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Sweden

Sweden - US Consular Information Sheet
14th October 2008
COUNTRY DESCRIPTION:
Sweden is a highly developed, stable democracy with a modern economy.
Read the Department of State Background Notes on Sweden for additional information.
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ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS:
Sweden is a party to the Schengen agreement.
As such, U.S. citizens may enter Sweden for up to 90 days for tourist or business purposes without a visa.
The passport should be valid for at least three months beyond the period of stay.
For further details about travel into and within Schengen countries, please see our Schengen Fact Sheet.
Contact the Swedish Embassy at 901 30th Street, NW, Washington, DC
20007, tel: (202) 467-2600 (mailing address 2900 K Street, N.W., Washington, DC), or the Swedish Consulate General in New York at (212) 583-2550. Visit the Sweden Abroad web site at www.swedenabroad.com for the most current visa information.
Sweden’s immigration authorities (Migrationsverket) also maintain a home page at http://www.migrationsverket.se/english.jsp.

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:
Sweden remains largely free of terrorist incidents.
However, like other countries in the Schengen area, Sweden’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 and to exercise caution.

For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs’ web site at http://travel.state.gov/ where the current Travel Warnings and Travel Alerts, including the Worldwide Caution, can be found.

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

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

CRIME:
Sweden has a low crime rate with rare, but increasing, instances of violent crime.
Most crimes involve the theft of personal property from cars or residences or in public areas. Pickpockets and purse-snatchers are becoming more prevalent. Many American citizens fall victim to these highly skilled thieves, especially at the main train stations in Stockholm and Gothenburg and during bus or train transit to and from airports. Do not put any bags containing valuables, such as your passport, down on the ground. Computer bags are particularly desirable.
Pickpockets and purse-snatchers often work in pairs or groups with one distracting the victim while another grabs valuables.
Often they operate in or near major tourist attractions such as Stockholm’s Old Town, restaurants, amusement parks, museums, bars, buses, long distance trains, subway trains, train and bus stations, and airports.
Hotel breakfast rooms and lobbies attract professional, well-dressed thieves who blend in with guests and target purses and briefcases left unguarded by unsuspecting tourists and business travelers.
Valuables should not be left in parked vehicles.

INFORMATION FOR VICTIMS OF CRIME:
The loss or theft abroad of a U.S. passport should be reported immediately to both 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, contact the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate for assistance.
The Embassy/Consulate staff can, for example, assist you in finding appropriate medical care, contacting family members or friends, and explaining how funds can be transferred.
Although the investigation and prosecution of a crime abroad 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.

Sweden has a limited criminal injuries compensation program for victims of violent, personal, and property crime.
Foreign citizens who are victims of crime on Swedish territory are eligible to apply for compensation, but if the victim and offender’s affiliation to Sweden is transitory in nature, compensation may not be awarded even though the crime occurred on Swedish soil.
Application forms in English are available at local police stations and other government agencies as well as on the Internet at
http://www.brottsoffermyndigheten.se/default.asp?id=1345.
Claimants are generally notified of the program’s decision within four months.

The local equivalent to the “911” emergency line in Sweden is 112.
See our information for Victims of Crime.
MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION:
Medical care is comparable to that found in the United States.
The Swedish medical system is a state-run system, so instead of visiting a local private general practitioner, travelers can visit a local medical center or clinic, called an “Akutmottagning” or “Vardcentral.”
Patients should be prepared to present their passports.
In case of a medical emergency, use the emergency telephone number “112” (see above) to contact the appropriate emergency service.

Travelers with special medical needs should consult with their personal physician and take appropriate precautions, including bringing adequate supplies of necessary medication.
Medicines may be brought into the country as long as they are intended for the traveler’s personal use.
Medications categorized as narcotics may only be brought into the country to cover the traveler's personal use for a maximum of five days and must be accompanied by a medical certificate stating why the traveler needs them.
In addition, stringent Swedish customs regulations prohibit travelers from receiving drugs from abroad after having arrived in the country.
Travelers may also find local physicians reluctant to prescribe equivalent quantities or dosages.
Prescriptions are dispensed at state-run pharmacies called “Apotek” in Swedish.
Most pharmacies are open during normal shopping hours but major cities have a 24-hour pharmacy.

The U.S. Department of State is unaware of any HIV/AIDS entry restrictions for visitors to or foreign residents of Sweden.
Information on vaccinations and other health precautions, such as safe food and water precautions and insect bite protection, may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s hotline for international travelers at 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747) or via the CDC’s web site at http://wwwn.cdc.gov/travel/default.aspx.
For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad consult the World Health Organization’s (WHO) web site at http://www.who.int/en.
Further health information for travelers is available at http://www.who.int/ith
MEDICAL INSURANCE:
The Department of State strongly urges Americans to consult with their medical insurance company prior to traveling abroad to confirm whether their policy applies overseas and whether it will cover emergency expenses such as a medical evacuation.
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 Sweden is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.


A valid U.S. driver’s license may be used while visiting Sweden, but drivers must be at least 18 years of age.
Driving in Sweden is on the right.
Road signs use standard international symbols and Swedish text.
Many urban streets have traffic lanes reserved for public transportation only.

Swedish roads are comparable to those in the U.S., though secondary roads may be less heavily traveled.
These secondary routes often narrow to two lanes with a wider shoulder.
Slower vehicles are expected to move onto the shoulder to allow faster moving vehicles to pass.
All vehicles must have headlights lit when on the road, no matter what time of day.
The use of snow tires is mandatory between December 1 and March 31 and, experience in driving on ice and snow is recommended before navigating Sweden’s winter roads.

Public transport in Sweden is of good quality and is the recommended method of travel.
Passenger trains, intercity buses, and plane flights provide regular service over longer distances.
Public transportation in urban centers includes buses, subways, trams, suburban trains, and taxis.
Taxis are more expensive than in major U.S. cities.
Most local residents use public transport in Stockholm as parking can be hard to find and expensive.
The bus, train, and subway systems are relatively safe.

Use of seat belts is mandatory for drivers and all passengers, and children under the age of seven must be seated in approved child or booster seats.
The maximum speed limit is 110 kilometers per hour.
Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, including prescription drugs, is considered a very serious offense.
The rules are stringently enforced and fines can be severe.
Violations can result in severe fines and possible jail sentences.

Emergency services for traffic accidents can be reached by calling 112 (the equivalent to 911 in the U.S.).
Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information.
Visit the website of the country’s national tourist office and national authority responsible for road safety at www.visitsweden.se and at http://www.vv.se/templates/page2_2____13172.aspx?epslanguage=EN
AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT:
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the Government of Sweden’s Civil Aviation Authority as being in compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards for oversight of Sweden’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:
Please see our information on Customs Information and the Swedish web site www.tullverket.se/en for customs information specific to Sweden.
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 Sweden’s laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned.
Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Sweden are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines.
There is no bail system in Sweden and non-resident Americans who are arrested may be held in custody until the trial is complete.
Engaging in illicit 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 Sweden are encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate through the State Department’s travel registration web site, https://travelregistration.state.gov, so that they can obtain updated information on travel and security within Sweden.
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 is located at
Dag Hammarskjoldsvag 31, telephone: (46) (8) 783-5300, fax:
(46) (8) 783-5480, and after-hours telephone: (46) (8) 783-5310.
The Embassy’s web site is http://stockholm.usembassy.gov/
* * *
This replaces the Consular Information Sheet dated March 4, 2008 to update the sections on Entry Requirements, Information for Victims of Crime and Medical Facilities and Health Information.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Tue, 7 Apr 2020 15:06:49 +0200 (METDST)

Stockholm, April 7, 2020 (AFP) - Sweden on Tuesday reported another 114 coronavirus deaths, bringing the total to 591 in a country that has adopted a softer approach to containing the outbreak than some of its European neighbours.    Sweden's Public Health Agency said it had recorded a total of 7,693 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the country of around 10 million people.

It reported 114 new deaths on Tuesday, an uptick from preceding daily tolls, but cautioned that some of the fatalities occurred in previous days.    State epidemiologist Anders Tegnell said Tuesday the country has been averaging an average of "a little over 40" deaths a day.    He added that Sweden saw a slight decrease in the number of daily new confirmed cases of the new coronavirus over the last few days, but said it was to early to say whether numbers had peaked.

Sweden has not imposed extraordinary lockdown orders seen elsewhere in Europe to stem the spread of the virus, instead calling for citizens to take responsibility to follow social distancing guidelines.    The government has also banned gatherings of more than 50 people and barred visits to nursing homes.

The Nordic country's softer approach has drawn criticism and curiosity abroad and the been the subject of fierce debate domestically.   Sweden's government has rejected accusations it was passive in the fight to curb the virus.   "It's not business as usual in Sweden," Health Minister Lena Hallengren told reporters last week.
Date: Fri, 21 Feb 2020 05:56:39 +0100 (MET)

Jukkasjaervi, Sweden, Feb 21, 2020 (AFP) - High above the Arctic Circle and nestled in the snow-dusted forests of northern Sweden, gaggles of tourists gathered on a February morning for a glimpse of hallways, bedrooms and a wedding chapel sculpted from ice, part of the 30th incarnation of Sweden's ice hotel.   Stopping in blue-white hallways to take snaps of a chandelier and ornately decorated bedrooms entirely carved from ice, the tourists are among the 50,000 day visitors to the hotel every year, founded in 1989 by a hotelier looking to attract visitors to the remote town of Jukkasjarvi, 200 kilometres (125 miles) north of the Arctic Circle.   Built every October from the frozen waters of the nearby river Torne, the winter hotel has 35 bedrooms.

Temperatures reach -5 degrees Celsius (23 Fahrenheit) in the rooms, which start at around three times the average price of a night in a three-star establishment in Stockholm.   Individual suites cost more, and feature sculptures and designs by artists from around the world.   One room inspired by the aurora borealis -- the northern lights that can be seen in the skies nearby -- features lighting that changes colour, as well as a giant snow sculpture of a reindeer's head, all set to a soundtrack of ambient music and, occasionally, reindeer grunts.   Around 20,000 guests spend a night in the hotel every year.   But 25-year-old guide Julia Hansers said guests usually react less to the cold than to the tranquillity.   "A lot of people coming here live in the city, and there you always have some sort of sounds and noise around you, and inside the ice hotel it's completely quiet," said Hansers, peering out from under a thick woolly hat.

Bo Bjerggaard, a gallerist from Copenhagen, spent a night wrapped in a sleeping bag and a reindeer-skin throw.   "During the night I had to get up and then it was of course cold," Bjerggaard said, standing outside in the hotel's dazzling white courtyard made from snow.   "Then (it's) great again when you come back into the sleeping bag -- you sleep so well because of the temperature," he said with a smile.   Guests can also enjoy a drink in the ice bar, where all beverages are served in glasses made from ice.   Since 2016 the hotel has also used solar panels to generate electricity to cool a nearby building to below zero to allow them to keep 20 rooms frozen all year round.   When spring arrives, the winter hotel's rooms are closed and it melts back into the river until October, when construction begins again.
Date: Sun 1 Dec 2019
Source: Outbreak News Today [edited]

In a follow-up on a previous report on the _Cryptosporidium_ outbreak in Sweden, the Public Health Authority, or Folkhalsomyndigheten, reports more than 300 cases of cryptosporidiosis in October and November [2019].

The good news is while the number of cases is still unusually high, the number of reported cases has decreased.

Adults have been the most affected age group and most cases have been reported from Stockholm, Ostergotland, Halland, Uppsala, Jonkoping, and Vastra Gotaland.

Health officials say of the 140 samples analyzed so far, 73 have been shown to belong to the same subtype (A ) of _Cryptosporidium parvum_. In addition to this subtype, a number of different subtypes have been detected, of which 35 cases with subtype B.

As part of the investigation, cases are interviewed about what they ate and drank before they became ill. The analysis shows that it was much more common among the cases with subtype A to drink pre-purchased freshly pressed fruit and vegetable drinks compared to the cases with subtype B.

Such beverages have not been heat-treated and can, therefore, contain harmful microorganisms. The investigation indicates that it is the spinach in the beverage, delivered in October [2019], which is the source of infection for the cases with subtype A. Since spinach is a fresh product, the contaminated beverage is no longer in store.

However, it is still unknown what the cases with subtype B have been infected with, so far the investigation indicates that it is a different source of infection than for subtype A.
======================
[The case-control investigation confirms that the outbreak is food-related stating that "that it was much more common among the cases with subtype A to drink pre-purchased freshly pressed fruit and vegetable drinks." The source of subtype B still has to be defined. - ProMED Mod.EP]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map of Sweden:
Date: Wed 13 Nov 2019
Source: Swedish Public Health Agency [in Swedish, trans. ProMED Mod.EP, edited]

The Public Health Agency of Sweden is investigating an increase in notified cases of infection with _Cryptosporidium_.

During the autumn and in particular during weeks 44 and 45 [28 Oct-8 Nov 2019], an increase in the number of reported cases of cryptosporidiosis, infected in Sweden, was noted. Half of the regions in Sweden have reported cases in all age groups but mostly in adults. Most cases have been seen in the Stockholm region.

The Agency has initiated an outbreak investigation in collaboration with regional authorities and the Swedish Food Agency to identify a possible common source. The investigation will focus on food and water consumption in cases and controls and samples will be analysed by the agency.
=====================
[The graph in the article (see source URL above] shows that approximately 85 cases were recorded in week 45, compared to 20 to 30 cases weekly from week 32 (5-11 Aug 2019]. All cases were infected in Sweden.

Infection with _Cryptosporidium_ spp. is a zoonosis with a natural reservoir in ruminants from which surface water such as in lakes and rivers, is contaminated.

This outbreak is observed in half of the regions in Sweden, which strongly suggests that the infection is foodborne and not related to contaminated drinking water. The concentration of cases in Stockholm most probably reflects the distribution of the population between the regions. - ProMED Mod.EP]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map of Sweden:
Date: 10 Oct 2019
Source: Food Safety News [edited]

Livsmedelsverket has warned people to correctly soak and cook dried legumes such as beans, peas and lentils after they were linked to a large food poisoning outbreak at a school.

Dried legumes naturally contain lectins which can cause nausea, vomiting and diarrhea around 1-7 hours after consumption.

Illness occurred in the canteen at lunchtime in early September 2019 at Baldergymnasiet school in Skelleftea, a city in Vasterbotten County. Swedish media reported that almost 280 people were affected, and samples were sent to a laboratory in the United Kingdom.

Sandra Wallstrom, a food inspector at Skelleftea municipality, said it was thought to be the 1st time elevated levels of lectin have been shown to have caused food poisoning in Sweden.

Follow-up checks will be made at the school to ensure the handling of beans and similar foods is safe in the future.

Swedish officials urged people to follow instructions on the packaging and in recipes. They should be soaked for at least 12 hours, rinsed and cooked for at least half an hour. Canned beans are already cooked and can be eaten directly without soaking and boiling.  [Byline: Joe Whitworth]
=======================
["Lectins are proteins selectively binding carbohydrates and, importantly, the carbohydrate moieties of the glycoproteins decorating the surface of most animal [and mammal] cells. They are found in a wide range of vegetables (29 out of 88 tested; [1]). Plant lectins not efficiently degraded by digestive enzymes, and that have an affinity for the surface of gut epithelial cells, such as those present in the Leguminosae family, can be poisonous [2]. Acute symptoms following ingestion include nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.

"Ingestion of the lectins present in certain improperly cooked vegetables [especially beans and lentils] can result in acute gastrointestinal (GI) tract distress, but the mechanism of toxicity is unknown. _In vivo_, gut epithelial cells are constantly exposed to mechanical and other stresses and consequently individual cells frequently experience plasma membrane disruptions. Repair of these cell surface disruptions allows the wounded cell to survive: failure results in necrotic cell death. Plasma membrane repair is mediated, in part, by an exocytotic event that adds a patch of internal membrane to the defect site. Lectins are known to inhibit exocytosis.

"Repair of plasma membrane disruptions and exocytosis of mucus was assessed after treatment of cultured cell models and excised segments of the GI tract with lectins. Plasma membrane disruptions were produced by focal irradiation of individual cells, using a microscope-based laser, or by mechanical abrasion of multiple cells, using a syringe needle. Repair was then assessed by monitoring the cytosolic penetration of dyes incapable of crossing the intact plasma membrane. We found cell surface-bound lectins potently inhibited plasma membrane repair, and the exocytosis of mucus normally accompanies the repair response."

1. Nachbar MS, Oppenheim JD. Lectins in the United States diet: a survey of lectins in commonly consumed foods and a review of the literature. Am J Clin Nutr. 1980;33:2338-2345.
2. Vasconcelos IM, Oliveira JT. Antinutritional properties of plant lectins. Toxicon. 2004;44:385-403.

The full article may be found at:

One note: Be sure to discard the water the lentils or beans were soaked in. Fresh water should be added for cooking the lentils/beans. The taste of soaked vs. unsoaked beans may not vary much, but apparently the effect on the GI tract is much different. - ProMED Mod.TG]

[HealthMap/ProMED map available at:
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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."