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Togo

Togo US Consular Information Sheet
September 10, 2008
COUNTRY DESCRIPTION:
Togo is a small West African country with a stagnant economy in a state of political uncertainty.
French is the official language, but Ewe and Mina are commonl
spoken as well.
Tourism facilities are limited, especially outside the capital city, Lomé.
Read the Department of State Background Notes on Togo for additional information.
ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS:
A passport and visa are required.
Travelers are encouraged to obtain visas prior to arrival due to recent difficulties with requesting them at the airport in Lomé or at some of the land borders.
Visas issued in Togo are limited to 7 days and can take an hour or more to be issued.
Travelers applying for visa extensions can also experience significant delays.
Vaccination against yellow fever is required before entry.
U.S. citizens should carry copies of their U.S. passports and vaccination records with them at all times while traveling in Togo so that, if questioned by local officials, they have proof of identity, U.S. citizenship, and required vaccinations readily available.

Travelers may obtain the latest information and details from the Embassy of the Republic of Togo, 2208 Massachusetts Avenue NW, Washington, DC
20008; telephone (202) 234-4212.
Overseas, inquiries should be made at the nearest Togolese embassy or consulate.

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.

SAFETY AND SECURITY:
U.S. citizens are urged to avoid political rallies, street demonstrations, and maintain security awareness at all times.
Togo has experienced periodic violence, strikes, and political tensions since 1990.
Following the death of President Eyadema in February 2005, political activists took to the streets and held demonstrations throughout the country that resulted in more than 500 deaths.
Land borders with Ghana and Benin are routinely shut down during elections. The October 2007 legislative elections were non-violent with only minor incidents reported during the single post-election demonstration. The next major elections are the presidential elections scheduled for 2010.

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, as well as the Worldwide Caution, can be found.

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

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

CRIME:
Over the past year, Togo has seen a marked increase in incidents of violent crime throughout the country, including several recent machete attacks in poorly lit areas of Lomé.
Rapid inflation and food shortages have contributed to increases in already critical crime levels in urban areas.
Particular areas for Americans to avoid within Lomé, especially during the hours of darkness, include the Grand Marché area, the beach road, and the Ghana-Togo border areas.
Travelers should avoid the beach even during daylight hours as purse-snatchings and muggings occur there regularly.
Pick pocketing and theft are common in Togo, especially along the beach and in the market areas of Lomé.
While incidents of residential burglary are less common against foreigners, carjacking is on the rise, and even western diplomats have been victims of carjacking. Theft while riding in taxis is also increasing, as thieves steal bags, wallets, and passports.
Taxicabs should not be shared with strangers.
Perpetrators of business fraud often target foreigners, including Americans.
Formerly associated with Nigeria, these fraud schemes are now prevalent throughout western Africa, including Togo, and pose a danger of both financial loss and physical harm.
An increasing number of Americans have been the targets of such scams, losing anywhere from several thousand to several hundred thousand dollars.
Typically, these scam operations begin with an unsolicited communication, usually by e-mail, from an unknown individual who describes a situation that promises quick financial gain, often by assisting in the transfer of a large sum of money or valuables out of the country.
The scenarios vary:
an American must pretend to be the next-of-kin to a recently deceased Togolese who left a fortune unclaimed in a Togolese bank, or a person claiming to be related to present or former political leaders needs assistance in transferring large sums of cash, or even a business deal that appears to be legitimate.
The requests are usually for the payment of advance fees, attorneys’ fees, or down payments on contracts.
The final payoff does not exist; the purpose of the scam is to get any money possible and to gain information about the American’s bank account.
The best way to avoid becoming a victim of advance-fee fraud is common sense – if it looks too good to be true, it probably is.
You should carefully check out any unsolicited business proposals originating in Togo before you commit any funds, provide any goods or services, or undertake any travel.
Please check the Embassy web site at http://togo.usembassy.gov/ for the most current information on fraud in Togo.
For additional information, please see the Department of State brochure on International Financial Scams.

INFORMATION FOR VICTIMS OF CRIME:
The loss or theft abroad of a U.S. passport should be reported immediately to the local police and the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate.
If you are the victim of a crime while overseas, in addition to reporting to local police, please contact the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate for assistance.
The Embassy/Consulate staff can, for example, assist you to find appropriate medical care, contact family members or friends and explain how funds could be transferred.
Although the investigation and prosecution of the crime is solely the responsibility of local authorities, consular officers can help you to understand the local criminal justice process and to find an attorney if needed.

The local equivalent to the “911” emergency line in Togo is: 117 or 171 for police, 172 for Gendarmerie, 242 for the Pharmacy on Duty, and 118 for Fire Services.

See our information on Victims of Crime.

MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION:
Medical facilities in Togo are limited and of very poor quality, with no adequate emergency medical care.
Availability of medications through local pharmacies is unreliable, and travelers should carry all necessary medications, properly labeled, with them.
Malaria, a serious and sometimes fatal disease, is prevalent in Togo.
For additional information on malaria, including protective measures, see the CDC travelers’ health web site at http://www.cdc.gov/malaria/.

For information on avian influenza (bird flu), please refer to the Department of State's Avian Influenza Fact Sheet.
According to the Togolese Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Ministry of Health, there are no HIV/AIDS entry restrictions for visitors to or foreign residents of Togo.

Information on vaccinations and other health precautions, such as safe food and water precautions and insect bite protection, may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s hotline for international travelers at 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747) or via the CDC’s web site at http://wwwn.cdc.gov/travel/default.aspx.
For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad consult the World Health Organization’s (WHO) web site at http://www.who.int/en.
Further health information for travelers is available at http://www.who.int/ith/en.

MEDICAL INSURANCE:
The Department of State strongly urges Americans to consult with their medical insurance company prior to traveling abroad to confirm whether their policy applies overseas and whether it will cover emergency expenses such as a medical evacuation.
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 Togo is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.

While some major thoroughfares in urban parts of Togo are paved, many secondary streets are not, and become severely flooded every time it rains.
Driving conditions are hazardous throughout Togo due to the presence of pedestrians, large numbers of small motorcycles, disorderly drivers (moped, car and truck drivers), livestock on the roadways, and the poor condition of the roads, including deep potholes.
Overland travel off the main network of roads generally requires a four-wheel-drive vehicle.
Many drivers in Togo do not obey traffic laws and most traffic signals do not function properly.
Drivers should be prepared for other vehicles to run red lights or stops signs and drive in the wrong direction on one-way streets.
Nighttime travel on unfamiliar roads is dangerous.
Poorly marked checkpoints, often manned by armed, undisciplined soldiers, exist throughout the country, including in the capital.
Banditry, including demands for bribes at checkpoints, has been reported on major inter-city highways, including the Lomé-Cotonou coastal highway.
Travelers are advised to be aware of their surroundings and to drive defensively.
At official checkpoints, Togolese security officials prefer that you approach with your dome light on, and have your driver’s license, registration, and proof of insurance ready.
Americans should be aware of the staged-accident ploy when driving in Lomé.
In this scam, a motorbike will cut in front of you, cause a collision, and draw a crowd, which can turn hostile if you attempt to leave the scene of the so-called accident.
Such encounters appear designed to extort money from the vehicle driver.
Pedestrians also cause staged accidents.
Genuine accidents can also draw hostile crowds.
Travelers should drive with their car doors locked and windows closed, and have a cell phone in the vehicle.
If you are involved in this kind of accident and can drive away, you should leave the scene, drive to a safe location, and alert both the police and the U.S. Embassy.
Violent carjackings are periodically reported in Togo and tend to increase during the summer months and holiday season. Travelers are advised to exercise caution when using any form of local public transportation.
Never get into a taxi with unknown passengers and always agree on the fare before getting in.

Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information.
Visit the web site of the country’s tourist office at http://www.togo-tourisme.com/.

AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT:
As there is no direct commercial air service to the United States by carriers registered in Togo, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not assessed Togo’s Civil Aviation Authority for compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards.
For more information, travelers may visit the FAA’s internet website at http://www.faa.gov/safety/programs_initiatives/oversight/iasa.

SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES:
Power outages, voltage fluctuations, and water shortages are common throughout the country.
Only certain U.S. credit cards are accepted in Togo.
Most major hotels and their restaurants accept American Express, MasterCard, and Visa, while smaller hotels and restaurants do not.
Travelers planning to use credit cards should know which cards are accepted before they commit to any transaction.
Travelers should keep all credit card receipts, as unauthorized card use and overcharging are common.
There are some Automatic Teller Machines that dispense local currency in major banks and they are generally considered safe.
Well-known money transfer firms, including Western Union, operate in Togo.
Photographing places affiliated with the government of Togo, including official government buildings, border crossings, checkpoints, police stations, military bases, utility buildings, airports, government vehicles, and government or military personnel, is strictly prohibited, and local authorities will confiscate film and cameras.
Government buildings are not always clearly identifiable, as they vary from being very well marked to being not marked at all.
Please see our Customs Information.

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

Please see our information on Criminal Penalties.

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

REGISTRATION / EMBASSY LOCATION:
Americans living or traveling in Togo are encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate through the State Department’s travel registration web site so that they can obtain updated information on travel and security within Togo.
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 on Boulevard Eyadema, Neighborhood Lomé II, Lomé; telephone (228) 261-5470, fax (228) 261-5499. The local mailing address is B.P. 852, Lomé.
The web site is http://togo.usembassy.gov/
* * *
This replaces the Country Specific Information for Togo dated March 3, 2008, to update the sections on Crime, Information for Victims of Crime, and Medical Facilities and Health Information.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Thu, 2 Apr 2020 11:10:03 +0200 (METDST)

Lome, April 2, 2020 (AFP) - President Faure Gnassingbe of Togo has declared a three-month "state of emergency" and curfew aimed at stopping the spread of coronavirus.   The tiny West African nation of eight million has so far recorded 36 confirmed infections and two deaths from the disease.

Gnassingbe said in a televised address late Wednesday that the unprecedented move was "proof of the gravity of the situation that we face".   He said a curfew would be in place for an indefinite period from Thursday between 7pm and 6am.   A 5,000-strong unit of security agents was being set up to tackle the pandemic and a fund worth $650 million (600 million euros) was aimed at cushioning the economy from the impact of the crisis, the president said.

Gnassingbe's family has ruled Togo for over five decades.   The current leader took over after the death of his strongman father in 2005.   Gnassingbe, 53, claimed a fourth-term at an election in February that the opposition claimed saw widespread vote-rigging.
Date: Wed, 15 Jan 2020 03:48:17 +0100 (MET)
By Emile Kouton with Celia Lebur in Lagos

Lome, Jan 15, 2020 (AFP) - After he was struck down by malaria and typhoid, Togolese tailor Ayawo Hievi thought he was set to recover when he started taking drugs prescribed by his doctor.   But far from curing him, the medication he was given at the neighbourhood clinic made him far worse -- eventually costing him one of his kidneys.    The drugs were fake.   "After four days of care, there was no improvement, but I started to feel pain in my belly," Hievi, 52, told AFP.

After two weeks of suffering he became unable to walk and was rushed into the university hospital in the West African nation's capital Lome.    "The doctors told me that my kidneys had been damaged... the quinine and the antibiotics used to treat me in the medical office were fake drugs."   Now, over four years later, he remains crippled by chronic kidney failure and has to go to hospital for dialysis regularly.    Hievi's horror story is far from unique in a continent awash with counterfeit medicines.    The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that every year some 100,000 people across Africa die from taking "falsified or substandard" medication.

The American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene estimated in 2015 that 122,000 children under five died due to taking poor quality anti-malaria drugs in sub-Saharan Africa.   Weak legislation, poor healthcare systems and widespread poverty have encouraged the growth of this parallel -- and deadly -- market. Since 2013, Africa has made up 42 percent of the fake medicine seized worldwide.    The two drugs most likely to be out-of-date or poor, ineffective copies are antibiotics and anti-malarials, say experts.    And bogus drugs not only pose a risk to the patient -- they also play a worrying part in building resistance to vital frontline medications.

- 'Difficult to trace' -
In a bid to tackle the scourge, presidents from seven countries -- the Republic of Congo, Gambia, Ghana, Niger, Senegal, Togo and Uganda -- meet Friday in Lome to sign an agreement for criminalising trafficking in fake drugs.    The goal is to bolster cooperation between governments and encourage other African nations to join the initiative.   But even if leaders put pen to paper, the task of stamping out the flows of counterfeit medication is huge.    Medicines spread out on plastic sheets or offered at ramshackle stalls are for sale at markets across West Africa.

Those hawked on the streets are often a fraction of the price of what's available in more reputable pharmacies where controls are stricter and supplies often have to come through official channels.    "It is very difficult to trace where the fake medicines come from," said Dr Innocent Kounde Kpeto, the president of Togo's pharmacist association.    "The countries which are mentioned on the boxes are often not the countries of origin or manufacture of these drugs. The manufacturers cover their tracks so as not to be identified".

It is estimated that between 30 and 60 percent of medicine sold in Africa is fake and Kpeto said most of it comes from China or India.    Efforts to staunch the deadly torrents of counterfeits have made some headway.    Some trafficking hubs have been dismantled, such as Adjegounle market in Cotonou that served as a key gateway for fakes heading to giant neighbour Nigeria.   In mid-November, the police in Ivory Coast made a record seizure of 200 tonnes in Abidjan and arrested four suspects including a Chinese national.

Togo is one of the pioneer countries trying to stop the flow.    It changed the law in 2015 and now traffickers can face 20 years in jail and a fine of some $85,000 (75,000 euros).   In a show of force in July the authorities burnt over 67 tonnes of counterfeit pharmaceuticals discovered between     But even given these recent successes, those in the industry like Dr Kpeto insist that the threat is still grave and involves "highly organised criminal networks".    "The phenomenon remains major," he said.    Traffickers can turn an investment of just $1,000 (900 euros) into a profit of $500,000, he claimed.   The fake medicines are smuggled in the same way as guns or narcotics and often bring higher returns.

- 'Die for nothing' -
Nigeria, Africa's most populous country with a market of 200 million people, is the number one destination on the continent for fake drugs and a showcase of difficulties being faced.    In September 2016 the World Customs Organization seized tens of millions of fake pills and medicines at 16 ports around Africa: 35 percent were intended for Nigeria.    Across the vast nation there are tens of thousands of vendors selling the counterfeits.   Competition between traffickers is fierce and the official agency meant to combat the problem is overwhelmed.

In a bid to improve the situation, Vivian Nwakah founded in 2017 start-up Medsaf and raised $1.4 million to help Nigerians track their medication from producer to user.    "The country doesn't have a reliable and centralised distribution network," she said.    "A hospital sometimes has to deal with 30 or 40 distributors for all the medications it needs. How can you have quality control with so many suppliers?"   As a result, fake or faulty medicine has not just flooded markets but also pharmacies and hospitals -- both state and private.    Sometimes, without hospital administrators even being aware, that means the drugs that reach the patients can be expired, poorly stored or the wrong doses. 

Medsaf works to ensure the quality control of thousands of products at over 130 hospitals and pharmacies in Nigeria. It looks forward to expanding deeper into Nigeria as well as Ivory Coast and Senegal.   The company uses technology, database management and analytics to monitor the movement of medications and verifies their official registration number, the expiry dates and storage conditions.   "Technology we use can help to solve most of the issues related to fake drugs," Nwakah said. "People die for nothing. We can change that."
Date: Mon 7 Jan 2019
Source: Outbreak News Today [edited]

The Togo government confirmed last week [week of 1 Jan 2019] a Lassa fever case reported in Doufelgou district [Kara region] in the north of the country, according to a Agence de Presse Africaine report (computer translated).

This was a haemorrhagic fever case according to officials.

Lassa fever is a rare but potentially life-threatening viral haemorrhagic disease. The risk of infection is low but can occur if someone comes into contact with an infected person's blood or bodily fluids. Lassa fever cannot be spread through casual contact, including skin to skin contact, without exchange of bodily fluids. Those at highest-risk would be health care workers treating patients in facilities known to have Lassa fever and family members caring for infected patients.

Early diagnosis and supportive care are essential. One should consult a medical professional if he or she has been in direct contact with an infected person within the past 3 weeks and have symptoms of Lassa fever, which include: fever, chest, stomach or back pain, cough, vomiting, diarrhoea, or mucosal bleeding.
=========================
[Lassa fever virus is endemic in much of northwest Africa, including Benin, Togo, and Burkina Faso. There have been cases of Lassa fever in Togo as recently as 2017. In the 2017 report, health authorities in Togo implemented the following measures to respond to these Lassa fever cases, including:
- deployment of rapid response teams to the affected areas for epidemiological investigation;
- identification of contacts and follow-up;
- strengthening of infection prevention and control measures in health facilities and briefing of health workers;
- strengthening of cross border collaboration and information exchanges between Togo, Burkina, Mali, and Benin.

It seems odd that the case report above does not mention contact with rodent reservoirs of the virus or their excrement as a source of infection. Lassa fever virus is transmitted to humans from contact with food or household items contaminated with excreta of multimammate rats (_Mastomys_ spp), the reservoir host. Public education is an important measure to prevent infections in the home.

Images of the rodent reservoirs of Lassa fever virus can be seen as follows:
_Mastomys natalensis_:
_M. erythroleucus_ and _Hylomyscus pamfi_:

[Maps of Togo:
Date: Mon, 24 Sep 2018 21:11:35 +0200

Lome, Sept 24, 2018 (AFP) - A former lawmaker in Togo was on Monday on hunger strike to call for the release of opposition supporters who were arrested during anti-government demonstrations.   Nicodeme Ayao Habia, head of the Democrats party, began his protest six days ago in front of Ghana's embassy in the Togolese capital, Lome.   "I am on hunger strike to demand the release of all people who were arrested during protests by the opposition coalition who are still languishing in prison," he told AFP.   "I won't move from here as long as these people are in prison," he said, holding a small sign with photos of three of those detained.   "This morning, police tried to move me along but I refused as I am within my rights. They even tried to rough me up."

Habia held a two-day hunger strike previously this month in front of the US Embassy in Lome.   Some 44 people who were arrested during opposition protests against President Faure Gnassingbe and his government remain in prison, according to the coalition.   The oppositions wants the re-introduction of a two-term limit for presidents, applied retroactively, which would prevent Gnassingbe from standing for re-election in 2020.   The government has agreed to the two-term limit but not the retroactive element, which would allow the president to  stand at polls in 2020 and 2025.   He has already been in power since the death of his father, Gnassingbe Eyadema, in 2005. The army general seized power of the West African state in 1967.

As well as the release of opposition detainees, Habia said he also wanted the government to stick to the roadmap set out by leaders of the West African bloc ECOWAS.   "The regime must absolutely respect the recommendations contained in the ECOWAS roadmap," he added.   On Sunday, the government and opposition finally agreed common ground in the composition of the country's independent national electoral commission (CENI).   Lack of agreement about the make-up of the body had delayed an announcement of the date of local and parliamentary elections.    Local polls and a referendum on the proposed constitutional reforms will now take place on December 16, with parliamentary elections four days later.
Date: Wed, 31 Jan 2018 16:22:49 +0100

Lome, Jan 31, 2018 (AFP) - Togo's government was facing fresh turbulence on Wednesday as healthcare workers went on strike, joining thousands of demonstrators holding opposition protests on the streets.   The two-day nationwide strike was called by the National Union of Hospital Practitioners of Togo (SYNPHOT) who are demanding better equipment and more nursing staff.   "The strike is well-followed throughout the country. We will take stock tomorrow evening to know what to do in the coming days," SYNPHOT secretary-general Atchi Walla told AFP.

At Sylvanus Olympio university hospital, the country's largest health care centre, several departments were closed, according to an AFP journalist.   "We are here only for very urgent cases. The other patients will be rescheduled," said a worker at the entrance to the emergency surgery department.   There was a similar situation in the operating room and at reception, where only one person was working.   "This situation is tiring. I came to get treatment but nobody can help because they are on strike," said Albert Kudju, a retired civil servant.    "The authorities should meet the demands of the workers."

Primary and public school teachers are also on strike, demanding an increase in their wages, while students are protesting against a sharp rise in tuition fees.   The walk-outs come against a backdrop of widespread discontent with the government and opposition calls for the resignation of President Faure Gnassingbe.   Gnassingbe has been in power since 2005 and took over from his father, General Gnassingbe Eyadema, who himself ruled Togo for 38 years.   A coalition of 14 opposition parties has been organising almost weekly marches for the past five months.
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."