Beirut airport shuts after closure of land crossings 

A worker sprays disinfectant. (AP)
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Updated 17 March 2020

Beirut airport shuts after closure of land crossings 

  • Confusion in dealing with the spread of the coronavirus was reflected in the reaction of the Ministry of Finance regarding the banks “decision to close down upon request by the employees” unions for fear of employees contracting the virus

BEIRUT: As the Lebanese government announced a state of public alert and health emergency until the end of the month to counter the spread of the coronavirus, work in public and private institutions came to a halt on Monday, including in banks.
Municipal police banned all forms of gatherings on neighborhood sidewalks and on the seaside Corniche, and forced shops to close.
Activists on social media had fierce debates over the issue of people who went out to the Corniche on Sunday, despite authorities’ calls for them to stay at home.
After the closure of land crossings with Syria, it was decided that the Rafik Hariri International Airport in the capital will also be closed starting next Wednesday at midnight.
Mohamad El-Hout, chairman of the board of directors of Middle East Airlines (MEA), told Arab News that the last four flights on Wednesday by MEA will include “one to Istanbul, one to Geneva, and two to Brussels.”
Engineer Fadi El-Hassan, caretaker manager of Rafik Hariri International Airport, said that the decision excludes “military aircraft, air ambulances, planes that cross Lebanese airspace, cargo planes, aircraft transporting diplomatic missions accredited in Lebanon, members of international organizations, UNIFIL forces, and people working for companies associated in oil and gas exploration.”
The number of people infected with coronavirus in Lebanon increased to more than 110. Hospitals in Beirut, the north, and the Bekaa started to receive suspected coronavirus cases. The hospitals confirmed that they had not received infection cases to date.
The American University of Beirut Medical Center (AUBMC) administration revealed that one of the cafeteria cooks, who served food for the medical team and hospital staff, had contracted the virus. However, it said in a statement that the patient was on leave when he showed symptoms. He was then transferred to the emergency department where he proved positive.
AUBMC administration assured that it “would not jeopardize food safety,” however it called on “cafeteria visitors to bring their food with them, in order to avoid crowding in the cafeteria.”

FASTFACT

Activists had fierce debates over the issue of people who went out to the Corniche seaside recently.

It turned out that the cook went to his hometown in Nabi Chit in the governorate of Baalbek-Hermel, and spent several days with his family and relatives who transmitted the virus to him. Baalbek-Hermel Governor Bachir Khodr said that everyone who had contacted the patient had been quarantined to make sure they did not transmit the virus. Khodr added that there was another AUBMC cafeteria employee who showed symptoms of infection, and was transferred to Beirut for tests. It is the first case in the northern Bekaa region.
Cases of coronavirus are not confined to one region in Lebanon. Previous cases were limited to people coming to Lebanon from infected countries; new cases were among people who had never left the country.
On Monday, Prime Minister Hassan Diab inspected the National Operation Room for Disaster Management and reviewed information related to the spread of the disease. Meanwhile, the Minister of Interior Mohamed Fahmy ordered civil public institutions to deploy a minimum number of employees to provide basic services, and limit work to necessary processing.
Confusion in dealing with the spread of the coronavirus was reflected in the reaction of the Ministry of Finance regarding the banks “decision to close down upon request by the employees” unions for fear of employees contracting the virus.
Minister of Finance Ghazi Wazni confirmed that he opposed the banks’ closure, saying that the banking sector is a vital and essential sector for people’s daily life, and called for the setting of work shifts.


New board of directors appointed to run Lebanon’s ‘corrupt’ state power company

Updated 53 min 21 sec ago

New board of directors appointed to run Lebanon’s ‘corrupt’ state power company

  • Regulation of electricity sector a key condition of international bailout for collapsing economy

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s government finally appointed a new board of directors on Tuesday to control the state-owned electricity company.
Electricite du Liban (EDL) has long been mired in allegations of corruption and fraud. Its annual losses of up to $2 billion a year are the biggest single drain on state finances as Lebanon faces economic collapse and the plunging value of its currency.
Reform of the electricity sector has been a key demand of the International Monetary Fund and potential donor states before they will consider a financial bailout.
“Lebanon’s electricity policy has been inefficient and ineffective for decades — always on the brink of collapse, but staying afloat with last minute patchwork solutions,” said Kareem Chehayeb of the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy in Washington, DC.
“The economic crisis has made fuel imports more expensive, causing a shortage, with external generator providers hiking their prices or seeking business in Syria. It is a wake-up call to decades of overspending and poor planning of a basic public service.”
The World Bank has described the electricity sector in Lebanon as “tainted with corruption and waste,” and the IMF said “canceling the subsidy to electricity is the most important potential saving in spending.”
Electricity rationing was applied for the first time to hospitals and the law courts, but Minister of Energy Raymond Ghajar said: “The first vessel loaded with diesel for power plants has arrived, and as of Wednesday the power supply will improve.”
Prime Minister Hassan Diab promised the Lebanese people on Tuesday that they would see the results of government efforts to resolve the country’s financial chaos “in the coming weeks.”
Addressing a Cabinet meeting, Diab said: “The glimmer of hope is growing.” However, the appointment of an  EDF board of directors was criticized by opposition politicians. Former prime minister Najib Mikati said the appointments meant “the crime of wrong prevailing over right … is being repeated.”