BEIRUT: Lebanon announced its first death from coronavirus on Tuesday, with the country’s health minister warning the fatality marked a “turning point in dealing with the situation.”
The victim, Jean Khoury, 57, from Obeidat in Byblos, died in a Beirut hospital. He had returned to Lebanon from Egypt on Feb. 21, however confirmation of his infection was delayed because the World Health Organization had failed to declare Egypt a risk country.
“Khoury’s infection was confirmed five days after he came back from Egypt. He stayed in a Byblos hospital before being transferred to Rafik Hariri University Hospital (RHUH) in Beirut, which was equipped to receive coronavirus-infected patients. His condition remained stable until Monday,” said the Lebanese Minister of Health Hamad Hassan.
“This loss constitutes a turning point in dealing with the situation. Special measures will be adopted in the burial of coronavirus victims. We are required to be realistic in light of these developments,” Hassan added.
RHUH continues to receive dozens of suspected cases for testing each day.
According to the hospital’s reports, about 10 percent are admitted to quarantine while the rest are told to self-isolate at home for two weeks, the incubation period of the virus.
Three patients are still in a critical condition in the isolation unit, while the total number of confirmed cases rose to 52 on Tuesday, 11 more than the previous day, the hospital said.
Five of those work at a Byblos hospital and two others at a Beirut hospital, which the ministry believes is a significant development in terms of the spread of the virus.
Four university hospitals joined RHUH in carrying out coronavirus testing to speed up delivery of results in suspected cases.
“Two hundred tests are being conducted every day. This exceeds the capacity of RHUH’s laboratory,” said Suleiman Haroun, head of the Private Hospitals’ Owners Syndicate.
Meanwhile, the Bank of Beirut sent 20 staff home to self-quarantine as “a preventive measure” until test results are issued.
The employees had joined a social event with a person who was found to be infected the following day.
Andrea Tenenti, official spokesperson of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon, said that “all necessary preventive measures” have been taken to protect the 11,000 military and civilian peacekeepers against the virus.
“One of our soldiers stationed in the village of Maarakeh showed some symptoms after returning from Egypt.
“When our medical unit discovered this, we contacted the Lebanese authorities and quarantined all those who had been in contact with the soldier,” Tenenti said.
“Even when the tests came back negative, we imposed strict medical rules and measures on all our military and civilian personnel to prevent or reduce the spread of the virus.”
Lebanon’s ministries stepped up efforts to combat the spread of the virus, with the Ministry of Culture on Tuesday announcing that all museums will be closed.
Beirut closed all its public parks after children began playing there following the closure of schools.
Universities, cafes, cinemas and theaters have also been closed while people have been urged to stay at home and take preventive measures in the workplace.