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General:
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Cuba is an independent island country situated in the Caribbean. It is the largest of the islands and covers 42,000sq miles. The climate is sub tropical throughout the year with most of the rainfall in
the northern parts of the country. Temperatures of between 20C to 35C are fairly standard throughout the year. Generally the winter effects of the American continent only last for short periods.
Safety & Security:
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The majority of tourists visiting Cuba will have no difficulty but bag snatching and other street crime appears to be increasing. The old Havana area and other major tourist resorts may be particular areas of concern in this regard. On arrival be careful to only use your recognised tour operator. If you are taking a taxi at any stage make sure it is a registered one and not a private vehicle. It is unwise to carry large quantities of money or jewellery away from your hotel and try not to flaunt wealth with your belongings. Pickpockets are too common an occurrence on buses and trains and at train stations so be careful with your essential documents and credit cards. Valuables should not be stored in suitcases when arriving in or departing from Havana as there have been a number of thefts from cases during the time the cases are coming through baggage handling. There is an airport shrink-wrap facility for those departing Havana which reduces the risk of tampering. Remember to carry a photocopy of your main documents (passport, flight tickets etc).
Road Safety:
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Following a number of serious road accidents involving tourists, you are advised not to use mopeds for travelling around Cuba or in Havana. Also, if you are involved in any accident a police investigation will be required to clear you and this may significantly delay your travel plans. On unlit roads at night there have been a number of accidents associated with roaming cattle (sounds like Ireland!). The traffic moves on the right side of the roads. There is a main highway running the length of the country but many of the country roads are in poor repair.
Local Laws & Customs:
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When arriving into Cuba make sure you are not carrying any items which could be considered offensive. Any illicit drug offense is treated very seriously and Cuban law allows for the death penalty to be used under these circumstances. If you require personal medication for your health, make sure it is in original packing and carry a letter from your doctor describing the medication. Never agree to carry any item for another individual and always secure your cases once they are packed. Taking photographs of military or police installations or around harbours, rail and airport facilities is strictly forbidden.

Currency:
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Since 1993 it is now possible to use US dollars for all transactions within Cuba. Remember, there is a 20$ airport departure tax. Certain travellers cheques and credit cards may not be acceptable within Cuba. This is particularly true of American Express cheques and cards but check your situation with the travel operator before departure.
Health Facilities:
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Generally healthcare facilities outside of Havana are limited and many standard medications may not be available. It is important to carry sufficient quantities of any medications which may be required for the duration of your time in Cuba.
Food & Water:
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The level of food and water hygiene varies throughout the country and between resorts. On arrival check the hotel cold water supply for the smell of chlorine. If it is not present then use sealed bottled water for both drinking and brushing your teeth throughout your stay. Cans and bottles of drinks are safe but take care to avoid pre-cut fruit. Peel it yourself to make sure it is not contaminated. Food from street vendors should be avoided in most cases. Bivalve shellfish are also a high risk food in many countries and Cuba is no exception in this regard. (Eg Mussels, Oysters, Clams etc)
Malaria & Mosquito Borne Diseases:
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Malaria transmission does not occur within Cuba and so prophylaxis is not required. However, a different mosquito borne disease called Dengue has begun to reoccur in the country over the past few years. This viral disease can be very sickening and even progress to death. It is rare for tourists to become infected but avoiding mosquito bites is a wise precaution.
Swimming, Sun & Dehydration:
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The extent of the Cuban sun (particular during the summer months (April to October) can be very excessive so make sure your head and shoulders are covered at all times when exposed. Watch children carefully as they will be a significant risk. Drink plenty of fluids to replace what will be lost through perspiration and, unless there is a reason not to,
take extra salt either on your food or in crisps, peanuts etc. Take care if swimming in the Caribbean to stay with others and to listen to local advice. Never swim after a heavy meal or alcohol.
Rabies Risk in Cuba:
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This viral disease does occur throughout Cuba and it is essential that you avoid any contact with all warm blooded animals. Dogs, cats and monkeys are the most commonly involved in spreading the disease to humans. Don't pick up a monkey for a photograph! If bitten, wash out the wound, apply an antiseptic and seek urgent medical attention.
Vaccinations for Cuba:
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There are no essential vaccines for entry / exit if coming from Ireland. However, for your own personal protection travellers are advised to have cover against the following;
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Tetanus (childhood booster)
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Typhoid (food & water borne disease)
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Hepatitis A (food & water borne disease)
For those planning a longer or more rural trip vaccine cover against conditions like Hepatitis B and Rabies may also need to be considered.
Summary:
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Cuba is becoming a popular destination for tourists and generally most will stay very healthy. However commonsense care against food and water borne disease is essential at all times. Also take care with regard to sun exposure, dehydration and mosquito bites.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Fri, 24 Jan 2020 03:33:13 +0100 (MET)
By Rusmir SMAJILHODZIC with Emmy VARLEY in Belgrade

Sarajevo, Jan 24, 2020 (AFP) - As winter grips the Balkans, the poor are caught in a cruel bind, being forced to light fires at home for heating while fuelling a pollution crisis smothering the region.   In recent weeks, Balkan capitals from Belgrade and Sarajevo to Skopje and Pristina have been ranked among the world's top 10 most polluted major cities, according to the monitoring application AirVisual.

While these are small cities compared to leading Asian polluters like New Delhi and Dhaka, a combination of coal-fired power plants, old cars and fires to heat homes are pumping the air with toxins.   "I know it is polluting. I am not an idiot but my only other choice would be to heat this home with electricity and that is damn expensive," said Trajan Nestorovski, who like many in his working-class Skopje neighbourhood burns wood to stay warm in winter.   His wife Vera added: "There are a couple of factories near our neighbourhood that are burning God knows what in the evenings".

Thanks to the rise of mobile phone apps that measure air quality, like the local Moj Vozduh (My Air) created by a Macedonian developer, citizens are finally grasping the full extent of the crisis.    "Serbia is suffocating, has anyone seen the minister of the environment?", said a recent headline in Belgrade's local Blic newspaper, speaking of the fog and dirty air enveloping the city.   Protests have been erupting around the region in recent days.

In Skopje, the capital of North Macedonia, young people have taken inspiration from Swedish activist Greta Thunberg by holding a spate of protests on Fridays.    "Greta inspired all of us," said 17-year-old Iskra Ilieska.   "In winter, half of my school class is absent because of lung problems. That is not normal," she said.

In neighbouring Bosnia, several hundred people wearing face masks gathered in the city of Tuzla to demand a plan from authorities to tackle pollution and phase out coal-fired plants in the next five years.   "The only recommended measures are that we stay shut up at home... when you go out on the streets, in the playgrounds, you won't see children anywhere," said Alisa Kasumovic, a mother in her forties.

- Silent killer -
According to a recent UN environment report, air pollution causes nearly 20 percent of premature deaths in 19 Western Balkan cities.   The main sources of the dust, soot and smoke are low-grade coal plants and household heating, the report said.    More than 60 percent of people in the region rely on coal and firewood to heat their homes, the report said. Only 12 percent of buildings are connected to district heating systems.

Governments need to make "clean energy more accessible", ban old polluting vehicles and tighten regulations on industry emissions and power plants, the UN urged.    Many people cannot afford cleaner heating options at home in countries where average wages are around 500 euros or less.   Sali Ademi, a 78-year-old in Kosovo's capital Pristina, uses coal.     "There's no worse thing, but what can you do?" he said in a city whose air is already poisoned by two nearby coal-fired power plants running on outdated technology.

- Cable car escape -
Those who warm their homes with fires also bear the brunt of health risks, according to experts.   "Some of the emissions from these stoves stay in the house and poison them," warned Anes Podic, president of an environmental group in Bosnia who has called on the government to replace inefficient wood stoves in the country.

In cities like Sarajevo and Skopje, a circle of mountains helps trap the hazardous air in the valleys where residents live.   Sakiba Sahman, 60, is a Sarajevan taking advantage of a recent reduction on ticket prices for a cable car that rides to the top of the 1,160-metre-high (3,800-foot-high) Mount Trebevic, which peaks above the smog over the Bosnian capital.   "We've come to spend a few hours to ventilate the lungs," she told AFP.   Down below, "the pollution is enormous, there are a lot of cars, everything is dirty, grey and depressing."
Date: 29 Aug 2018
Source: DW [edited]

Health officials in Serbia have reported new deaths from West Nile virus, where over 200 people are confirmed to be infected. The disease has also claimed lives in several EU countries.

Serbian authorities announced on Wednesday [29 Aug 2018] that 6 people have died after being infected by the West Nile virus last week, bringing the current death toll to 21. Serbia, with 213 infected cases, is the European country worst-hit by the disease.

At the same time, Greece reported 5 deaths due to the West Nile virus during the past week. The overall toll now stands at 16, with 130 registered cases of infection.

At least 9 people have died from the disease in Italy and another 6 people in Romania. Two fatalities have also been reported in Kosovo.

The exact number of cases is likely much larger, as humans infected with the mosquito-borne virus typically show no signs of disease and require no treatment. Only about 20 percent of those infected exhibit symptoms similar to influenza, such as fever, headaches, fatigue and swelling of the lymph nodes. Less than one percent of patients develop encephalitis or meningitis, which could potentially lead to death.

The virus has been present in Serbia since 2012, according to infectious disease specialist Dragan Delic, as cited by the Serbian daily Blic. He warned that global warming is likely to boost the spread of other tropical diseases into new areas, including "malaria and dengue fever."

Health experts believe the West Nile virus expanded its foothold in Europe through migratory birds. While there is no vaccine for it, doctors say the risk of infection can be managed by using protection from mosquito bites.
========================
[WNV activity has been higher than in previous years, with cases reported from many countries, and Serbia has reported 213 cases to date according to the ECDC update in section [1] above.

Vector control and community mobilization, awareness, and support are the key steps to controlling disease transmission for WNV, as with other vector borne diseases such as dengue and chikungunya - ProMED Mod.UBA]

[HealthMap/ProMED maps available at:
Date: Mon, 18 Jun 2018 05:25:56 +0200
By Katarina SUBASIC

Belgrade, June 18, 2018 (AFP) - "Join us comrade!" tourists are warmly greeted, as they climb into a vintage car that is no longer produced for a visit back in time to a country that no longer exists.   As a symbol of the former Yugoslavia, the Yugo car is back in vogue on Belgrade's streets.  Like in other places once stranded behind the detested Iron Curtain, the Serbian capital has found a unique way to cater for a surge in interest and even nostalgia for life under communism.

On a three-hour tour, visitors see some of Yugoslavia's most significant sites, seated in one of the once ubiquitous Yugos, ending up at the Museum of History of Yugoslavia which holds dictator Josip Broz Tito's mausoleum.   "People come to experience rides in an iconic car and it is something they cannot experience anywhere else in the world actually," Jovana Stojiljkovic, who manages the Yugotour travel agency, told AFP.   The last Yugo cars were produced a decade ago, but, says Stojiljkovic, they are still a hit among tourists for the "Rise and Fall of a Nation" tour, on which most clients are foreigners.   "It's something similar to a Trabant (East German car) tour in Berlin," she says.

- Made in Yugoslavia -
For vintage car aficionados, Belgrade has a lot to offer, with sightings of American Chryslers or Ford limousines not uncommon.   And for the handful of "Made in Yugoslavia" makes of car, thousands still rumble around on Balkans roads more than 25 years after Yugoslavia's collapse.   As well as the Yugo, the small Fica and Zastava 101, all produced at the Zastava plant in the central town of Kragujevac, were the pride of communist Yugoslavia.

They were highly popular due to their low price.   But the Yugo car was also often the butt of jokes over its design and unreliability.   It even appeared in the 1995 Hollywood blockbuster "Die Hard With a Vengeance" with Bruce Willis and Samuel L. Jackson.   Now it is tourists from all over the world climbing into the Yugos, which in their heyday were exported from Yugoslavia to 74 countries, including Egypt, India and even the United States.   Described by the communist authorities as the "deal of the century" for the US market, the Yugo had only limited success there, however.

- 'View of history' -
When Stojiljkovic was born in 1992, Yugoslavia had already fallen apart in a series of bloody wars and most of its republics were already independent states.   But by the age of 25, she had launched a career in preserving the memory of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (SFRJ) and telling its story, coinciding with a wave of "Yugonostalgia" among some for a period viewed as having enjoyed peace and relative prosperity before the onset of the conflicts.   Dennis Bertelsen, a 38-year-old Dane on a weekend visit to the city, was among the hundreds of thousands of tourists descending on Belgrade -- it hosted one million last year, 835,000 of whom were from abroad, according to
official figures.

With his three friends, he said he took the tour "to get a view of the history and what actually had been the development and downfall of Yugoslavia".   The itinerary includes passing by the famous Hotel Jugoslavija on the Danube river bank, one of the country's most luxurious at the time.   Guests included US presidents Richard Nixon and Jimmy Carter as well as Britain's Queen Elizabeth II.   The hotel has been out of service since it was hit in a 1999 NATO bombing campaign to force the then Serbian strongman Slobodan Milosevic to withdraw his troops from Kosovo but the building still has a mythical status.

- 'Commercialisation' -
Polish student Dominik Wojciechowski came across the tour while researching the Fica car for his photo-art project on so-called Yugonostalgia, a feeling still present in all the countries that emerged after Yugoslavia's collapse, although much less in Croatia where a national sense of being Croat is ultra dominant.

"I am interested in this process of commercialisation of Yugonostalgia and how people today are trying to preserve knowledge of Yugoslavia, while the older generation even (attempts) to return to these times," the 25-year-old said.   For him, the most impressive part of the tour was a 30-floor twin tower called Genex, or Western Gates of Belgrade, still among the tallest in the city.   "You stand below it and look up how big it is and feel this grandiosity of Yugoslavia and how powerful it was," he said.   Most tourists know very little about Yugoslavia, its 22 million people and dictator Tito who led it from the end of World War II until his death in 1980.

A decade later, the federation comprising six republics -- Bosnia, Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Slovenia -- collapsed in a series of wars that claimed more than 130,000 lives.   Although Stojiljkovic never lived in Yugoslavia she said she nevertheless knows a lot about it.   "I have heard all the stories from my parents, their friends and the rest of my family, so based on their experience it was a really nice time, they had a good time," she said.   And she herself is now the proud owner of two Fica cars, which, she said, was "to show to the rest of the world what they meant to us".
Date: Tue, 20 Mar 2018 18:47:46 +0100

Belgrade, March 20, 2018 (AFP) - Serbian authorities said Tuesday they have launched an initial investigation of some public opponents of vaccination after 12 people, including two children, have died in an outbreak of measles.   "The prosecutor's office for high-tech crime is looking into whether there is criminal accountability by a number of public persons, opponents of vaccination of children," the Serbian prosecutors's office said in a statement.

The probe came about after a group of 270 parents last month accused 43 people of "causing panic", including a famous folk singer Jelena Krleusa, a writer and even a doctor who have publicly spoken against vaccination, local media has reported.   The prosecutor did not reveal the names of those being investigated.    According to Serbia's Institute of Public Health, more than 3,800 cases of measles, including a 15-day-old baby, have been recorded since the beginning of the outbreak in October.   The 12 people who died of the disease included two children, aged two and four, the Institute said on its web site.

Earlier this month Serbian Health Minister Zlatibor Loncar urged parents to vaccinate their children, saying "the outbreak of measles would have never happened  if they had listened to doctors and not celebrities."   The vaccination, including against measles, is mandatory for children in Serbia, but courts have rarely issued fines that are 30,000 to 150,000 dinars (250 to 1,250 euros/$300 to $1,550).   Measles has also struck in neighbouring Romania as well as Italy, France, Germany and Greece.
Date: Wed 27 Dec 2017, 10:41 AM
Source: B92 [edited]

A 20-year-old man from Belgrade has died in a hospital's intensive care unit from complications caused by measles, RTS is reporting. He is the first victim of measles in Serbia. The patient had not been inoculated against the infectious disease.

Since October [2017], a total of 630 persons in central Serbia and in Serb-majority areas in Kosovo and Metohija contracted the disease, the Public Health Institute Batut announced on [Tue 26 Dec 2017].

A total of 91 percent of those have either not been vaccinated against the disease, or have incomplete or uncertain vaccination status.

Since the measles epidemic was reported in late October [2017], there had been 259 cases in Serb and non-Albanian municipalities in Kosovo.

In early November [2017], an epidemic of the disease was also reported in central Serbia.
=================
[Measles can be a serious illness in all age groups. However, children younger than 5 years of age and adults older than 20 years of age are more likely to suffer from measles complications. Some people may suffer from pneumonia (infection of the lungs) and encephalitis (swelling of the brain). They may need to be hospitalized and can die.

According to the CDC:
As many as 1 out of every 20 children with measles gets pneumonia, the most common cause of death from measles in young children. About 1 child out of every 1000 who get measles will develop encephalitis (swelling of the brain) that can lead to convulsions and can leave the child deaf or with intellectual disability. For every 1000 children who get measles, 1 or 2 will die from it.

Measles may cause pregnant woman to give birth prematurely, or have a low-birth-weight baby.

(Excerpted/edited from

A Healthmap/ProMED of Serbia may be found at
More ...

World Travel News Headlines

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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