Lebanon may extend virus curbs as death rate rises

A view of empty Beirut's seaside Corniche, as Lebanon extends a countrywide lockdown by two weeks to combat the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Beirut, Lebanon March 26, 2020. (REUTERS)
Short Url
Updated 30 March 2020

Lebanon may extend virus curbs as death rate rises

  • Health ministry figures show that coronavirus infection extends across all age groups and that Mount Lebanon area remains an infection “hotspot”

BEIRUT: Lebanon is facing at least another two weeks of lockdown to bring the coronavirus crisis under control, a leading health official told Arab News.
Dr. Abdul Rahman Al-Bizri, an infectious disease specialist and member of the emergency committee on coronavirus, said that the Lebanese health system could handle the outbreak “as long as people continue to practice preventive measures seriously.”
His comments came as the number of virus fatalities in the country rose to 10 on Sunday following the deaths of two patients, both in their 80s. Both victims were suffering from chronic illnesses and died in separate Beirut hospitals.
According to the Ministry of Health, the number of confirmed virus cases climbed to 438, an increase of 26 from Saturday, while the number of people in quarantine increased to 1,074.
Health ministry figures show that coronavirus infection extends across all age groups and that Mount Lebanon area remains an infection “hotspot.”
Al-Bizri urged people to follow curfew guidelines and self-isolate where necessary.
“We have not been able yet, through epidemiological surveillance, to know where 10-15 percent of the cases caught their infection. But it is not frightening as long as we still practice preventive measures seriously,” he said. Home quarantine orders are in place around the country, while security services are also monitoring a curfew at night following government moves to curb the spread of the virus.
Meanwhile, the government is facing growing pressure to bring back Lebanese expatriates stranded abroad after Lebanon closed its air, land and sea crossings on Feb. 20 as part of measures to counter the pandemic.
Most of those seeking to return are in African countries where the outbreak was limited when Lebanon shut down its airports.
However, the Lebanese Ambassador to Rome, Mira Daher, said that Lebanese students in Italy “do not want to return and none of them is infected with the virus.”
Students are remaining at home, but want banking procedures eased to allow their families to send money, he said.

FASTFACT

The number of virus fatalities in Lebanon rose to 10 on Sunday following the deaths of two patients, both in their 80s.

The campaign to help expatriates return has been led by Parliamentary Speaker Nabih Berri, who warned that he may suspend participation in the government and set a Tuesday deadline for Lebanese airspace to be opened to allow expatriates to fly home.
Lebanon’s Prime Minister Hassan Diab has refused to reopen the airports, saying Lebanese abroad had been given a time limit to return before the airspace was closed.
The government is expected to make a final decision on Tuesday regarding expatriates’ return, although it is unknown how many will want to return at their own expense. Al-Bizri told Arab News that “if these Lebanese are getting medical care where they reside, it is better that they do not come to Lebanon, but if medical care is not available to them, no one should prevent them from returning.”
He ruled out a return of expatriates in under two weeks and said that any repatriation should happen in stages to avoid overtaxing the health system.
The Amal Movement, headed by Berri, said that a hotel in Marawaniya, in the south of the country, would be equipped as a health isolation center for expatriates.
MP Ziyad Aswad, from the Free Patriotic Movement, criticized calls for expatriates to be returned. “After more than four weeks of protection measures against coronavirus, everyone has got used to it,” he said.
Security forces joined Lebanese people to salute health staff and the Red Ross on Sunday night, offering public applause for their work at Rafik Hariri University Hospital in Beirut.


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.