Coronavirus, work freezes and lockdown violators fuel Lebanon crisis

Officers on a street in Beirut to prevent the spread of the infection (AP)
Short Url
Updated 25 March 2020

Coronavirus, work freezes and lockdown violators fuel Lebanon crisis

  • There should be alternatives immediately, otherwise they should prepare coffins for people who will die of hunger

BEIRUT: The Lebanese Ministry of Health declared that the number of people infected by the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) had reached 304 on Tuesday, after recording 37 new cases.
The news came as authorities grappled to help alleviate growing problems as a result of the outbreak, and the subsequent economic turmoil as a result of government sanctions and curbs on labor to help halt the spread, causing chaos across the country.
In one particularly nasty incident, a taxi driver torched his car and tried to burn himself to death, after he was stopped by police and fined for transporting four passengers instead of only one.
A video segment went viral on social media, featuring the taxi driver shouting while setting his car and himself ablaze, before being saved and taken to hospital.
Chadi El-Sayed, deputy head of the Land Transport Association and head of the Drivers Syndicate in North Lebanon, told Arab News: “It is a sad incident to see policemen giving a ticket to a taxi driver who was pushed by poverty and hunger to work while risking contracting COVID-19.”
El-Sayed added: “A taxi driver can sustain hunger but he needs to feed his children. We have already warned of this situation, especially in northern Lebanon where it is much worse, in light of interruption of all activities. There should be alternatives immediately, otherwise they should prepare coffins for people who will die of hunger.”
He called on the Economic and Social Council of Lebanon and the government to “give direct financial subsidies to poorer families to help them overcome these exceptionally hard conditions,” through handouts of 500,000 Lebanese pounds ($330) per month, for a minimum period of 3 months.
The government dedicated part of its session on Tuesday to discussing ways to provide aid for needy families. It decided to form an executive committee, headed by Dr. Ramzi Musharrafieh, minister of Social Affairs and Tourism.
Minister of Interior Mohamed Fahmy called on the Finance Minister Ghazi Wazni to release municipal funds collected from cellphone fee revenues, estimated at “around 168.8 billion Lebanese pounds ($111.63 million),” to provide support to the needy and poor families affected by the lockdown.
In an attempt to raise morale, the President of the Republic Michel Aoun took to video messaging platform Skype to address medical, nursing, and administrative staff at Rafik Hariri University Hospital in Beirut, praising their efforts and sacrifices treating patients with COVID-19.
Aoun also used Skype to address Lebanese Red Cross medics and volunteers. He was briefed on their conditions, concerns, requests, and readiness to combat the pandemic, and saluted their courage and devotion.
George Kettaneh, secretary-general of the Lebanese Red Cross, declared that the volunteers “transported 16 unconfirmed infection cases on Tuesday, added to another 330 cases who were transported previously, and who are still awaiting their test results.”

FASTFACTS

A taxi driver torched his car and tried to burn himself to death, after he was stopped by police and fined for transporting four passengers instead of only one. A video segment went viral on social media, featuring the driver shouting while setting his car and himself ablaze, before being saved and taken to hospital.

Special attention was given to Lebanese prisons in order to prevent a COVID-19 outbreak. Brig. Gen. Dr. Ibrahim Hanna, head of the medical center at Roumieh Prison, said that there were currently no cases.  
The Lebanese Order of Medicine visited Roumieh and held a medical security meeting in which it was decided to reduce overcrowding in prisons.

The meeting called on President Aoun to issue a special amnesty for misdemeanors, for those whose sentences did not exceed a one-year sentence, and asked other authorities to issue special amnesties for other convicts, whilst also calling on prison administrations to ban direct visits to prisoners, providing videocalls instead.
Some precaution measures in some regions have aroused political controversy, especially after some municipalities closed down the entrances of towns and villages including, the town of Kfardebian.
Walid Jumblatt, head of the Progressive Socialist Party, warned on Twitter of adopting “self-imposed security, which could lead to many problems.”
Civil defense teams and scouts of the Amal Movement and Hezbollah have set checkpoints on the entrance to villages and towns in Tebnine region, to sterilize cars and check passengers’ temperatures. Municipalities in the south announced the prohibition of renting homes and apartments for people coming out of the region, whether Lebanese or Syrian.

 


Coronavirus crisis in Egypt has benefits

A man travels on a scooter past the closed El-Sayeda Zainab Mosque in Cairo. (Reuters)
Updated 31 March 2020

Coronavirus crisis in Egypt has benefits

  • The Central Bank of Egypt has directed all local banks to delay the collection of credit liabilities for six months without any rates or fines

CAIRO: People around the world are living in uncertain times as the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues to spread. Fatalities and infections are rising as cities and countries go into lockdown.
Egypt is under a partial lockdown, forcing people to stay, work and learn at home. Yet behind this massive change and a fear of the unknown, COVID-19 has brought advantages.
Ever since Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi decided to close schools and universities for two weeks, starting on March 15, respect for the government has increased, especially on social media.
“Suddenly the government is laying down a series of preemptive actions to slow down the spread of the virus,” Mohamed Badr, 32, a Cairo resident, said. “They disregarded the economic impact and focused on the safety of the people which made us all proud.”
There have been diplomatic gains. China’s Ambassador to Cairo Liao Liqiang said that China and Egypt are partners and true friends, lauding Egypt’s support to Chinese efforts to combat the virus.
The Central Bank of Egypt has directed all local banks to delay the collection of credit liabilities for six months without any rates or fines.
The government’s order to shut down cafes and malls during curfew hours has led to a ban on the smoking of hookahs.
With fears over infections and with a dusk-to-dawn curfew in place, there is less consumption of unhealthy food.
There are fewer road accidents too. In 2018, there were 8,480 road accidents, according to the Bureau of Statistics. The number is expected to plunge this year due to the drop in vehicles on the road.

FASTFACT

Ever since Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi decided to close schools and universities for two weeks, respect for the government has increased.

Working from home is the new normal. The culture of work from home is forcing its way in society as many learning technologies and cloud solutions are connecting homes and workplaces.
“When I used to invite people for a Zoom meeting they were surprised. Today, it’s a normal practice and many clients actually prefer this option,” a sales representative in Cairo said.
And with school and college students stuck at home, educational institutions have quickly taken up distance learning.
With millions of people now stuck in isolation, many are using the opportunity to get creative. Videos on social media show people developing hobbies, tricks, cooking skills and paintings.
Corporations are accelerating digital transformation. Several companies are racing to implement digital and cloud technologies to manage their businesses remotely. Several telco and financial institutions pushed their services online and through contact centers rather than branch visits.
Doctors are finally getting some credit. They have long called for better salaries and benefits but their requests have fallen on deaf ears. The virus has now brought some hope for a better package in the near future.
The environment is cleaner and less polluted. And now, everyone has more time to reflect.