BEIRUT: The Lebanese Cabinet on Tuesday approved plans for special flights to bring home expatriates trapped abroad by the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak.
Ministers agreed the repatriation initiative as Lebanon recorded 17 new cases of infection, taking the total to 463. One COVID-19 patient in his 40s with underlying health issues was reported to have died. Twelve people in the country have now lost their lives after contracting the virus.
During the Cabinet session, proposals were passed to “repatriate Lebanese expatriates wishing to leave their countries of residence due to the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. This would allow an exceptional opening of the airport for Middle East Airlines (MEA) flights to organize the repatriation process.”
The flights will take place as soon as medics have received newly ordered COVID-19 test kits which will allow them to check if returnees have been infected.
The Lebanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs is currently finding out how many individuals want to return to Lebanon at their own expense.
With Lebanon now into the third week of restrictions on movement to help prevent the spread of COVID-19, reports were emerging of shops reopening and traffic returning to the streets in regions outside of the capital Beirut.
In the northern city of Tripoli there were demonstrations outside the office of the Tripoli and north mufti, Sheikh Malek Al-Shaar, against the deterioration of living conditions. Protesters waved banners stating, “people are hungry but are not begging.”
With many businesses closed and people forced to stay at home under government orders, some Lebanese have found other methods of making money.
Omar Hijazi, the owner of a large sanitaryware store in Beirut, set up a vegetable stall in front of his shop after being told to shut. He told Arab News that he needed to provide food for his family and had “to pay for loans, rent, and expenses to support his little child.”
He said Lebanese security forces had imposed measures on him to allow him to sell the vegetables which included covering and sterilizing them.
“The merchandise in my store is worth $100,000, yet by the end of the month I am not able to pay $100. Two days ago, I started selling vegetables, which is not my profession. I am totally devastated yet selling vegetables will procure food and beverages for my family until the crisis is over,” he added.
However, many people in Lebanon have been supporting health workers, with TV campaigns seeing generous donations for Rafik Hariri University Hospital’s medical and nursing teams, and also toward the Lebanese Red Cross. Municipalities, and political and public figures have also been working to distribute aid to families in need.
However, the Consumer Protection Association warned that poor people in the country could soon have no choice but to leave their homes to make money regardless of the dangers of contracting COVID-19.
Association head, Dr. Zuhair Berro, said: “The poor do not care about the coronavirus. They are more concerned with their livelihood. We are witnessing a deterioration in living standards.”