BEIRUT: Lebanon remains open to naval and air shipping despite interruptions from the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
Meanwhile, health and security authorities are struggling to prevent the virus from spinning out of control.
On Monday, there was a slight increase in the number of new cases, with the Ministry of Health announcing that the total number of infections was 256 cases.
Lebanese Minister of Health Dr. Hamad Hassan said: “80 of 160 beds are vacant in Rafik Hariri University Hospital, designated to receive cases of infection by the coronavirus.”
Lebanese lawmaker Michel Moawad announced on Monday that the number of infections has increased in the northern district of Zgharta and that “a total lockdown will be imposed on the region.”
Lebanese people are still confining themselves to their homes under the monitoring of the army and security forces, which were put in charge of reporting any violation of the lockdown.
Monday saw the first recorded case among UN Interim Force In Lebanon (UNIFIL) forces, with one of its soldiers contracting the virus. He was confined at the UNIFIL hospital in Naqoura. Andrea Tenenti, UNIFIL spokesperson, said that all precautions were taken to prevent the spread of the virus, adding that the soldier was on leave and returned on March 15, and that he was immediately quarantined.
Four other soldiers who were in direct contact with the infected soldier were put in confinement. Tests were done on all four, with three testing negative. UNIFIL is still waiting for the result of the fourth soldier.
A meeting was held on Monday in the Port of Beirut to decide measures to prevent the spread of the virus. The port management declared its commitment to providing masks and other protection materials for visitors.
Hassan Koraytem, managing director of the Port of Beirut, said: “The port building, offices and entrances controlled by the army, general security, customs and state security will all be sterilized.”
He added that “a circular will be issued to all shipping and goods clearing companies not to deploy personnel who are more vulnerable to the disease than others, especially people above 60 with chronic diseases.”
Beirut-Rafic Hariri International Airport is still receiving cargo airplanes from other countries, including Qatar. Measures were taken in order to ensure that no worker would contract the virus while on duty.
The airport was closed to air traffic last Wednesday until March 29 as part of measures taken by the government. They included the closure of all land and sea crossings.
Those exempt from the restrictions include: Military airplanes, air ambulances, cargo planes, aircraft transporting accredited diplomatic missions in Lebanon, UNIFIL forces and employees of companies associated with oil exploration operations.
The landing of a Qatari cargo plane at Beirut airport on the night of March 20 — after the closure of the airport — has caused outrage on social media, as the Qatari flight was coming from Tehran, which has been heavily afflicted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The airport is still receiving cargo planes from Qatari, Ethiopian, DHL, Italian LUX and Global Atlas airlines, which operates two or three annual flights between New York and Beirut.
“These air cargo planes ship various goods to Lebanon, including cars, medicine, medical supplies and mail,” Kris Kashouh, editor of a Lebanon plane spotters website, told Arab News.
Regarding the Qatari plane from Tehran, Kashouh said: “This plane does not come directly from Doha, and it always has many stops before reaching Beirut, including Tehran and Abidjan. It carries livestock and other types of goods.”
Qatar Airways declared in a statement that “the flight, using an Airbus A330-200F type, is limited to air freight and does not transport passengers.”