BEIRUT: Lebanese authorities have set up a dedicated domestic violence hotline to deal with a surge in cases of physical, sexual and psychological abuse since the introduction of home quarantine over the coronavirus disease (COVID-19).
According to the National Commission for Lebanese Women (NCLW), the majority of reported attacks have been against women and girls.
An NCLW spokesperson said: “The psychological pressures caused by the home quarantine in these circumstances (the COVID-19 pandemic), in addition to the economic pressures, have contributed to an increase of physically, morally, psychologically, emotionally and sexually abusive practices inflicted by violent individuals on abused women and girls.”
The NCLW, in cooperation with Lebanon’s Internal Security Forces (ISF), has established a special phoneline linked to the ISF’s operations room along with a website for abuse victims and witnesses to report incidents of domestic violence.
Lt. Col. Joseph Msallam, head of the ISF’s public relations division, told Arab News: “March has seen a rise in the number of domestic violence complaints, which reached 48 cases. We quickly move to stop the perpetrators by order of the judicial authorities.
“People are losing their temper, and we have seen an increase in quarrels that occur for ridiculous reasons such as car parking. There was a case recorded in a southern suburb of Beirut a few days ago that developed into a murder.”
The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Lebanon on Thursday rose by 15 to 494, with 16 deaths and 43 recoveries.
Three patients were reported to be in a critical condition and over a period of 24 hours, 539 lab tests were carried out on people suspected of having contracted the virus.
A Lebanese doctor, George Antar, was reported by the National News Agency to have died in Brazil after being infected while treating COVID-19 patients in hospitals in San Paolo. He was in his 60s and from the town of Dakwa town in western Bekaa.
The Lebanese Ministry of Health and infectious disease specialists, meanwhile, warned that the number of COVID-19 cases in the country could be twice the official count.
Reviewing measures taken by the government over the past two weeks to slow the spread of COVID-19, Health Minister Hamad Hassan said: “The data to date is good, but the situation remains precarious and fraught with caution.
“If our society follows the instructions and guidance, it will successfully prevent the worst, which is the quick spread of the disease, similar to what happened in different countries around the world. We saw that no health system was able to cope with the epidemic when it had invaded society.
“The local spreading rate is still low due to the commitment of the fearful and disciplined community. The number of cases was doubling every five days, but today and with the efforts of everyone, we are close to reaching the goal of the number doubling every 10 days.”
However, the minister added: “Lebanon is still at risk, and sliding would be very dangerous and fast if we do not know how to manage the battle.”
As reports continued to be made of people violating home quarantine and night curfew rules, the Lebanese Army Command took to social media to urge citizens to “stay home and refrain from wandering unless it is absolutely necessary (to leave the house).”
During a Cabinet session on Thursday, Lebanese Prime Minister Hassan Diab was said to have hinted at taking “harsh measures in response to the violations that are happening.”
Meanwhile, the government was reconsidering its plan to fly home Lebanese expatriates trapped abroad by the COVID-19 outbreak after its proposed mechanism was rejected by a number of countries.
Director general of civil aviation at Rafic Hariri International Airport, Fadi Al-Hassan, said: “The number of people who wish to return to Lebanon and have registered their names in the Lebanese embassies ranges between 20,000 and 22,000 Lebanese expatriates, as per the figures of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.”
Addressing the Cabinet meeting on the issue, Lebanese President Michel Aoun said: “The return of Lebanese expatriates from abroad requires careful organization because the steady increase in their number necessitates applying exceptional measures that guarantee the safety of the returnees and their surroundings.”
Diab said: “We are forced to make changes to the return mechanism, and the tests (for COVID-19) will be conducted at the airport in Beirut. This will require a great effort.”
Agreement was also reached on the return of Lebanese students from abroad, especially those struggling financially due to the Lebanese banks’ restrictions on the transfer of dollars to foreign countries.
The Amal Movement and Hezbollah were preparing to quarantine returnees, including their supporters from African countries, in dedicated hotels in the south of the country.
The two parties have tried to reassure residents in the areas that will host the returnees. During a visit to the Khiam border region on Thursday, Hezbollah MP Ali Fayyad said: “Strict measures will be taken to prevent the situation from going out of control.”