks.

Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information.
Visit the web site of Poland's National Tourist Office at http://www.polandtour.org and, that of Poland's Ministry of Transport responsible for road safety at http://www.mt.gov.pl.

AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT: The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the Government of Poland’s Civil Aviation Authority as being in compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards for oversight of Poland'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:
Visitors importing more than 10,000 Euros should, as part of the arrivals process, complete a form to declare currency, traveler's checks, and other cash instruments.
This form should be stamped by Polish Customs and retained by the traveler for presentation on departure.
Undeclared cash may be confiscated upon departure, and visitors carrying undeclared cash may be prosecuted.
Most banks now cash traveler's checks, ATMs are readily available, and credit cards increasingly accepted.
Polish customs authorities may enforce strict regulations concerning the export of items such as works of art, particularly those created before 1953.
Works produced by living artists after 1953 may be exported with permission from the Provincial Conservator of Relics.
Some works of art produced after 1953 may still be subject to a ban on exportation if the artist is no longer living and the work is considered of high cultural value.
If you are importing an item or work of art like those described above, even if only temporary (e.g., for an exhibit or performance) you should declare it to customs upon entry and carry proof of ownership in order to avoid problems on departure.
Contact the Polish Embassy in Washington, D.C., or one of the Polish consulates in the United States for specific information regarding customs requirements.
Please see our Customs Information.

Poland does not recognize (although it does not prohibit) dual nationality.
A person holding Polish and U.S. citizenship is deemed by Poland to be a Pole and subject to Polish law.

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 Polish laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested, or imprisoned.
Penalties for possession, use or trafficking in illegal drugs in Poland 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 Poland are encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate through the State Department’s travel registration web site and to obtain updated information on travel and security within Poland.
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 Warsaw is located at Aleje Ujazdowskie 29/31.
The Consular Section entrance is located around the corner at Ulica Piekna 12.
The Embassy's telephone number is (48) (22) 504-2000.
This number can be called 24 hours/day: for emergencies after business hours, press “0.”
The Embassy's fax number is (48) (22) 504-2688 and the fax number for the Consular Section is (48)(22) 627-4734 (consular fax only checked during normal business hours).
The U.S. Consulate General in Krakow is located at Ulica Stolarska 9.
The Consulate General's telephone number is (48) (12) 424-5100; fax (48)(12) 424-5103; after-hours cellular phone (for emergencies only) 601-483-348.
A Consular Agency providing limited consular services in Poznan is located at Ulica Paderewskiego 8.
The Consular Agency's telephone number is (48) (61) 851-8516; fax (48) (61) 851-8966.
The Embassy's web site is at http://poland.usembassy.gov/
* * *
This replaces the Consular Information Sheet dated March 5, 2008 to update the sections on Information for Victims of Crime and Medical Facilities and Health Information.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Thu, 23 Apr 2020 17:58:37 +0200 (METDST)
By Anna Maria Jakubek

Warsaw, April 23, 2020 (AFP) - Massive wildfires have ravaged Poland's largest nature reserve, the Biebrza National Park, as the country faces its worst drought in years.    After the first flames struck Sunday, the blaze spread across 6,000 hectares or 10 percent of the park, which features some of Europe's best preserved wetlands and is home to moose, beavers, wolves and unique birds.    "It's a great tragedy... Usually at this time of year, everything here is under water.

I spoke to a firefighter who said they've never dealt with anything like this before," local resident Joanna Skrzypkowska told AFP.    "They're fighting really hard... they didn't sleep for three nights, just battled the fires, before help arrived," said the 56-year-old teacher, ecologist and farmer from the village of Wolka Piaseczna.    Park director Andrzej Grygoruk told the website Noizz that the last time Biebrza saw a major fire was in 2003.

- 'Without rain we could be in danger' -
The environment ministry said it believes illegal grass burning was to blame for the fire, with the situation aggravated by strong wind and drought.    Skrzypkowska said climate change, a snowless winter and local water management also played a role in the fire, which she says has fortunately not spread to the forests and has abated somewhat.

She added that since Wednesday the volunteer firefighters -- who ran to the blaze on foot with shovels -- have been bolstered by colleagues from nearby cities as well as planes and helicopters.    But firefighters say it is unclear when they will be able to put out the fire completely.   "I'm afraid it won't happen until we get some real, proper rain," said Skrzypkowska, adding that it has now been a month or two without precipitation.    President Andrzej Duda spoke of the nationwide drought on Wednesday, calling on citizens to be reasonable about their water use and telling reporters: "Without rain, we could be in danger."

In Warsaw, the water level of the Vistula river has sunk to 60 centimetres (24 inches), uncovering many sandbanks.  Biebrza National Park is known as a bird watcher's paradise: some 270 species have been observed there, according to its website.   "For some waterfowl species, Biebrza marshes are among the last refuges for the survival of their population in Central Europe," according to the site.   Park management said Thursday that it has received nearly 1.2 million zloty (260,000 euros, $290,000) in donations to help firefighters after setting up a special bank account for the cause.
Date: Thu, 16 Apr 2020 20:30:08 +0200 (METDST)
By Michel VIATTEAU and Mary SIBIERSKI

Warsaw, April 16, 2020 (AFP) - Poles begrudgingly strapped on face masks Thursday in line with new rules to cover up as the government plans to ease coronavirus lockdown restrictions ahead of May elections.   All stores except supermarkets and pharmacies are shut in Poland until April 19 to control the coronavirus outbreak that has infected more than 7,900 and killed over 300.    This week, the government rolled out new rules requiring anyone venturing out in public -- for now, people out for essential trips or key workers -- to wear masks. 

The edict was received with mixed reviews.    "It's awful," postal worker Natalia told AFP, towing a large wheeled letter-bag behind her.   "My glasses are fogging up and I can't see a thing. But you have to wear it," she added, declining to give her surname.   A bank employee was equally unenthusiastic about having to sport the face covering.    "It isn't comfortable but if it's necessary, we have no choice. We must abide by the rules," said bank employee Urszula.   The World Health Organization (WHO) says asking the public to wear face masks is justified in areas where hand washing and physical distancing are difficult.    But it also warns that masks alone cannot stop the coronavirus pandemic.

But some Warsaw residents saw the new face mask rule as a chance to show off their sartorial swagger.    "Don't you like my mask?", quipped a lady wearing a deftly crafted green and gold one as she waited in line at a Warsaw post office. "A seamstress friend made it for me."   A nearby solider, Dariusz Szczypulski, agreed: "People will wear them as fashion statements."

The rules were rolled out as Poland's right-wing Law and Justice (PiS) government prepares for a presidential election on May 10.   The government has refused to delay the vote despite growing pressure from the public, opposition parties and medical experts over virus fears.    Like several of it neighbours, Poland will ease virus restrictions in stages over the next few weeks.

Forests and parks, except children's playgrounds, will re-open as of Monday for exercise only.   Schools could start to reopen from April 26 along with the resumption of international flights and rail travel.    As for the new mask rules, violators caught without masks can be fined up to several hundred euros.    But one police officer in the sunny, windswept capital said they would not be too tought on offenders.   "Probably we will limit ourselves to a verbal warning," he said, refusing to be named. 
Date: Thu, 9 Apr 2020 15:01:11 +0200 (METDST)

Warsaw, April 9, 2020 (AFP) - Poland's government on Thursday extended lockdown measures to curb the COVID-19 pandemic, keeping borders closed to foreigners and making face coverings mandatory in public spaces from next week.   "The evolution of the pandemic has been milder in Poland than in Italy or France... we have an opportunity to bring the spread of coronavirus under control," Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said in Warsaw.

Flanked by his health and education ministers, Morawiecki said Poland's March 13 decision to close borders to foreigners would be extended until May 3.   All stores except groceries and pharmacies would remain shut until April 19, he said, adding that the suspension of schools, international flights and rail travel would be extended to April 26th.

Restaurants are offering only takeaway service and public gatherings are limited to two people, under threat of  fines of up to 30,000 zloty (6,600 zloty, $7,200).   The government has yet to postpone a presidential election scheduled for May 10, despite growing pressure from the public, opposition parties and medical experts.

Morawiecki's right-wing Law and Justice (PiS) party has backed controversial legislation allowing a universal postal vote, criticised by the opposition and legal experts as unconstitutional.    PiS-allied President Andrzej Duda currently outpaces all other candidates by a large margin and may see him clinch victory in the first round of voting on May 10.

Health Minister Lukasz Szumowski announced on Thursday that Poles would be required to "cover their faces when venturing outside the home" as of next Thursday, but added that this "does not necessarily mean wearing a mask".   The Czech Republic and Austria claim their strategy to requiring masks in public spaces has slowed the rate of COVID-19 infection.   Austria is considering easing coronavirus lockdown measures from next week.   Poland, an EU member of 38 million people, has confirmed 5,341 cases of coronavirus, including 164 deaths.
Date: Tue, 31 Mar 2020 14:32:43 +0200 (METDST)

Warsaw, March 31, 2020 (AFP) - Poland's government on Tuesday further tightened measures taken to curb the spread of coronavirus, notably restricting the freedom of movement of youths, closing parks and hotels and limiting the number of shoppers.   "With every reckless, unnecessary instance of leaving the house, the pandemic drags on... We have to strictly adhere to social distancing rules," Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki told reporters.   "They are crucial here so that the light at the end of the tunnel can in fact be ever more visible for us all eventually."   To crack down on youth social gatherings, children under the age of 18 will now only be able to leave the house in the presence of an adult.

Hair and beauty salons, tattoo parlours, parks, beaches and most hotels will now be closed and city bicycle systems will be unavailable.    A maximum of three people per cash register will be allowed inside grocery stores and pharmacies at one time to help maintain a social distance of two metres (about six feet).   Between 10 a.m. and noon every day, only seniors will be allowed to shop.    Most of the new measures will come into effect on Wednesday and last two weeks, though they may be extended.    They will be enforced by police and punishable by a fine of between 5,000 and 30,000 zloty (1,100-6,600 euros, $1,200-7,200).

Poland had already closed all schools, theatres, pools, museums and shut its borders to foreign visitors.    Restaurants are only offering takeaway service and public gatherings are limited to two people.    The government has yet to postpone a presidential election scheduled for May 10, despite growing pressure from the public, opposition parties, medical workers and even members of the right-wing governing party.    The EU member of 38 million people has 2,132 confirmed cases of coronavirus, including 31 deaths.
Date: Thu, 27 Feb 2020 05:04:04 +0100 (MET)

Kuala Lumpur, Feb 27, 2020 (AFP) - Badminton's German Open will not go ahead next week and the Polish Open has been postponed, officials said as two more Olympic qualifying events fell victim to the coronavirus.   It hasn't yet been decided whether the German Open, originally scheduled for March 3-8, will be postponed or cancelled entirely, the Badminton World Federation said late Wednesday.   New dates are being sought for the Polish Open, which was meant to take place on March 26-29, but it will not now fall in the qualifying period for the Tokyo Olympics.

Both events were in the same month as the All England Open, one of the biggest events in the badminton calendar, although that tournament is currently still set to go ahead.   "The BWF is continuing to monitor all official updates on COVID-19 with no change to the intention to stage other HSBC BWF World Tour or BWF-sanctioned tournaments," said a statement.   This week the Vietnam International Challenge, which also carried rankings points for the Olympics, was shifted from late March to early June.

The loss of qualifying tournaments will pose a problem for many players including two-time Olympic champion Lin Dan, who needs a rapid rise up the rankings to win a place on the Chinese team.   Many of China's players are currently in Britain and have been cleared to play during what is a "critical period" of Olympic qualifying, the Chinese Badminton Association said last weekend.   China have been the dominant force in badminton at recent Olympics, sweeping all five titles at London 2012 and winning the men's singles and doubles gold medals four years ago in Rio.
More ...

World Travel News Headlines

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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