Lebanon in ‘race against time’ as coronavirus cases soar

Municipal workers spray disinfectant in a street in Beirut on Saturday, as part of a government campaign to counter the spread of the new coronavirus. (AFP)
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Updated 22 March 2020

Lebanon in ‘race against time’ as coronavirus cases soar

  • People told to ‘stay home at all costs’ amid calls for curfew crackdown

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 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 coronavirus disease (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.

FASTFACTS

• The number of cases reached 230 on Saturday.

• Mohammed Safadi, a former minister also tested positive for coronavirus.

• Authorities urge people to adhere to ‘complete domestic quarantine.’

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.”


Turkey to tightly control social media platforms

Updated 10 April 2020

Turkey to tightly control social media platforms

  • Failure to comply with the requirements could shrink their access by Turkish users by up to 95 percent

ISTANBUL: Social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter will be legally bound to appoint a formal representative in Turkey under a new draft law that will be brought to the country’s parliament soon.

The bill is initially designed for the government’s fight against the spread of the coronavirus, but it covers clauses about social media restrictions.

According to the experts, if adopted, this bill will pave the way for exercising government pressure on the platforms.

Failure to comply with the requirements could shrink their access by Turkish users by up to 95 percent. The social media platforms are also obliged to share users’ information with the prosecutors’ office when required.

They will also have to execute decisions coming from the criminal courts for “content removal” and/or “access denial” without any exception. Even individuals may apply to state authorities to ask the platforms to remove content. The platforms could be fined up to 1 million Turkish lira if they do not comply with the request within 24 hours.

It is still unclear whether news outlets with social media sites will also have to abide by these requirements.

Last August, the state-run Turkish Radio and Television Supreme Council (RTUK) was officially granted the authority to regulate and monitor online platforms, including series on digital TV platforms such as Netflix, news broadcasts on YouTube and social media platforms delivering news on a regular basis. Those broadcasting online were obliged to get a license first from RTUK. According to that legislation, overseas companies who broadcast in Turkey on the internet are also required to establish a company and obtain a license.

Dr. Sarphan Uzunoglu, a scholar at Istanbul’s Kadir Has University and editor in chief of NewsLabTurkey.org, said it had long been the wish of the Turkish government to keep Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp and Twitter — as some of the most-used social networks in the country — under control.

“This new draft that will be brought to the parliament is a concrete step toward making Turkey’s digital sphere more controllable than ever for the government,” he told Arab News.

According to Uzunoglu, it is natural that Twitter, Facebook, Google and others are questioned by governments worldwide due to their financial activities and uncontrolled flow of money worldwide.

“Some responsible governments and politicians always question this shady feature of social networks. However, unfortunately, Turkey is not one of these countries or Turkish politicians aren’t the kind of politicians that think (about) the privacy of individuals. All they want is clearly a person who will be like an ambassador for the brand in their country whom they can get in touch with on a regular basis,” he said.

The bill also requires that all data about Turkish social media users be stored in Turkey.

Uzunoglu thinks that the daily routine of such a representative will not be very different from the life of the US ambassador in the time of crisis between US and Turkey.

“The only difference is, the government will try to keep this person and social network for everything in the platform. So that will be a disaster for both the operation of the social platform and the democracy of the country. And unlike an ambassador, the national law system in Turkey will be imposed on them. So, Facebook or Twitter won’t be different from any other web site active in Turkey,” he said.

Turkey has also increased control over social media during the coronavirus outbreak. More than 400 people have been arrested for “provocative” posts on their social media accounts about the virus.

Turkey has blocked access to social media platforms several times in the recent past, especially after the military deployments to Syria.

As social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter host the remaining free-speech platforms and provide an alternative information flow, Uzunoglu thinks that being forced to give away data about their users will be an attack on individual privacy.

“This definitely shows that the government is living in a completely different reality, or they imagine to live in a completely different world,” he said.

Uzunoglu also drew attention to the problematic timing of the move, especially under the extraordinary conditions caused by COVID-19.

“Just think about the Internet freedom related activism of the early 2010s when people went into the streets for the first time to protect Internet freedom. Comparing it to the self-isolation period that we are experiencing right now, it would be naive to think that it is just coincidental,” he said.