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Russia

General Information
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Russia is one of the largest land masses throughout the world covering an expanse of 6,592,849 sq. miles. The country stretches from the Baltic sea in Europe to the Pacific Ocean in the
east and from the Arctic Ocean in the north to the Black Sea in the south. Moscow, the capital city, is situated in the western region of the country. The nation is undergoing profound political and economic changes. There have been Bank closures and this can make access to funds more difficult for travellers.
Safety & Personal Security
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Certain regions of the country are closed to travellers and it is important to confirm your itinerary before leaving. Entry to the Caucasus region is restricted. Kidnapping of tourists is well reported in some outlying regions. Good tourist facilities are present in Moscow, St Petersburg and many of the other large cities but many shortages can occur at times. Crime against foreigners can be a problem and it is essential not to flaunt personal wealth and to take care if you need to travel at night. The underground walkways, subway, train stations and airports are particular risk locations. Don’t share a taxi with strangers.
Customs Regulations
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On entry you will need to complete a form declaring all items of value. Keep this form safe as it will be required on leaving. Take care to obtain receipts for any expensive items to purchase while in Russia.
Stringent controls at Customs when leaving the country may cause significant delays if it is felt that the traveller is trying to export items of historical value.
General Health Precautions
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The medical services available throughout Russia may not reach Western European standards. Severe shortages of even basic medical supplies are regularly reported. It is wise for travellers to ensure that they are in good general health and that dental work should not be required while abroad. Carry an adequate supply of any medications which you normally take, as these may not be available in many parts of Russia. Adequate travel insurance is essential for your trip.
Diphtheria in Russia
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Again, according to press reports, over 4000 cases of diphtheria were reported during the outbreak in the early 1990’s. Approximately 104 deaths occurred. At that stage the disease was mainly found in St Petersburg, Moscow and Krasnodar and in the eastern parts of Valdivostok and Saratov. Vaccination (with Tetanus) is usually recommended for all travellers. As Diphtheria is mainly an airborne disease it is usually wise to avoid local public transport if possible.
AIDS risk in Russia
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The blood supply throughout Russia may not be fully screened against blood borne pathogens and so blood transfusion should be avoided where at all possible. The most common reason that a traveller requires blood is following a road accident. Take special care crossing roads etc. The actual extent of the AIDS problem throughout Russia is uncertain with inaccurate reporting of statistics at this time. Obviously all care should be taken to avoid possible infection. AIDS testing is required for persons staying 3 months or longer.
Hiking in Russia
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Tick-borne encephalitis has been reported in the vicinity of Novosibirsk, Vladivostok and in the Sverdlovsk Oblast.
Pre-exposure vaccination against this disease is recommended for anyone who will be spending prolonged periods outdoors in the infested areas of Russia. Hikers should wear protective clothing and insect repellent against tick bites throughout rural Russia. Any bite should be reported to competent medical personnel as soon as possible.
Insect Bites
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Mosquitoes do occur during the summer months. Though there is thought to be no risk of malaria in Russia itself, though there are reports from some of the surrounding CIS countries. Sandflys may also be found during the summer months in the hotter southern areas.
Food Precautions
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Eat only well cooked foods while they are still hot or fruit that you peel yourself. Always avoid roadside stands and street vendors as the level of hygiene is usually far below acceptable standards. Only purchase ice-cream products from established shops and never from the street side seller. Only pasteurised dairy products should be consumed. Outbreaks of a parasitic disease known as Trichinellosis has been reported from some regions of Russia. This disease is transmitted through eating undercooked meat so all food should never be rare when consumed.
Water Precautions
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Smell the tap water for a distinct chlorine odour. In many regions the water supply may not be potable and so travellers should where possible drink bottled beverages or beverages made from boiled water (tea/coffee). Do not use ice-cubes in your drinks and never use the mains tap water for drinking or brushing your teeth.
Occasional outbreaks of Typhoid, Cholera are reported and the St Petersburg mains water supply has been closely linked with an intestinal parasite, Giardia lambia.
General Vaccine Information
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Due to the general economic situation throughout Russia it is reported that there has been a significant shortage of vaccines to combat diseases such as measles, polio, diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis. This has led to a worsening of the risk for the local population and the possibility that travellers may be more exposed.
Vaccines for Travellers
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Most travellers to Russia will need to consider routine vaccination cover against the following;
Poliomyelitis, Typhoid,
Tetanus & Diphtheria and Hepatitis A.
Longer term travellers or those trekking may also need to consider vaccination cover against Rabies, Hepatitis B, Meningococcal Meningitis and Tick Borne Encephalitis.
Summary
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The majority of travellers to Russia who exercise due caution will remain in good health. Special care must be taken regarding your food and water consumption. Care against accidents and sensible precautions to avoid petty crime are also essential. If trekking about the country check your itinerary carefully and keep those at home in touch with your plans.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Mon, 30 Mar 2020 09:48:42 +0200 (METDST)

Moscow, March 30, 2020 (AFP) - Moscow on Monday imposed a lockdown in a bid to slow the spread of the coronavirus as Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin asked regional authorities to make similar preparations.    The enforcement of the tough new rules, which were suddenly announced by Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin late Sunday, coincide with the beginning of a "non-working" week declared by President Vladimir Putin last week.   Europe's largest city announced the strict new isolation measures after many Muscovites refused to heed official recommendations and self-isolate at the weekend and instead went to parks for barbecues.

On Monday, the streets of Moscow were deserted following the closure of all non-essential shops, including restaurants and cafes, but traffic was still seen on the roads in the city centre.   "I ask regional heads to work on the introduction of quarantines similar to the one introduced in Moscow," Mishustin said at a government meeting.   In a rare televised address last Wednesday, Putin announced that Russians would not be required to go to work this week, but would still get paid.   The country has so far reported 1,534 cases of coronavirus and eight deaths, with more than one thousand infections in the capital.   The new restrictions apply to all of the city's residents, regardless of age.

Muscovites will only be allowed to leave their homes in cases of a medical emergency, to travel to jobs judged essential, and to shop for food or medicines.   People will be allowed to take out trash and walk their dogs within a 100-metre (330-foot) radius of their homes.   The new isolation rules, which will be policed by a vast system of facial-recognition cameras in Moscow, come into force as Russia closes its borders as part of increasingly stringent measures to stop the spread of COVID-19.
Date: Thu, 26 Mar 2020 08:58:29 +0100 (MET)

Moscow, March 26, 2020 (AFP) - Russia will halt all international flights from midnight on Friday under a government decree listing new measures against the coronavirus outbreak.   The decree published on Thursday orders aviation authorities to halt all regular and charter flights, with the exception of special flights evacuating Russian citizens from abroad.   Russia's civil aviation agency Rosaviatsiya will halt "regular and charter air travel from Russian airports to airports of foreign states and back," according to the decree published on the government's website.

The grounding starts at midnight Friday, or 2100 GMT Thursday.   The decree said that flights authorised by the Russian government would be exempt from the rule. The new measures do not apply to domestic flights within Russia.   The government said Russians who were unable to return due to restrictions imposed by countries they are in should take measures to stay safe.    The decree also called on the finance ministry to allocate funds to repatriate Russians, adding that returnees would be subject to health checks and a two-week quarantine.

In a rare televised address to the nation Wednesday, President Vladimir Putin said he was postponing a national vote on April 22 to green light constitutional reforms that would allow him to run for two more terms after 2024.   He also took the unusual step of declaring March 28 to April 5 a non-working week in order to slow the spread of the virus, urging Russians to stay at home.   Putin also unveiled measures to boost the economy, including breaks on consumer loans and mortgage payments.   Russia has reported 658 cases of the coronavirus and Moscow announced two COVID-19 related deaths Wednesday.   The country closed borders to foreigners last week, while Moscow has imposed its own stricter measures, requiring people over 65 to shelter at home.
Date: Wed, 25 Mar 2020 04:40:10 +0100 (MET)

Moscow, March 25, 2020 (AFP) - A 7.5-magnitude quake hit off Russia's Kuril Islands on Wednesday, the US Geological Survey said.   The quake hit at a depth of 59 kilometres (37 miles), around 1,400 kilometres (around 850 miles) northeast of the Japanese city of Sapporo, USGS added.   The US National Tsunami Warning Center said it was "analyzing the event to determine the level of danger".   "This earthquake has the potential to generate a destructive tsunami in the source region," it added.   The four southernmost islands of the Kuril chain -- Habomai, Shikotan, Etorofu and Kunashiri -- have been disputed between Moscow and Tokyo since the end of World War II.   The Kurils are known as the Northern Territories in Japan.
Date: Mon, 2 Mar 2020 13:04:23 +0100 (MET)

Moscow, March 2, 2020 (AFP) - Russian authorities on Monday confirmed the first case of coronavirus in Moscow, saying the patient had recently returned from Italy.   The anti-coronavirus task force said in a statement quoted by Russian news agencies that the "young man" had fallen ill on February 21 while on vacation to Italy.

The man, who resides outside Moscow, returned to Russia on February 23, and started showing signs of a respiratory viral infection, it said.   He sought medical help and was hospitalised on February 27. Testing confirmed the infection on Monday and his symptoms were not severe, the statement said.   Nearly 90,000 people have been infected in over 60 countries and more than 3,000 people have been killed by COVID-19.    Russia has so far managed to avoid a large number of infections and introduced a range of travel and visa restrictions.

Russia repatriated and quarantined a number of  passengers from the Diamond Princess cruise ship in Japan, three of whom tested positive for the virus.    Two Chinese citizens in Russia were also infected and treated in Siberia.   Moscow has imposed a near blanket ban on Chinese visitors over coronavirus fears and has closed rail links with China and halted most flights.    Authorities have also announced restrictions on travel to Russia from Iran and South Korea, two countries hit by the outbreak, and most recently advised against all non-essential foreign travel.
Date: Wed, 18 Dec 2019 20:28:33 +0100 (MET)

Moscow, Dec 18, 2019 (AFP) - Moscow registered the warmest December weather in over a century on Wednesday, as an unusually snowless month put winter activities on hold and confused plants into blooming.   One weather station in northern Moscow registered a temperature of 5.4 degrees Celsius (41.7 degrees Fahrenheit), said the Fobos weather centre.   "This is a new record of maximum air temperature for 18 December," surpassing a previous record of 5.3 degrees set in 1886, it said.   The Russian capital, normally covered with a blanket of snow by mid-December, thus far has had a snowless and cloudy winter, and the Russian weather service warned Wednesday that it may get even warmer.

A botanical garden in Moscow this week announced that its snowdrop flowers, which normally indicate the first signs of spring, were blooming because they "confused winter and spring."   "Gardeners are worried that the sakura will start blooming soon," the Apothecary Garden said on its website.   In Sokolniki park, popular with skiers and figure skaters in the winter, even the skiing track using artificial snow closed due to weather conditions.   One resident of Siberian city of Omsk even posted a jokey online "Snow for Sale" item, offering "natural snow" for R1,000 per cubic metre ($16).    "Moscow residents can use a seven percent discount when ordering more than 15 cubes," the notice on the Avito.ru popular online market said.
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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."