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Thailand



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Travel in Health in Thailand
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General Introduction:
Irish travellers are going to Thailand in great numbers. The relatively cheap cost and also the contrast in culture has captured many hearts. Some are travelli
g for a once off 2 week trip and for others the exploration of Thailand will take longer. It is truly a beautiful country and the people have a charm all of their own but nevertheless your journey can be so very easily ruined by taking health risks.
Water-Borne Disease:
In most of the major cities of Thailand the water supply is well chlorinated and so the risks associated with drinking mains tap water are limited. However many of the bedrooms will not be supplied with mains water so take care. Smell the water and if there is a distinct chlorine odour then it should be safe. Also remember that when you travel around the country, especially around the northern regions, the water supply may be grossly contaminated and so never drink the water or use it for brushing your teeth. Also no ice in your drinks under these circumstances.
Food-Borne Disease:
There is a good selection of food in Thailand and you should have no great difficulty in finding food to suit your taste. In the majority of the restaurants the food is well cooked and maintained in a healthy sterile fashion. These are the places to eat. As you walk around the cities you will see many street traders selling food stuffs from their carts. The level of hygiene is very low and frequently the food will be contaminated. Never indulge yourself by eating from street vendors.
Mosquito-Borne Disease:
Under this title most travellers will only consider the possibility of developing malaria. This is of course one of the most important illnesses transmitted via mosquitoes but by no means the only one in Thailand. For most travellers to Thailand there will be no need to take malarial prophylaxis as the cities are deemed to be free of malaria. This does not mean that you will not be bitten by mosquitoes and develop some of the other diseases such as Dengue Fever or perhaps Japanese Encephalitis. Many travellers also develop a very severe reaction to the mosquito bite and so for all these reasons it is prudent to avoid being bitten whenever possible.
Entertainment-Borne Disease:
It would be wrong not to emphasize the very high risk which travellers face if they are unwise enough to indulge in any form of sexual activity in Thailand. The percentage of street girls with the Aids virus is rising each year and is now thought to be over 80%. This figure may be an underestimate. Be especially careful if you have taken any alcohol. The cities of Bangkok and Pattaya are thought to be among the main centres of HIV transmission throughout the world and within the next few years the extent of the Aids problem in S.E. Asia will have exceeded Africa. There is limited availability of condoms.
Road-Borne Disease:
The traffic situation in Thailand is severe. The motorbikes have no insurance as they are too often involved in accidents. Use only regular taxi cabs and fix your price before you leave.
Vaccination Schedule:
There are no compulsory vaccines for entry into Thailand from Ireland. Nevertheless the usual recommended vaccines include Polio, Typhoid, Tetanus and Hepatitis A cover. For those trekking or staying for longer periods then cover against Hepatitis B and Rabies would be worth discussing.
Most travellers should start their vaccines about 4 to 5 weeks before they leave Ireland.
Note:
For the vast majority of Irish travellers a holiday in Thailand will be a time of great pleasure and, later, fond memories of the people, their customs and the countryside. Just remember that illness can occur so follow some good common sense rules and so you can enjoy yourself
and Travel in Health.

Thailand

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Thu, 2 Apr 2020 15:40:59 +0200 (METDST)

Bangkok, April 2, 2020 (AFP) - Thailand will introduce a six-hour night curfew in a bid to control the spread of coronavirus, authorities said Thursday, warning anyone who breached the order faced a two-year jail term.   The curfew from 10 pm to 4 am (1500 to 2100 GMT) will begin on Friday and bars everyone in the country from leaving their homes.    Exemptions will be made for essential staff, including medical workers, food and fuel transport staff, and postal services.    The number of infections in Thailand has soared past 1,800 -- up more than 80 percent from a week ago -- and the death toll has nearly quadrupled to 15 as of Thursday.

The government has come under criticism for not acting soon enough to curb the spread of the virus -- introducing incremental measures despite being the first country outside China to confirm a case, which happened in January.   In an address to the nation, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-O-Cha urged citizens not to panic.   "You can buy things in the daytime," he said.   Penalties for hoarding essential supplies such as face masks carry penalties of up to seven years in prison and a 140,000 baht ($4,200) fine, he said.

The stepped-up measures also include an entry ban on all arrivals -- including Thais -- for two weeks.   Thais who insist on returning will be placed under state quarantine, though Prayut implored them to defer travel plans.    On Thursday, Bangkok's popular markets were shuttered, while parks that were ordered to close were empty of joggers.   Thailand's economy has been hit hard by the coronavirus, especially those employed in the informal sector.   The Bank of Thailand expects the economy to shrink by 5.3 percent this year -- a 22-year low -- and nearly 22 million people have registered for cash handouts.
Date: Tue, 31 Mar 2020 09:50:04 +0200 (METDST)
By Sophie DEVILLER with Dene-Hern CHEN

Bangkok, March 31, 2020 (AFP) - Underfed and chained up for endless hours, many elephants working in Thailand's tourism sector may starve, be sold to zoos or be shifted into the illegal logging trade, campaigners warn, as the coronavirus decimates visitor numbers. Before the virus, life for the kingdom's estimated 2,000 elephants working in tourism was already stressful, with abusive methods often used to 'break them' into giving rides and performing tricks at money-spinning animal shows.   With global travel paralysed the animals are unable to pay their way, including the 300 kilograms (660 pounds) of food a day a captive elephant needs to survive.

Elephant camps and conservationists warn hunger and the threat of renewed exploitation lie ahead, without an urgent bailout. "My boss is doing what he can but we have no money," Kosin, a mahout -- or elephant handler -- says of the Chiang Mai camp where his elephant Ekkasit is living on a restricted diet.   Chiang Mai is Thailand's northern tourist hub, an area of rolling hills dotted by elephant camps and sanctuaries ranging from the exploitative to the humane.   Footage sent to AFP from another camp in the area shows lines of elephants tethered by a foot to wooden poles, some visibly distressed, rocking their heads back and forth.

Around 2,000 elephants are currently "unemployed" as the virus eviscerates Thailand's tourist industry, says Theerapat Trungprakan, president of the Thai Elephant Alliance Association. The lack of cash is limiting the fibrous food available to the elephants "which will have a physical effect", he added.  Wages for the mahouts who look after them have dropped by 70 percent.   Theerapat fears the creatures could soon be used in illegal logging activities along the Thai-Myanmar border -- in breach of a 30-year-old law banning the use of elephants to transport wood.  Others "could be forced (to beg) on the streets," he said. It is yet another twist in the saga of the exploitation of elephants, which animal rights campaigners have long been fighting to protect from the abusive tourism industry.

- 'Crisis point' -
For those hawking a once-in-a-lifetime experience with the giant creatures -- whether from afar or up close -- the slump began in late January.   Chinese visitors, who make up the majority of Thailand's 40 million tourists, plunged by more than 80 percent in February as China locked down cities hard-hit by the virus and banned external travel. By March, the travel restrictions into Thailand -- which has 1,388 confirmed cases of the virus -- had extended to Western countries.

With elephants increasingly malnourished due to the loss of income, the situation is "at a crisis point," says Saengduean Chailert, owner of Elephant Nature Park.   Her sanctuary for around 80 rescued pachyderms only allows visitors to observe the creatures, a philosophy at odds with venues that have them performing tricks and offering rides.   She has organised a fund to feed elephants and help mahouts in almost 50 camps nationwide, fearing the only options will soon be limited to zoos, starvation or logging work.  For those restrained by short chains all day, the stress could lead to fights breaking out, says Saengduean, of camps that can no longer afford medical treatment for the creatures.

Calls are mounting for the government to fund stricken camps to ensure the welfare of elephants. "We need 1,000 baht a day (about $30) for each elephant," says Apichet Duangdee, who runs the Elephant Rescue Park. Freeing his eight mammals rescued from circuses and loggers into the forests is out of the question as they would likely be killed in territorial fights with wild elephants. He is planning to take out a two million baht ($61,000) loan soon to keep his elephants fed.   "I will not abandon them," he added.
Date: Wed, 25 Mar 2020 16:18:17 +0100 (MET)

Bangkok, March 25, 2020 (AFP) - Thailand barred entry into the kingdom late on Wednesday, enacting sweeping emergency powers in a bid to stem the local spread of the coronavirus outbreak.    The measures, which stopped short of a full lockdown after days of vacillation by the government, are a hammer blow to the country's vital tourism sector.   Tens of thousands of travellers remain in the kingdom, facing uncertainty with airlines in chaos and restrictions on return to their countries.

Bangkok, a city of 10 million, was hushed Wednesday as shops and restaurants shuttered, and Buddhist monks seated a metre apart led an anti-virus prayer session televised nationwide.   But social media showed thousands of foreigners jammed in chaotic lines at the capital's immigration office to file for visa extensions.    The Royal Gazette announced Wednesday night that authorities would "close all checkpoints and gates" for its land borders, while entry by air and ship will also be halted.   Diplomats and returning Thais who have health certificates will still be allowed to return.

All gatherings are also outlawed, and authorities have asked vulnerable people -- like the elderly -- stay home.   But festive ceremonies, like weddings or family activities, may continue under rules issued by the government.    Authorities also banned "reports of untrue news which could lead to fear", under penalty of up to two years in prison.    The state of emergency will continue until April 30.    Thailand currently has 934 confirmed cases of COVID-19, including four deaths.    The highly infectious virus has killed more 18,000 globally, spurring governments to introduce harsh measures forbidding citizens from leaving their homes.

The kingdom was the first country to confirm a case outside China in January, but incremental measures were taken due to its flagging economy's reliance on tourism.    The tripling in cases over the past week has sent Thais in a panic, and many have taken to social media to criticise the government's spotty containment measures.    Premier Prayut Chan-O-Cha warned earlier Wednesday against sharing "fake news" -- a rebuke coming days after a man was arrested for a Facebook post complaining of lax airport checks.   Thailand has in the past enacted emergency laws to quell political riots, which critics say could be used to muzzle the press.
Date: Fri, 6 Mar 2020 11:36:13 +0100 (MET)

Bangkok, March 6, 2020 (AFP) - Thai health authorities on Friday said they would not order the compulsory quarantine of visitors from four countries hit hard by coronavirus, as the kingdom struggles to balance health fears with the needs of its flatlining economy.   The holidays of possibly tens of thousands of people were cast into doubt on Tuesday when the health minister insisted a quarantine of all entrants from nine countries including China -- its territories of Hong Kong and Macau -- Italy, Iran, South Korea and Japan, would be imposed.   On Friday health authorities spiked the plan, instead "recommending" arrivals from just four countries -- China, Iran, Italy and South Korea -- stay indoors and report to authorities for monitoring.   "We recommend home quarantine," Sukhum Kanchanapimai, from the health ministry told reporters, adding those who register with authorities will receive free food from Thailand's biggest grocery group.

All other travellers from the four countries will have to "report on their health status daily", said Tanarak Plipat of the Disease Control Department, or risk "punishment" under the law.   A British man who entered the kingdom from Hong Kong became the country's 48th confirmed case of the virus, health authorities added.   The kingdom has reported one death so far, but the number of cases detected has remained surprisingly low in a country that attracts some 40 million foreigners a year.   Speculation is pointing to a limited testing regime at a time when Thailand is determined not to frighten off tourists.

Friday's announcement, for now, ends a week-long barrage of conflicting information, which baffled holidaymakers hunting winter sun.    But the Tourism Authority of Thailand confirmed Thursday the country could see a loss of six million visitors in 2020.   As a result the country's tourist-reliant economy has hit the skids, with the impact of COVID-19 crisis hacking back at already sluggish growth forecasts to as low as two percent this year.   With exports seizing up to China and other COVID-19 hit nations, experts warn Thailand is facing a hammer blow to its economy.

The COVID-19 crisis has forced Thailand to cancel full moon beach parties, pare back its celebrations of the annual water festival next month and postpone its leg of the MotoGP until October.   While the number of detected virus cases is yet to spike, Thailand's social media is bubbling with coronavirus rumours and health safety advice.   In a Thai-style antidote to the grim warnings over a deadly virus, the BTS - Bangkok's overground train service - on Friday released a jaunty 'COVID-19: Dance Against The Virus' track.   It drew tens of thousands of likes on Facebook hours after making its debut.
Date: Thu, 5 Mar 2020 13:57:14 +0100 (MET)

Bangkok, March 5, 2020 (AFP) - A popular full-moon party in southern Thailand known for its raucous revelry has been cancelled because of the coronavirus, an official said Thursday, the latest hit to a tourism industry which foresees a loss of six million visitors this year.   Tourism is a cornerstone of Thailand's economy, and the virus has wreaked havoc as visitor numbers have dwindled in the wake of the epidemic.

Attracting some 40 million foreigners a year, the Tourism Authority of Thailand confirmed Thursday the country could see a loss of six million visitors in 2020.    Their absence, particularly the Chinese, has turned once-popular tourist attractions -- such as animal-themed parks in Pattaya and the sandy beaches of Phuket -- into near-ghost towns.

The full moon party on southern island Koh Phangan -- which draws some 10,000 partiers each month -- will be the latest casualty, according to a local official.    "To prevent the spread of COVID-19, (the business association) has voted to suspend the party," Somchai Somwong, Koh Phangan's acting district chief, announced Thursday.

The cancellation comes the week the Thai government plunged tens of thousands of holiday plans in doubt.   Its health minister announced -- and then swiftly rescinded -- an order for all inbound travellers from 11 countries and territories to undergo quarantine, sending waves of concern on Twitter among Thais and foreigner visitors.

On Thursday, the palace mouthpiece Royal Gazette said four countries -- South Korea, Italy, Iran, and China, including Macau and Hong Kong -- would be classified as "high-risk areas".    But details on whether foreign travellers from the four countries would be subjected to a two-week quarantine were not immediately announced.

Thailand currently has 47 confirmed cases of the coronavirus.    The latest announced Thursday include a 42-year-old Thai man and a 29-year-old Italian man, who is currently hospitalised in Chonburi province.    Both had returned from Italy, where there are more than 100 fatalities from the coronavirus.

Despite Bangkok being a major flight hub, Thailand's response to controlling the coronavirus spread has appeared ad hoc.   Conflicting information given by ministries has added to public mistrust, fuelling panic buying of hand sanitisers and face masks across the country.    The Commerce Ministry on Thursday sent out more than 100 "caravans" throughout the country to sell packs of face masks -- drawing lines of retail workers when they stopped at shopping malls.
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World Travel News Headlines

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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