BEIRUT: The repatriation of Lebanese nationals from Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Nigeria and the Ivory Coast is expected to get underway on Sunday, the government has revealed.
Lebanon’s plans to fly home thousands of expats trapped abroad under travel restrictions imposed to stop the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), have hit delays due to concerns about virus testing procedures and the large number of returnees involved.
Fears over health risks have also been raised by Lebanese residents in communities where isolation and quarantine centers have been earmarked to house returning expats.
Announcing the planned Sunday start of the repatriation program, Lebanon’s Foreign Minister Nassif Hitti said: “Four Middle East Airlines (MEA) aircraft will be charged with the task of flying those wishing to return (from Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Nigeria and the Ivory Coast).
“If there is a delay in the procedures due to the challenges facing the concerned states as a result of the spread of the virus, the repatriation might be delayed until Tuesday.
“A medical team will be on board the aircraft to oversee procedures. All those wishing to board the planes will be tested to ensure that they are in good health. They will again be tested upon arrival at Beirut Rafic Hariri International Airport.
“If their test comes back positive, they will be transferred to hospital, but if their test comes back negative, they will be transferred to an isolation facility to spend two weeks there,” Hitti added.
In a statement, MEA said: “All those wishing to come back to Lebanon, whose names are on the lists prepared by the Lebanese embassies abroad, should contact its offices in the concerned countries to book and receive their tickets.”
To be allowed on board, the airline pointed out the need to complete the mandatory medical form and email it to the Lebanese Ministry of Health at [email protected].
Hezbollah and the Amal Movement in Lebanon have been working to provide buildings for the isolation of returnees but despite assurances about safety many communities remain concerned about the dangers of expats coming in from abroad and fueling the spread of the killer virus.
One resident in Nabatiyeh, who wished to remain anonymous, told Arab News: “They said that they are preparing an abandoned hotel in the area to isolate those who are brought back. This hotel cannot accommodate the large number of returnees they mentioned.
“In addition, we do not know the accuracy of the preventive measures to be taken. The general mobilization is not being respected in the region. How will the situation be when expatriates come back, keeping in mind that some of them have political protection?”
The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Lebanon on Friday rose to 508 with the total number of deaths up by one to 17. The Lebanese Ministry of Health said 644 people tested for the virus in the past 24 hours were awaiting results.
Friday prayers in mosques throughout the country were canceled by religious authorities with imams calling from minarets for worshippers to stay at home.
Lebanese security forces have so far issued 3,511 tickets to people violating the country’s general mobilization rules which include a nighttime curfew. The Lebanese Army used social media to again urge people to remain in their homes and not to breach measures brought in by the government aimed at preventing the spread of COVID-19.
Meanwhile, in a bid to lift spirits, a video of 30 members of the national orchestra performing singer Fairuz’s song, “Lebanon, I Love You,” took the country’s social media by storm. The artists each played from their home using video conferencing to synchronize their performances. They were accompanied by a choir and led by the Maestro Andre Hajj.