Lebanon bank staff body threatens strike over assaults, insults

Students take part in an anti-government protest in Sidon, Lebanon. (AFP/File)
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Updated 03 January 2020

Lebanon bank staff body threatens strike over assaults, insults

  • Banks have cracked down on the amount of dollars that can be taken out or transferred abroad

BEIRUT: A Lebanese body representing bank workers has threatened to go on strike over the insults and assaults branch staff are being subjected to as the country’s financial woes continue.

A liquidity crunch has hit the Middle East country, where months of protests and a political impasse have deepened its economic crisis. 

Banks have cracked down on the amount of dollars that can be taken out or transferred abroad. The Association of Banks in Lebanon calls these measures “exceptional and temporary to ensure the continuity of the banking sector’s work and preserve the rights of depositors.”

But citizens are furious and there has even been violence in bank branches, leading the Council of the Federation of Syndicates of Bank Employees to threaten industrial action. 

“The attacks are organized by people who claim to represent the civil movement (that started on Oct. 17) with the aim to distort the image of the banking sector, which is a clear violation of the reputation of the Lebanese state that is responsible for protecting all citizens from any threat against their safety and security.”    

Some protesters stormed a bank in the city of Sidon to claim people’s money. They clashed with security forces and a number of people were injured. The Red Cross took them to hospital for treatment. There was a similar scene in a bank in the city of Nabatieh, where a bank employee tried to shut the door but protesters broke in and there was a fistfight. 

Some protestors also organized a sit-in outside the Port of Beirut, considering it one of the “main sources of waste and corruption” in the country. Others rallied in front of the Port of Tripoli and chanted slogans demanding to “stop corruption and cleanse the port from those who are corrupt.”

The crisis is still awaiting a political solution for confidence to be restored, notably the formation of a new government.

On Wednesday night, activists on social media called for civil disobedience and road closures, in protest at what they considered “adopting the traditional quotas to form the government and naming ministers who belong to political parties.” 

Moustafa Allouch, a member of the Future Movement’s political bureau, said there were several obstacles hindering the formation of the government and not just the issue of Sunni representation.

“The Sunni issue lies in the fact that the prime minister-designate was named without the approval of prominent political figures,” he told Arab News. “The Future Movement is not concerned with invitations to close roads and can no longer influence the decisions of people in the streets.”


Lebanon’s coronavirus crisis spurs race to tackle looming ventilator shortage

Updated 31 March 2020

Lebanon’s coronavirus crisis spurs race to tackle looming ventilator shortage

  • Multiple teams of engineers take up the challenge to fabricate prototype of life-saving machine
  • Many Middle East countries stand to benefit if efforts to build affordable units are successful

DUBAI: As the coronavirus pandemic sweeps the world, many countries are finding themselves in dire need of a machine that until now was used to support the odd patient with severe respiratory conditions.
In the Middle East, the problem is especially acute given the region’s history of conflict, instability and weak governance.
Buying ventilators in large numbers (at a rate of $25,000 per unit) was never a priority for governments with long, pressing to-do lists.
But now, suddenly, across the Arab region people face a choice between waiting and watching, or doing something on their own before coronavirus cases overwhelm their country’s health system.
In Lebanon, several groups of people have taken the second option. Their objective is straightforward: To build an affordable ventilator, a machine that mechanically assists a patient in the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide by a process of artificial respiration.

 

 One of the initiatives is the brainchild of Dr. Hussein Al-Hajj Hassan, 30, who launched a Facebook drive to create an artificial ventilator entitled “A Breather for All Lebanon.”
Together with two alumni of the Lebanese University’s Faculty of Engineering, Hisham Issa and Hussein Hamdan, both engineers currently working abroad, Hassan has made it his mission to manufacture the machine.
“We might not be capable of serving everyone in hospitals, but there’s a possibility of manufacturing the machine here,” Hassan, who holds a Ph.D. in engineering from IMT Atlantique in France, told Arab News.
“So we conducted a study on the expertise we needed, whose results I posted on my Facebook page. The post went viral and people started calling me.”


To ensure its suitability for use by hospitals, the ventilator will be fabricated as per the specifications contained in a nine-page document issued by the UK’s Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).
“We’re working to meet the MHRA specifications,” Hassan said. “We’re working in an incremental way, setting milestones and going forward toward each of them.”
According to the three engineers, although their ventilator is now in an advanced stage of development, they are struggling with the lack of availability of key components in Lebanon.
“If you want a perfect medical device, you need medical equipment, which isn’t available here, so we’re trying to find alternatives,” said Hassan.
Once the team has fabricated a successful prototype, ramping up production to meet the shortage of ventilators should not be a problem, he added. “What’s important is that the prototype meets all the requirements,” he said.
Hassan believes the Arab region is aware of the dangers of a shortage of ventilators at this time, pointing to countries such as Jordan, Palestine, Morocco, Algeria and others that have contacted him.

Employees of a private company spray sanitising liquid around a bank in a bid to limit the spread of the cornonavirus Covid-19, in the Lebanese capital Beirut. (AFP/File Photo)

“It’s nice to see that people are aware,” he said. “Lebanese people are skilled and full of energy. This, coupled with their determination, will enable them to achieve their goal.”
Another Lebanese innovator who is not counting on divine providence is Jad Berro, who said it became obvious to him about two weeks ago that the coronavirus pandemic was not going to spare Lebanon.
He began working in mid-March on a prototype of a basic automated bag valve mask.
“Lacking enough medical information at the time on mechanical ventilation, the general thought was that something simple could solve the imminent problem of ventilator shortage,” he told Arab News.

FASTFACT

800,000

Number of ventilators needed globally

“I make a living out of making products and prototypes, so we had a basic ventilator running (within a few days). This was a record by any standards.”
Elaborating on the contraption, Berro said: “The prototype can control the tidal volume, breaths per minute and the inhale-to-exhale ratio, with monitoring of excess pressure and internal self-tests to guarantee that the mechanism is functioning normally at all times.” But the functions are “very basic” and cannot be a replacement for a ventilator, he admits. 
Berro said he halted production out of “ethical and moral concerns” as using it would have meant hooking patients to a device that had not been properly tested and did not offer any guarantee it would work for extended periods of time.
“What’s needed is a unified basic design that’s proven and tested, after which it might be possible to actually manufacture the machine,” he said.

Employees of a Lebanese public health company pose with their protective gear on in Beirut March 24, 2020. (AFP/File Photo)

“Numbers in Lebanon show that we have close to around 600 ventilators. The absolute worst-case surge requirement would be around 2,800. The crisis is global and the deficiencies are the same worldwide.”
It is estimated that worldwide, about 10 percent of patients with COVID-19 infection need ventilators.
Reports say about 880,000 more ventilators will be needed to deal with the demand caused by the global coronavirus pandemic.
Berro said efforts are being made to technologically enable one ventilator to service multiple patients of similar lung capacities.
“As global manufacturers are gearing up production of ventilators and medical devices, we can expect a slight relief,” he added.

FASTFACT

10%

Percentage of COVID-19 patients who need ventilators

“China seems to have successfully flattened the curve and might be able to send ventilators and medical supplies to other parts of the globe. A used ventilator is certainly better than a makeshift one.”
Another Lebanese ventilator prototype has been unveiled by MP Nehmat Frem two weeks after he initiated a project in collaboration with a group of specialized engineers and doctors.
The machine, targeted for use in intensive care units (ICUs) in Lebanese hospitals, is being built to high specifications, incorporating the latest technological features developed by Phoenix Co., an affiliate of Lebanon’s INDEVCO Industrial Group.
“We decided to fight with all our means in Lebanon,” said Frem, who is also the group CEO. “We wouldn’t have accepted the prospect of dying without doing anything, so we decided to put in all our efforts and strength, and it’s starting to yield results.”
Clinical trials of the ventilators are estimated very soon, he said, adding that plans are simultaneously afoot to manufacture face masks.


“We still need some progress on the human-to-machine interface, which is the design,” he told Arab News.
“We’re fabricating the most complicated version of the ventilator — that is, the one used in ICUs.”
Phoenix Co.’s project had kicked off with a six-hour briefing by doctors, which was followed by the creation of a small taskforce comprising doctors, suppliers and biomedical engineers.
The challenge for Lebanon and other Arab countries, according to Frem, will be in purchasing material used to build ventilators in the needed quantities.
“I presume the coronavirus crisis will add stress on suppliers in Europe, the US and the Far East,” he said.
“So we’re now in sourcing mode — to locate what’s available, starting with our main suppliers.”
Frem feels Lebanon is not prepared for a sharp spike in COVID-19 cases, noting that at the current rate, “we’ll have big numbers in 50 days, which is worrying.”
Nevertheless, “it’s encouraging to see the fantastic work of startups and engineers,” he said. “We have to get rid of this ‘can’t do’ attitude in the Middle East once and for all. We’ll never surrender.”
Berro offered a similar take on the looming ventilator shortage amid the regional coronavirus crisis.
“Arabs survive on imports in times of prosperity as well as in times of crises,” he said. “This isn’t acceptable and needs to change.”

FACTOID

$25,000

The approximate cost of a ventilator