Lebanon closes land, air and sea borders as UN offers help to fight virus

President Michel Aoun on Thursday presided over a Lebanese Cabinet session wearing a face mask. (AP)
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Updated 19 March 2020

Lebanon closes land, air and sea borders as UN offers help to fight virus

  • Lebanon currently has 149 confirmed cases of COVID-19 disease

BEIRUT: Lebanon has become one of the latest countries to close its land, air and sea borders in a bid to slow the spread of the killer coronavirus and avoid overwhelming hospitals.

President Michel Aoun on Thursday presided over a Lebanese Cabinet session wearing a face mask and ministers were asked to don gloves and face shields while keeping a safe distance between each other to help prevent transmission of the virus.

“It was my first time wearing a face mask because the risk has increased,” said Minister of Health Hamad Hassan at the end of the meeting.

“Six new unknown-source cases were detected. They were the result of a community transmission, which makes the situation more dangerous. I requested the isolation of the two regions with the highest number of cases. I also asked the security forces to be strict to the point of prohibiting people from leaving their houses,” he added.

Lebanon currently has 149 confirmed cases of COVID-19 disease, with four deaths.

Meanwhile, during a meeting with representatives of international organizations, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said: “The UN is ready to assist Lebanon, its government and people during these difficult times facing the country, the region and the world.”

Despite power cuts and water shortages in some parts of the country, many Lebanese citizens set up temporary offices to work from home. Meanwhile, security personnel issued tickets to those breaching government orders banning gatherings and the opening of stores.

Private and public transport in the country has almost ground to a halt, but food shops did not report any of the frantic scenes of panic buying witnessed in Europe and the US.

As cases of the virus continued to rise, Rafik Hariri University Hospital (RHUH) on the outskirts of southern Beirut, said it was running short of coronavirus testing kits and would have to limit their use to urgent patients only until a delivery of 20,000 packs arrived from abroad.

Hassan ordered private laboratories conducting coronavirus tests to “report any confirmed cases or risk penalties.”

Lebanon’s airport-closure move excluded UNIFIL (UN Interim Force in Lebanon) aircraft, diplomatic missions accredited in Lebanon, international organizations, cargo flights and passengers working for oil and gas exploration companies.

In a message to employees and the Lebanese people, Mohamad El-Hout, chairman of Middle East Airlines (MEA), which has been forced to ground its fleet, said: “MEA had faced many similar hardships before, where its fleet was grounded for many days. However, the company is able to overcome this situation and has the capabilities to do so. We will receive new aircraft and fly again.”

One pilot and two flight attendants were infected while working on flights bringing Lebanese citizens back home from countries affected by the coronavirus.

Lebanese workers faced with the prospect of being laid off due to business closures have been appealing for financial help.

“The private sector is living the most difficult and dangerous stage of its history because all the negative factors have hit the country at once, with the latest one being the spread of the coronavirus,” said Mohamed Choucair, president of the Lebanese economic organizations.

“I hope that the general mobilization and the health emergency declared by the government were accompanied by a set of incentives to cut the losses institutions are suffering from in the same way that other countries have,” the former minister added.

He warned that a social explosion would be disastrous for the country.
 


Iran says black boxes of downed Ukraine plane of ‘no help’

In this file photo taken on January 8, 2020 rescue teams work amidst debris after a Ukrainian plane carrying 176 passengers crashed near Imam Khomeini airport in the Iranian capital Tehran early in the morning on January 8, killing everyone on board. (AFP)
Updated 12 min 26 sec ago

Iran says black boxes of downed Ukraine plane of ‘no help’

  • Ottawa has demanded for several months that Iran, which does not have the technical means to decode the black boxes, send the items abroad so that their content can be analyzed

TEHRAN: The black boxes of a Ukrainian plane mistakenly downed near Tehran airport will be of “no help” in any investigation, but Iran is ready to transfer them abroad, state media said Saturday.
Flight 752, an Ukraine International Airlines jetliner, was struck by a missile and crashed shortly after taking off from the Tehran airport on January 8.
“Even though the investigation is nearly complete and the contents of the boxes will be of no help for the investigation, we are ready to give them to a third country or to a (foreign) company,” Mohsen Baharvand, deputy foreign affairs minister, was quoted as saying by the official IRNA news agency.
In the immediate aftermath of the crash, Iranian civilian authorities insisted it was likely caused by a technical malfunction, vehemently denying claims the plane was shot down.
But in the early hours of January 11, the Iranian military admitted that the plane was shot down due to “human error,” killing 176 people, mainly Iranians and Canadians, including many dual nationals.
Ottawa has demanded for several months that Iran, which does not have the technical means to decode the black boxes, send the items abroad so that their content can be analyzed.
After Tehran said in March it was ready to transfer the black boxes to France or Ukraine, Canada’s foreign minister Francois-Philippe Champagne guardedly welcomed a “step in the right direction,” while noting that he would judge Iranian authorities on “their actions and not just their words.”
In his interview with IRNA, Baharvand implied that Iran had certain conditions for transferring the black boxes abroad, but did not elaborate.