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)
Short Url
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.
 


Coronavirus claims over 20,000 lives across Mideast, half in Iran

Updated 12 July 2020

Coronavirus claims over 20,000 lives across Mideast, half in Iran

  • 907,736 reported infections and 20,005 deaths from the COVID-19
  • Iran has been struggling to contain the outbreak since announcing its first cases

PARIS: The novel coronavirus pandemic has killed more than 20,000 people across the Middle East, half of them in Iran, according to an AFP tally at 1000 GMT Sunday based on official tolls.
But despite having 907,736 reported infections and 20,005 deaths from the COVID-19 illness, the Middle East has been relatively lightly hit by the virus which has killed over half a million people across the globe.
Iran, which has been struggling to contain the outbreak since announcing its first cases in February, has reported more than 12,829 deaths and 257,303 infections, according to Sunday’s official figures.
With a population of more than 80 million, Iran is the 9th worst-affected country in the world and has seen the region’s deadliest outbreak.
Infections in the Islamic republic have been on the rise since early May, prompting authorities to make wearing masks mandatory in enclosed public spaces.
On Sunday the country’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei called the resurgence “truly tragic” and urged all citizens to help rein it in.
In the region covered by Iran in the north and east, Israel in the west and Yemen in the south, the other worst-hit countries are Iraq and neighboring Kuwait, as well as Saudi Arabia and war-torn Yemen.
Iraq is the second-most affected nation in the Middle East with 3,055 deaths and 75,194 infections, followed by Saudi Arabia with 2,181 deaths and 229,480 infections.
Yemen, one of the world’s poorest nations, has recorded 464 deaths and 1,380 infections, while Kuwait has confirmed 386 deaths and 54,058 infections.
Iran also ranks as the region’s worst-affect country on a per-capita basis, with 153 deaths per million — 25th worldwide — followed by Kuwait with 90 deaths per million and Saudi Arabia with 63.
According to the AFP tally, the average number of deaths in the region is 43 per million inhabitants, against a global average of around 70.
The Middle East represents around 3.5 percent of all global deaths, far behind Europe (one third), North America (one quarter) and Latin America and the Caribbean (one quarter).