79-year-old man becomes third victim in Lebanon; 15 nurses quarantined 

A volunteer sanitizes a mosque, as a precaution against the spread of the coronavirus, in Sidon, Lebanon. (Reuters)
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Updated 13 March 2020

79-year-old man becomes third victim in Lebanon; 15 nurses quarantined 

  • The streets have been almost empty as all entertainment and recreational facilities in the country have shut
  • All flights between Italy, South Korea, Iran and China have been stopped

BEIRUT: Lebanon has reported its third death from the coronavirus. A 79-year-old man with cancer died on Wednesday while being treated in a hospital in Jbeil.

He was sharing the room with a man, whose infection was not yet been confirmed.

Doctors’ syndicate chief Sharaf Abu Sharaf said: “There are 15 nurses and two doctors being quarantined at home who have not showed any symptoms.”

The streets have been almost empty as all entertainment and recreational facilities in the country have shut. The Lebanese Cabinet has doubled internet speed and capacity for Ogero users until the end of April, to encourage them to work and study at home.

Mohammed, a taxi driver in Beirut, told Arab News: “People have stopped going to malls and Beirut souks are empty. They are even refusing to take a cab and are walking instead.” 

Salam, a saleswoman in Sodeco, said: “Buying clothes is no longer a priority as people are afraid of the coronavirus. We are making sure to disinfect and sterilize the shop everyday but it seems like we will be closing soon.”

The Lebanese General Directorate of General Security has begun implementing the decision of the Ministerial Committee for Combating Coronavirus to close all border crossing points with Syria, preventing entry without residence permits.

The directorate has also banned the Lebanese from entering Syria, where all border crossing points are expected to close four days after the issuance of the decision.

On Wednesday, the Lebanese prime minister stopped all flights between Italy, South Korea, Iran and China for a week.

Lebanon has also banned the entry of passengers from France, Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Germany, Spain and the UK.

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Diplomats, NGO workers, UNIFIL members, Lebanese citizens and members of Lebanese families who have not yet obtained their nationality or residence permits were granted a deadline of four days, until March 16, to return to Lebanon.

The arrival of the last flight from Iran on Wednesday at Rafic Hariri International Airport, carrying 105 passengers, provoked wide criticism on social media, where people blamed Hezbollah and the authorities for allowing the entry of people from an affected country.

The first coronavirus case in Lebanon was a woman who arrived from the Iranian city of Qom on Feb. 20.

The airport’s general security bureau ascertained that “passengers were tested” and denied that “people from a certain party entered the airport to receive the passengers and get them out without being tested.”

Regarding pictures that have been circulating on social media, the bureau said: “The pictures are fabricated and can harm the Lebanese interests and the reputation of the airport.”

The Banque du Liban said: “Banknotes, according to the World Health Organization, are like anything else we touch during the day and thus people should wash their hands after handling money.”   

According to the German Central Bank, the risk of handling banknotes is no greater than touching other things, such as a doorknob or light switches and that Banque Du Liban is taking all precautious measures regarding the banknotes deposited to prevent the spread of the virus.

The Ministry of Social Affairs has announced a new plan to halt the spread of the virus in the camps of Syrian refugees, following a meeting attended by international organizations. The meeting decided “to organize awareness-raising campaigns and provide supplies to clean and sterilize refugee camps in cooperation with the UN.”

Bassel Al-Hujairi, mayor of the border town of Ersal, which is home to over 60,000 Syrian refugees, said: “No coronavirus cases have been reported in Ersal so far. The major challenge we are facing is to limit gatherings in camps. We have closed the public park and canceled all gatherings.”   

Al-Hujairi added: “The Lebanese Army has set up a perimeter along the borders in the eastern mountain range near Ersal. But the danger comes from border crossing points outside the Ersal borders, which made us stop refugees from going to Syria, to protect them and the people of Ersal.”


Lebanese farmers sow seeds for new cannabis growers’ syndicate

Updated 35 min 19 sec ago

Lebanese farmers sow seeds for new cannabis growers’ syndicate

  • Ministers, MPs rumored to be buying agricultural land after law legalizes production for medical, industrial uses

BEIRUT: A group of Lebanese farmers have sown the seeds for the setting up of a growers’ syndicate for the production of cannabis plants.

The move to establish a founding committee of agricultural sector representatives followed a decision by the Lebanese Parliament in April to legalize the use of cannabis for medical and industrial purposes.

In doing so, Lebanon become the first Arab country to pass a law allowing the cultivation of the plant for specific non-recreational uses.  

Farmers from the Baalbek-Hermel Governorate in eastern Lebanon announced plans for the formation of the new committee during a press conference held at a tourist complex in the region.

Former president of the Tobacco Growers’ Association in Baalbek-Hermel, Ahmed Zaiter, told Arab News: “Through the founding committee that we intend to form from representatives of families in the region who work in agriculture in general, we wanted to move the law enforcement mechanism in preparation for obtaining licenses to start planting cannabis, knowing that there are those who grow hashish in the region and we do not yet know whether this plant is the same one that was legislated.”

The new Lebanese law will provide for the formation of a government-monitored regulatory body to manage the cultivation, production, and export of cannabis. The cultivation process produces the drug tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and industrially fibers from the plant can be used for making products such as clothes and cars.

A 2018 study by US consulting firm McKinsey and Co. estimated that Lebanon could generate $1 billion annually from legalizing cannabis cultivation.

Zaiter pointed out “the importance of the birth of a syndicate of cannabis growers to organize this cultivation, the need to grant licenses to farmers, start preparing for seed insurance, and receive this plant from the state.”

He added that farmers would be demanding that priority was given to the agricultural sector in the Bekaa Valley and the Baalbek-Hermel region and for the syndicate, when established, to join the Union of Agricultural Syndicates in Lebanon.

A body is to be set up to monitor and regulate all activities related to cannabis and its derivatives, including planting, cultivation, harvesting, production, possession, export, storage, marketing, and distribution.

Cannabis is known in the northern Bekaa as “green gold” and its cultivation was active during the civil war in the 1970s in remote areas of the region where armed mafias were formed to guard and smuggle it abroad.

During the early 1950s, about 300 tons of cannabis was produced every year in border regions between Lebanon and Syria.

Under international pressure, state agencies began the process of destroying cannabis crops in the 1990s.

During the press conference, farmers discussed claims circulated on social media that ministers and MPs had been buying agricultural land in the Baalbek-Hermel region.

Zaiter said: “These farmers have expressed their fear that the new owners aim to engage in this agriculture in the future and monopolize its production and sale.”

Baalbek official, Haider Shams, told Arab News that land purchases, especially in remote parts of the region, were on the rise. “The price of 1 meter ranges from $5 to $10. Many people are buying in Majdaloun and Taybeh, but I don’t think it has anything to do with the cultivation of cannabis.”

Zaiter said: “So far, none of the MPs who legislated the law know what kind of Indian hemp (cannabis) they allowed.

“One of the specialists showed us a plant with few green leaves, which is not the one grown by cannabis growers in Lebanon, which means that there are many types of this plant, and if the legalized plant is the one with few leaves, I do not think that anyone will accept its cultivation because it is a losing cultivation.”

Meanwhile, the Lebanese Army Command announced on Monday that gunmen had killed one soldier during a dawn attack on an army patrol and military centers in Talia, Pretal, Al-Khader, and Douris.

The military has linked the raids to an incident the day before when fugitive Abbas Al-Masri fired shots into the air at an army checkpoint in Douris while trying to drive through. Checkpoint personnel shot and injured Al-Masri and a passenger in his vehicle and both casualties were transferred to a hospital in Baalbek for treatment.