Lebanon’s PM Diab orders security forces to enforce coronavirus curfew

A Lebanese policeman fines a man for violating lockdown rules in Beirut's Hamra street on March 21, 2020. (AFP)
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Updated 21 March 2020

Lebanon’s PM Diab orders security forces to enforce coronavirus curfew

  • People told to ‘stay home at all costs’ amid calls for curfew crackdown
  • Local police issued warnings to people breaching home quarantine and raids were carried out on businesses ignoring the ruling

BEIRUT: Lebanese Prime Minister Hassan Diab asked the security forces on Saturday to enforce stricter measures to keep people indoors and prevent gatherings to curb a coronavirus outbreak.

In a speech, Diab said this would include patrols and checkpoints, calling on the Lebanese to stay home and only go out if “absolutely necessary.” 

Lebanese officials called for tougher emergency measures, including curfews, after the number of coronavirus cases in the country surged to 230 on Saturday, with four victims believed to be in a critical condition.

The Ministry of Health urged people to “adhere to complete domestic quarantine,” and warned that those who ignore repeated government warnings could face criminal prosecution.

Dr. Assem Araji, head of the Parliamentary Health Committee, demanded that emergency measures be stepped up “because people have not adhered to the domestic quarantine.”

As the number of coronavirus (COVID-19) cases in Lebanon continued to climb, it was revealed that a former minister, Mohammed Safadi, had also contracted the virus.

“The result of the laboratory examination is positive. He is now in good health and will soon join the list of those recovering from COVID-19,” said his wife, former minister Violet Safadi.

Meanwhile, local police issued warnings to people breaching home quarantine and raids were carried out on businesses ignoring the ruling. Penalties were imposed on shop owners defying the government measures.

Municipalities used loudspeakers to warn residents against renting out homes to Lebanese or Syrian families from outside towns and villages “for fear of spreading the virus and to maintain health security.” Syrian residents were also told to refuse visits by relatives or acquaintances.

The warning reached the Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon, which closed their entry and exit points.

“We are worried about the lack of medical facilities to treat the disease,” an official at Ain Al-Hilweh, the largest Palestinian camp in Lebanon, told Arab News.

Medical and health teams with the Palestinian Red Crescent Society, together with Palestinian security forces, began checking people entering or leaving the camp, and disinfecting vehicles and other machinery.

About 4,000 Lebanese Red Cross volunteers are helping to transport those infected with the virus to hospital.

George Kettana, director-general of the Lebanese Red Cross, said: “We receive many calls from all regions and we respond to every possible case.”

Kettana called on people to “be honest and frank so that we do not expose volunteers to danger.”

Some supplies, including protective clothing, had started to run out and international aid organizations are ready to help, he said.

President of the Syndicate of Private Hospitals, Suleiman Haroun, warned that “trying to reduce the number of daily cases is important because it is a race against time.

“If the number of daily cases reaches hundreds, we will not be able to receive all cases. Hospitals capacity is limited and hospitals were not initially prepared to face such a pandemic,” he said.

Former prime minister Saad Hariri said: “The pandemic is a treacherous enemy. Please stay in your homes. The quarantine is the only safety line.”

Walid Jumblatt, head of the Progressive Socialist Party, said: “The disease is spreading rapidly because people refuse to stay in their homes.”

“People should be forbidden at any cost from wandering around,” he said.

Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdul Latif Derian called for a “general amnesty for prisoners, so that we will not face a tragedy in light of the outbreak of the coronavirus, despite all the precautionary measures.”

Russian mediation reopens major highway in NE Syria

Updated 26 May 2020

Russian mediation reopens major highway in NE Syria

  • Syria records 20 new cases of coronavirus in largest single-day increase

BEIRUT/DAMASCUS: Traffic returned to a major highway in northeastern Syria for the first time in seven months on Monday, following Russian mediation to reopen parts of the road captured last year by Turkey-backed opposition fighters.

Syrian Kurdish media and a Syrian Kurdish official said several vehicles accompanied by Russian troops began driving in the morning between the northern towns of Ein Issa and Tal Tamr. 

The two towns are controlled by regime forces and Syrian Kurdish fighters while the area between them is mostly held by Turkey-backed opposition fighters.

Turkish troops and allied Syrian fighters captured parts of the highway known as M4 in October, when Ankara invaded northeastern Syria to drive away Syrian Kurdish fighters. The M4 links Syria’s coastal region all the way east to the Iraqi border.

Four convoys will drive on the M4 every day with two leaving from Tal Tamr and two from Ein Issa, according to the Kurdish ANHA news agency. The report said a convoy will leave from each town at 8 a.m., and another set of convoys will do the same, three hours later.

The ANHA agency added that the opening of the highway will shorten the trip between the two towns as people previously had to take roundabout, side roads.

“This is the first time the road has been opened” since October, said Mervan Qamishlo, a spokesman for the Kurdish-led and US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces.

Russia, a main power broker with Turkey in Syria, mediated the deal to reopen the highway, he said. Russia and Turkey back rival groups in Syria’s nine-year conflict.

Coronavirus cases

Syria reported 20 new cases of the novel coronavirus on Monday, the largest single-day increase to date.

The war-torn country has recorded 106 infections and four deaths so far, and new cases have increased in recent days with the return of Syrians from abroad.

Syria has kept an overnight curfew in place but has begun to open some of its economy after a lockdown. Doctors and relief groups worry that medical infrastructure ravaged by years of conflict would make a more serious outbreak deadly and difficult to fend off.