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.”
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.