Lebanon faces virus peak within days, doctors warn

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Lebanese forces pull down tents as they clear away a protest camp in Beirut on Saturday as part of efforts to curb the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19). (Reuters)
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Clients wearing masks to help protect themselves from the coronavirus wait to use ATM machines outside a closed bank in Beirut, Lebanon, Saturday, March 28, 2020. (AP)
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Members of the Islamic Health Society, an arm of the Iran-backed militant Hezbollah group, spray disinfectants as a precaution against the coronavirus outbreak, in the southern suburb of Beirut, Lebanon, Friday, March 27, 2020. (AP)
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A volunteer wearing a costume entertains people standing on their balcony, as the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues in Sidon, Lebanon March 27, 2020. (REUTERS)
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Updated 29 March 2020

Lebanon faces virus peak within days, doctors warn

  • Number of confirmed cases jumps to 412 as troops step up overnight curfew

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s confirmed coronavirus disease (COVID-19) tally jumped to 412 on Saturday, prompting one medical expert to warn the country faces its peak infection rate next week.

After the number of victims rose by 21 on the previous day, authorities revealed that eight people have now died from the illness following the death of an 80-year-old patient with underlying health problems at Rafik Hariri University Hospital.
In its daily report, the Ministry of Health said that 398 suspected coronavirus cases have been transferred to the hospital and 995 cases remain in quarantine.
Doctors’ Syndicate chief Sharaf Abu Sharaf told Arab News that he expects Lebanon to reach its peak infection rate next week, warning that “until now, the increasing number of cases has been within our health capabilities, and our hospitals can accommodate them.”
He said that those quarantined at the hospital had shown positive test results, but “most of the cases are mild.”  
Abu Sharaf also revealed that doctors have started using the anti-malarial drug chloroquine at university hospitals in Lebanon after studies in China, Europe and the US showed that it helps boost immunity and produce a negative test result.
Lebanon’s Health Ministry has promised to provide 50,000 boxes of the drug, he said.
Abu Sharaf said: “Lebanon started using this drug after we learned from the experiences of other countries fighting the virus, including China and France, while the US has approved it.
“This drug is given alongside other antibiotics and (helps to) return a positive result.”

Doctors have started using the anti-malarial drug chloroquine at university hospitals.

Sharaf Abu Sharaf, Doctors’ Syndicate chief

The head of the Doctors’ Syndicate warned that the drug, which is mainly used to treat malaria, AIDS and other illnesses, could harm the liver, heart and arteries, and should not be prescribed without sufficient reason.
He urged people to commit to home quarantine, and follow the instructions of the Ministry of Health, World Health Organization and the Doctors’ Syndicate.
“Home quarantine is the first cure and helps us avoid the tragedies that other countries have experienced,” he said.  
Lebanese troops and security services imposed a curfew between 7 p.m. and 5 a.m. and warned people against joining gatherings “regardless of their reason.”
Late on Friday, security forces removed or destroyed protesters’ tents in the squares of central Beirut, sparking criticism from activists on social media.  
Activists accused the authorities of trying to “douse the protests” and vowed to resume their movement after the “coronavirus nightmare” is over.
Syrian refugees in Lebanon received text message from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees requesting that they “stay in their homes” and assuring them that it will “cover the treatment of any Syrian who is infected.”
Industry Minister Imad Hoballah said that factories making medicines, food and basic materials can work at full capacity from Monday to help meet the demand for essential consumer goods.
The Doctors’ Syndicate also criticized the spraying of pesticides by municipalities and health authorities in different regions, warning that it could contaminate vegetables and consumer goods.
Dr. Ismail Sukkarieh told Arab News that random spraying of pesticides, including chlorine-based treatments, “exposes the eyes and lungs to harm.”
Spraying might do more harm than good because of the added threat of coronavirus, he said.

Lebanese MPs fail to reach agreement on draft amnesty law

Updated 29 May 2020

Lebanese MPs fail to reach agreement on draft amnesty law

  • The Free Patriotic Movement tried to amend the law by excluding “perpetrators of crimes against public funds and terrorist crimes” from the amnesty

BEIRUT: The Lebanese Parliament on Thursday failed to approve a draft law on general amnesty, after tensions rose during a vote and the Future Movement, led by former prime minister Saad Hariri, walked out of the legislative session.

“They want to bring us back to square one,” he said. “Every party has its own arguments, as if they want to score points.”

The Free Patriotic Movement tried to amend the law by excluding “perpetrators of crimes against public funds and terrorist crimes” from the amnesty. Minister of Justice Marie Claude Najm, who is affiliated with the FPM, asked for “amendments to the draft law so that it does not include those accused of tax evasion and violating maritime property.”

The draft law was referred to the parliament despite disagreements between parliamentary committees over the basic issue of who should and should not be included in the amnesty. The former government, led by Hariri, proposed a general amnesty law before it resigned last October in the face of mounting pressure resulting from public protests.

There were a number of protests during the legislative session, some opposing the adoption of the law entirely, while others were directed at specific provisions within it.

The draft law includes an amnesty for about 1,200 Sunni convicts, 700 of whom are Lebanese. Some are accused of killing soldiers in the Lebanese Army, possessing, transporting or using explosives, kidnap and participating in bombings.

It was also covers about 6,000 Lebanese Christians, most of whom fled to Israel following the withdrawal of occupying Israeli soldiers from southern Lebanon in 2000, as well as nearly 30,000 people from the Bekaa region, the majority of whom are from the Shiite community and wanted for drug trafficking, drug abuse, murder, kidnap, robbery and other crimes.

Hezbollah appeared to agree to a pardon for entering Israel, but object to a pardon for anyone who worked or communicated with the enemy or acquired Israeli citizenship.

Before the session, the Lebanese Order of Physicians highlighted overcrowding in Lebanese prisons, and this health risk this poses during COVID-19 pandemic.

“There are 20 prisons for men, four for women and one juvenile prison holding a total of 8,300 inmates, 57 percent of whom are in the Roumieh Central Prison,” the LOP said. It added that 57 percent of prisoners are Lebanese and 23 percent are Syrian, one third have been convicted while the rest are awaiting trial, and the overcrowding is so bad each prisoner has the equivalent of only one square meter of space. The organization described the situation as “a time bomb that must be avoided.”

In other business during the session, as part of anticorruption reforms required as a condition for receiving international economic aid, the Parliament approved a law to increase transparency in the banking sector, with responsibility for this resting with the Investigation Authority of the Lebanese Central Bank and the Anti-Corruption Commission.

It also endorsed a draft law to create a mechanism for top-level appointments in public administrations, centers and institutions. An amendment was added to prevent ministers from changing or adding candidates for the position of director general. The FPM opposed this, while Hezbollah and the Lebanese Forces voted in favor. Hariri accused the FPM of having a “desire to possess the entire country.”

MPs rejected a draft law to allow Lebanon to join the International Organization for Migration because, said MP Gebran Bassil, “it’s unconstitutional and facilitates the accession, integration and settlement process.” Lebanon hosts about 200,000 Palestinian and a million Syrian refugees.

The session sparked a wave of street protests. Some of them, led by the Syrian Social Nationalist Party and the Lebanese Communist Party, opposed the approval of a general amnesty that includes those who fled to Israel.

Protesters burned the Israeli flag in Sidon in protest against a law that “affects Israeli agents who sold their land, fought their people, and plotted against them.” They set up a symbolic gallows on which they wrote: “This is the fate of Zionist agents who fled execution.”

Others, including the families of Muslim detainees, staged demonstrations in support of the amnesty.