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South Africa

General Introduction: The Republic of South Africa lies at the Southern tip of the African continent, flanked between the Indian and Atlantic oceans. Although it lies close to the tropic of Capricorn, the inland areas are tempered by the relatively high a
titudes. Summers and winters are opposite to that found in Ireland. In South Africa the summer extents from October to March. Although South Africa is basically a developed country, much of its population, particularly in rural parts, live in poverty. However facilities for tourists in urban areas and game parks are generally excellent. Despite all the well documented reports overall violence against tourists is usually low but obviously care should always be taken. Travelling late at night is usually unwise and take particular care if visiting nightclubs etc.
Climate: There is generally a moderate climate with sunny days and cool nights. The Cape Town region has a mean yearly temperature of 170C while Johannesburg has an annual mean temperature of 160C. This is mainly because Johannesburg is at 5,700 feet altitude. Throughout South Africa, summer extends between October and March and winter is between June and September. In Johannesburg the winter months tend to be dry and cool while the rainy season tends to occur during the warmer summer months.
Health Facilities: In the larger cities of Johannesburg, Cape Town, Durban & Pretoria and many others there will be no difficulty in receiving excellent medical attention. However when travelling throughout the more isolated rural regions the same situation does not occur. Travellers should always ensure that they are up-to-date in their routine travel vaccinations. World Travel Medicine Consultants (WTMC) in South Africa offer excellent medical facilities in many of the main centres. Contact by email their head office at for further information.
Jet Lag: Even though the hour changes from Ireland are not great after flying for approximately 13 hours you will arrive tired. On the plane journey take some exercise by walking around and occasionally stretching your calf muscles to lessen any risk of blood clots. If you are on the contraceptive pill (women only!) this will increase your risk on a long haul flight and you should talk this through with the doctor looking after your health care advice and vaccines. On arrival, try and rest for the first 24 hours to allow your body to catch up with itself. If lying by the pool remember not to fall asleep and wake some hours later with significant sunburn!
Mosquito-Borne Disease: Mosquitoes are most often associated with Malaria, however it is not the only disease which the insect may carry. Insect repellents which contain more than 30% DEET are effective for keeping mosquitoes away but remember to cover your arms and legs when they are biting. This is mainly in the hours between dusk and dawn. The risk of malaria can be reduced by taking malarial prophylaxis on a regular basis if you are planning to visit the risk areas. Anti malaria tablets are advised for those visiting low altitude areas especially areas around the Kruger National Park, north, east and western Transvaal, and the costal lowlands of Natal. Large towns and cities and high altitudes are more likely to be free of mosquitoes.
Effects of Heat: Extreme climate conditions can also lead to gastrointestinal difficulties but don't forget that when you perspire you will loose both water and salt. Replacing the lost water is easy but many travellers forget to replace the salt in their diet. This can lead to muscular cramps, tiredness and lethargy, a dull headache and generally feeling cross and out of sorts. Replacing depleted salt is most easily achieved by sprinkling it on your meals. Salt tablets can be dangerous and are best avoided except in expert hands. If you have any blood pressure difficulties then it will be important to talk this whole issue through with your doctor before leaving Ireland.
Waterborne diseases: Water sources in well developed urban areas of South Africa are generally safe. Outside the main cities caution must always be exercised with regard to drinking water. Safe water should be well chlorinated and so will have a distinct chlorine odour. Sealed bottled water is more preferable especially in less developed areas. Avoid ice in your drinks as its source may be unknown and don't brush your teeth in water you wouldn't want to drink. If unsure be careful and use sealed bottled water from one of the hotels.
Food-Borne Disease: Again, in the larger cities and tourist resorts, the food and its preparation is generally of an excellent standard and you should experience no problems. It is advised however to avoid eating shellfish and cold/rare meats. In particular, Capetown is famous for its various shellfish meals. Personally I would strongly encourage travellers to avoid them even in the best hotels and restaurants. It is just not worth the risk. As in any hot climate it is also wise to choose only the type of fruit you can peel yourself. Above all avoid buying or consuming food from roadside stalls or street vendors.
Rabies in South Africa: Travellers need to be aware that this potentially fatal viral condition occurs throughout Africa. The risk to any tourist or business traveller is very small but common sense needs to be maintained at all times. The disease is mainly transmitted through the bite of an infected warm blooded animal. Usually dogs and cats are involved but also be very careful of monkeys. If bitten by any potentially at risk animal wash out the wound immediately, apply a strong antiseptic and seek medical attention urgently
Yellow Fever: A yellow fever vaccination certificate is only required for travellers coming from endemic zones in Africa and the Americas. Travellers on scheduled airlines whose flights have originated outside the areas regarded as infected (or who are only in transit through these areas) are NOT required to possess a certificate.
If the flight originated from within a Yellow fever endemic area a certificate is then required.

Vaccination Schedule: Apart from Yellow Fever vaccine in certain circumstances, as mentioned above, there are no other vaccinations required for entry into South Africa from Ireland. Nevertheless there are a number of recommended vaccines for most travellers which need to be discussed. For trekking holidays or extended visits Rabies and Hepatitis B may need to be considered. Most travellers should start their vaccines at least 4 to 6 weeks before departure.
Further Information: South Africa is a beautiful destination with much to offer. Further general health information on staying healthy while travelling abroad may be obtained from the Tropical Medical Bureau. www.tmb.ie

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

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: Sat, 28 Mar 2020 11:03:02 +0100 (MET)

Johannesburg, March 28, 2020 (AFP) - South African police enforcing a coronavirus lockdown on Saturday fired rubber bullets towards hundreds of shoppers queueing outside a supermarket in Johannesburg, an AFP photographer said.   Between 200 and 300 people gathered outside a popular grocery store, Shoprite, early Saturday in Yeoville, a crime-prone area in Johannesburg's gritty central business district on day two of a nationwide lockdown.

But as they scrambled to secure their spots, many did not observe the recommended safe distance between them.   Police arrived in 10 patrol vehicles and started firing rubber bullets towards the shoppers.   Startled shoppers trampled on each other and a woman with a baby on her back fell to the ground.   Later the police used whips to get the shoppers to observe social distancing rules.

President Cyril Ramaphosa has ordered South Africa's 57 million people to stay at home for 21 days and deployed the police and the military to enforce the lockdown.   But many people, especially from poor neighbourhoods, have defied the order, going out in numbers looking for food.   While jogging and dog-walking are banned, shopping for food and other basics, but not alcohol, is permitted.   South Africa, which has 1,170 confirmed coronavirus cases, recorded its first death from the virus on Friday.
Date: Thu, 26 Mar 2020 17:19:21 +0100 (MET)
By Susan NJANJI with AFP African bureaux

Johannesburg, March 26, 2020 (AFP) - South Africa braced for a nationwide lockdown Thursday, joining other African countries imposing strict curfews and shutdowns in an attempt to halt the spread of the coronavirus across the continent.   Some 57 million people will be restricted to their homes during South Africa's three-week total lockdown which begins at midnight.

Kenya, Rwanda and Mali are some of the African countries that have imposed restrictions to curb the spread of the coronavirus with the continent recording 2,748 cases and 73 deaths so far.   Although Africa's toll is far lower than in Europe, the United States and the Middle East, health experts say the world's poorest continent is especially vulnerable and the figures likely fall far short of the reality.

During South Africa's 21-day shutdown there will be no jogging, dog-walking or sale of alcohol across the country, which has so far recorded 709 cases, the highest number of detected infections in sub-Saharan Africa.   Nigeria's government warned Thursday that Africa's most populous nation could soon see an "exponential" increase in coronavirus infections unless contacts of confirmed cases are tracked down quicker.

- Panic shopping -
Hours before the start of the lockdown, panicky residents in South Africa's economic hub Johannesburg stocked up on food and other supplies with some large supermarkets running out of eggs and the staple maize meal powder.   Queues formed outside food shops across the country as people stocked up for the 21-day shutdown.    At a popular chain of grocery shop in Johannesburg's Douglasdale suburb some customers were loading trolleys full of lagers and wines.

One man tried to jump the queue saying he was only going to the liquor store and did not consider it necessary for him to join the long queue of other shoppers. He was politely told to be patient by a face-masked marshal who carried a jar of hand sanitiser to spray trolley handles.   Elsewhere, thousands of people crammed long-distance bus terminals to escape to the countryside to be with families, raising fears they would export the virus to the most vulnerable old who normally reside or retire to farms and villages.

President Cyril Ramaphosa has called for half-an-hour of national prayers on the eve of the lockdown.   He requested South Africans observe two minutes of "prayer, reflection or silent meditation" between 6pm (1600 GMT) and 6:30pm (1630 GMT) wherever they will be.   "These are challenging times. We are traversing a path we have never travelled before. There are many amongst us who are fearful, uncertain and vulnerable," he said.    "I call on our people to offer a prayer and a thought for the protection and healing of our land and its people from this disease."   As with other African countries, South Africa's lockdown will be patrolled by the military and the police.

- 'Fear and prayer' -
Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula warned "if people are not complying, they (the military) may be forced to take extraordinary measures."   Violation of any of the regulations will carry a six-month jail sentence or fine.   Two men have already been charged with attempted murder for defying a quarantine order and allegedly going out after they tested positive for the coronavirus, exposing others to the infection.   "It's not a fairytale to say the law will act and act very harsh on you," Police Minister Bheki Cele said.   Moody's Investors Service warned Friday that the effect of border closures, commodity price declines and financial market volatility due to the pandemic will have "severe macroeconomic and financial impact on African sovereigns".

In one early indication of the likely impact of the pandemic on Africa's economy, rubber processors in Ivory Coast -- the continent's largest producer -- said they were bracing for losses of around $100 million a month.   "Right now, our biggest clients, in Asia, Europe and America, have closed down. The progressive impact of this will be a slowdown in rubber processing activity, even a closedown," said Eugene Kremien, president of industry association Apromac.   "Our industry is already suffering, and it's just the start. We are going to lose 60 billion CFA francs ($100 million, 91 million euros) each month, which compares with the 600 billion CFA (in income) we were expecting this year."
Date: Wed, 25 Mar 2020 09:18:25 +0100 (MET)

Johannesburg, March 25, 2020 (AFP) - South Africa reported that its number of confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus jumped to 709 on Wednesday from 554 the previous day, an increase of 28 percent.   South Africa, which now has the highest numbers of infections on the continent, has ordered a 21-day lockdown which rolls into action at midnight on Thursday.   "Right now we have actually increased from yesterday, we are now at 709 cases," Health Minister Zweli Mkhize said in an interview on the state broadcaster SABC.    Mkhize, who reported 554 cases on Tuesday, said he expects the numbers to rise further in coming days and weeks.

Starting Wednesday last week the country closed its borders to non-citizens from high-risk countries.   The flag carrier South African Airways has also suspended all international, regional and domestic flights to curb the spread of the virus.   The country's first infections were imported from Europe, but the minister said there were now recording internal transmissions.   "The tendency is changing from imported to internal transmission. There is quite a lot of local spread," he said.   South Africa has so far not reported any deaths and only two of its hospitalised patients are in intensive care units, he said.
Date: Tue, 24 Mar 2020 18:01:06 +0100 (MET)
By Sofia CHRISTENSEN

Johannesburg, March 24, 2020 (AFP) - Cans, milk cartons and soap bars were piled high under red "hyper saving" signs at a South African supermarket chain in Johannesburg as shoppers filled trolleys.   The country is preparing for a 21-day lockdown to combat the deadly coronavirus, which has infected more than 500 people across country since it was first detected earlier this month.   When the clock strikes midnight on Thursday, South Africans will join more than 2.5 billion other people in confinement as the world struggles to restrain the pandemic.

Only "essential" trips to grocery stores, pharmacies and medical appointments will be permitted during the lockdown, which will be enforced by army troops.   "We have never experienced this," said Simangele Ntshali, 40, as she slowly moved down the queue to the checkout counter at the other end of the store.   "It is not something that we had budgeted for (and) we don't understand how the lockdown is conducted, hence we want to stock up," she explained, trolley piled high with diapers and baby food for her toddler.   Standing in front of Ntshali in queue, 53-year-old Primrose Bandla nodded in agreement.   "There is a fear," she said. "People are buying in bulk unnecessarily, but it's a scary thought to think that by the time you go buy there could be nothing to get."

- 'Stay-at-home snacks'-
President Cyril Ramaphosa announced the lockdown on Monday, after South Africa recorded more coronavirus infections than Egypt -- making it the hardest-hit country on the continent.   More than 550 cases have been confirmed so far and the number is expected to continue rising.

Uncertainty about the future has seen citizens stocking up on essentials, despite assurance by the president that food stores would remain open and a plea to avoid panic buying.   For Nomonde Khethani, 47, the rush to the supermarkets was also about making the most of "pre-lockdown" promotions.   Stores across the country are offering three-for-two deals for pantry basics, as well as for biscuits, potato chips and other popular "stay-at-home" snacks.

Most salaried workers get their pay cheques this week, prompting people to spend more, and many also fear a hike in prices after the lockdown.   "Certain prices have already increased," said Khethani, claiming that long-life milk was slightly more expensive than the previous week.   "It's scary, and so you don't have a choice but to grab what you can," she exclaimed, adding that she now had three idle teenagers to feed.   "They have been sitting at home," said Khethani, her shopping basket loaded with blocks of cheese and sausages. "They are bored and boredom gets them to food."

- 'Very worried' -
Despite the array of disruptions already caused by coronavirus, most shoppers seemed ready to heed the new order to remain home.    Calls for a lockdown in South Africa circulated on social media last week, even after the government closed borders, shuttered schools and banned public gatherings of more than 100.   "It (coronavirus) is killing people," said Bongani Tyanini, as he chucked one of the last remaining packs of toilet paper into his trolley.   "I am very worried," he added. "This thing is increasing."   The 24-year old driver said he planned to stay home with his wife and buy a play station to pass time.   "It's not really in our budget," he chuckled. "But it is going to be boring otherwise."

At Johannesburg's central Park station, hundreds of people lined up for bus tickets to join family outside the city before the lockdown.   "Being alone for 21 days will be the most stressful thing that can happen," said 30-year old hairdresser Yoli Dyowi, as she queued for a seat on the next coach to the Eastern Cape province.   Most of the day's tickets were sold out, the line was barely moving and travellers stood next to each other defying the social distancing advice.   While Dyowi dreaded the thought of being stuck alone in Johannesburg, she too welcomed the government's decision.       "It will be a good thing to have less people moving around," she told AFP. "I just hope it will actually make a difference."
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."