Ghost town Beirut: Troops patrol streets in virus curfew crackdown

Lebanese security forces have been ordered to enforce stricter measures to keep people at home and prevent gatherings. (Supplied)
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Updated 23 March 2020

Ghost town Beirut: Troops patrol streets in virus curfew crackdown

  • “We must save ourselves, our families and our country before it is too late”: Interior Minister

BEIRUT: Troops patrolled deserted city streets and army helicopters circled Beirut on Sunday as Lebanese people were warned to “prepare for the worst” from the coronavirus outbreak.

Soldiers set up roadblocks and military aircraft broadcast loudspeaker messages urging people to obey official instructions and stay at home as the number of virus cases rose by 18 to 248.

The crackdown was necessary because “some people are not complying with the necessary preventive measures to protect their relatives, families, friends, community, and even their neighbors,” Interior Minister Mohammed Fahmi said.

“We must save ourselves, our families and our country before it is too late. We must prepare for the worst while maintaining hope and faith that we will overcome this crisis by doing the right thing.”

Saudi Arabia reported 119 new virus cases on Sunday, raising the total to 511. Health Ministry spokesman Mohammed Abdelali said 72 of the new patients were Turkish, and were under quarantine in Makkah after being in direct contact with another Turkish national who was already infected.

More than 4,000 people were under quarantine, Abdelali said. “We are starting to see more cases linked to interactions ... we advise everyone to stay home.”

In the UAE, Emirates airline initially said it was halting all passenger operations by Wednesday, but said later that some flights would continue as long as borders remained open and there was passenger demand. Cargo flights will also operate.

“We find ourselves in a situation where we cannot viably operate passenger services until countries reopen their borders, and travel confidence returns,” chairman Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al-Maktoum said.

Three luxury hotels operated by the developer Emaar in the Downtown Dubai area, which is popular with tourists, have stopped taking bookings. The UAE prime minister and ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum, announced an additional economic stimulus of 16 billion dirhams, bringing the total to 126 billion dirhams ($34.3 billion).

Elsewhere in the Gulf, Oman on Sunday banned public gatherings, limited staffing at state entities, closed currency exchanges and banned the publication or distribution of newspapers and magazines.

Kuwait imposed a partial curfew and extended a work suspension for two weeks. Some supermarkets are allowing only 50 shoppers at a time.

Qatar, where 481 coronavirus cases have been reported, has introduced checkpoints to enforce a ban on public gatherings. There are fears for the health of tens of thousands of migrant workers under quarantine, effectively locked into a densely populated district southwest of Doha, known as the Industrial Area. No one is allowed to leave.

Amnesty International warned that cramped conditions there were putting the workers at risk, and called for “access to health care, including preventive care and treatment for everyone affected, without discrimination.”

In Iran, the regional hotspot of the virus outbreak with more than 21,000 cases of infection and 1,685 deaths, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei said his country would never accept medical aid from “American liars, manipulators, impudent and greedy ... charlatans.”

Iran, which is struggling to contain the outbreak, has so far received medical equipment or financial aid from Azerbaijan, Britain, China, France, Germany, Japan, Qatar, Russia, Turkey and the UAE.

Citing jobs, Trump claims victory over virus, economic collapse

Updated 15 sec ago

Citing jobs, Trump claims victory over virus, economic collapse

  • US tops COVID-19 mortality rally with 108,000 people confirmed dead
  • Trump says more than 1 million Americans would have died had he not acted

WASHINGTON: President Donald Trump effectively claimed victory over the economic crisis and COVID-19 on Friday as well as major progress against racial inequality, heartily embracing a better-than-expected jobs report in hopes of convincing a discouraged nation he deserves another four years in office.
In lengthy White House remarks amid sweeping social unrest, a still-rising virus death toll and Depression-level unemployment, the Republican president focused on what he said was improvement in all areas.
He was quick to seize the positive jobs report at a time when his political standing is at one of the weakest points of his presidency less than five months before the general election. Just 2 in 10 voters believe the country is headed in the right direction, a Monmouth University poll found earlier in the week.
The president also addressed the protests, which have calmed in recent days, that followed the death of George Floyd, the black man who died last week when a white police officer knelt for minutes on his neck.
Claiming improvements everywhere, Trump said, “Hopefully George is looking down right now and saying this is a great thing that’s happening for our country. ... This is a great, great day in terms of equality.”
Trump condemned “what happened last week,” said no other president has done as much for black Americans, and declared that an economic rebound was “the greatest thing that can happen for race relations.”
Putting words in the dead man’s mouth drew quick criticism, including from likely presidential foe Joe Biden, who said it was “despicable.” The Trump campaign said any reports saying Trump was contending Floyd would be praising the economic news were “wrong, purposefully misrepresented, and maliciously crafted.”
A few blocks away, city workers painted a huge “Black Lives Matter” sign on 16th Street leading to the White House.
Politically, few things matter more to Trump’s future than the state of the US economy, which was all but shut down by state governments this spring to prevent greater spread of the deadly coronavirus. Defying health experts, the president has aggressively encouraged states to re-open and has assailed state leaders by name who resist.
At the same time, he’s taken an uneven approach to explosive racial tensions in the wake of Floyd’s death. As he has in recent days, Trump on Friday offered a sympathetic message to Floyd in one breath and lashed out at protests in his name the next.
Local governments “have to dominate the streets,” Trump said. “You can’t let what’s happening happen.”
The president spoke in the Rose Garden after the Labor Department said that US employers added 2.5 million workers to their payrolls last month. Economists had been expecting them instead to slash 8 million jobs in continuing fallout from the pandemic.
The jobless rate, at 13.3%, is still on par with what the nation witnessed during the Great Depression. And for the second straight month, the Labor Department acknowledged making errors in counting the unemployed during the virus outbreak, saying the real figure is worse than the numbers indicate.
Still, after weeks of dire predictions by economists that unemployment in May could hit 20% or more, the news was seen as evidence that the collapse may have bottomed out in April.
Friday’s report made for some tricky reaction gymnastics for Trump’s Democratic election opponent, Biden, who sought to contrast the improving figures with the fact that millions of Americans are still out of work. The high jobless rate, he said, is due to the Trump administration mishandling the response to the pandemic.
“Let’s be clear about something: The depth of this jobs crisis is not attributable to an act of God but to a failure of a president,” Biden declared in a Delaware speech shortly after Trump spoke.
The presumptive Democratic nominee said Trump was patting himself on the back as America faces some of its sternest challenges ever.
“It’s time for him to step out of his own bunker, take a look around at the consequences,” Biden said.
It’s unclear how many jobs that were lost as a result of the pandemic are permanently gone or whether the reopenings in states will create a second surge of COVID-19 deaths. In addition, the report from mid-May doesn’t reflect the effect that protests across the nation have had on business.
Many economists digging into the jobs report saw a struggle ahead after the burst of hiring last month.
Friday’s report reflected the benefits of nearly $3 trillion in government aid instead of an organic return to normal. Only one of every nine jobs lost because of the pandemic has been recovered, and the specter of corporate bankruptcies hangs over the recovery.
Much of the growth came from 2.7 million workers who were temporarily laid-off going back to their jobs. This likely reflected $510 billion in forgivable loans from the Payroll Protection Program to nearly 4.5 million employers — an administration initiative that helped push the unemployment rate down to 13.3% from 14.7% in April. African American unemployment rose slightly to 16.8 percent.
Late Friday, Trump signed legislation to add new flexibility to the PPP, giving business owners more flexibility to use taxpayer subsidies and extending the life of the program.
As the money from the PPP runs out, there could be another round of layoffs, warned Sung Won Sohn, an economist at Loyola Marymount University.
“There will be continuing residual fear and uncertainty,” Sohn said.
Trump on Friday defended his handling of the pandemic, contending that more than 1 million Americans would have died had he not acted. More than 108,000 people are confirmed to have lost their lives due to the coronavirus, according to a count from Johns Hopkins University.
Now, though, Trump said states and cities should be lifting remaining restrictions. “I don’t know why they continue to lock down,” he said of some jurisdictions that have maintained closings.
Former South Carolina Gov. and Rep. Mark Sanford, a Republican who briefly mounted a primary challenge to Trump last year, dismissed any employment gain due to federal deficit spending.
“What we have right now is federal policy aimed solely at boosting numbers that obviously would help in a reelection effort,” Sanford said in an interview. “We’re literally buying jobs.”
But there was little sign of concern among Trump and his Republican allies in Washington.
“This shows that what we’ve been doing is right,” Trump said of the jobs numbers. He added: “Today is probably the greatest comeback in American history.”
He pitched himself as key to a “rocket ship” rebound that would fail only if he doesn’t win reelection.
“I’m telling you next year, unless something happens or the wrong people get in here, this will turn around,” Trump said.