Lebanon divided over face masks in virus battle

Many types of face masks have been seen in Lebanon, in different colors and designs such as khaki to suit military uniforms and black for security forces. (Reuters/File)
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Updated 05 April 2020

Lebanon divided over face masks in virus battle

  • Beirut has reported 17 deaths and 520 confirmed cases, an increase of 12 new cases in 24 hours

BEIRUT: Lebanon is divided over the use of masks in the battle against coronavirus disease (COVID-19), with the government and medical professionals at odds over how useful they are in restricting the spread of the disease.

The country has reported 17 deaths and 520 confirmed cases, an increase of 12 new cases in 24 hours.
Last month, on March 15, the government imposed steps to check the spread of the virus. Measures included social distancing and wearing face masks and gloves.
Doctors in TV interviews have, however, discouraged people from wearing face masks while outside because it sent the wrong message about safety and hand hygiene.
“A customer would buy an average of seven masks a week in light of the circular that imposed wearing masks when going to a supermarket, bank or while driving,” pharmacist Robert Tenn told Arab News.
He said the rise in the US dollar against Lebanon’s currency had led to a significant rise in the price of masks. “A box containing 50 masks is being sold for LBP100,000 ($66) when its earlier price never exceeded LBP15,000. We are referring to the regular medical mask and not the N95K, which is firmer and more effective in protecting against coronavirus and other viruses if used correctly. But nothing is a substitute for washing hands.”
Lebanon was back to importing its needs from China after China resumed its exports, he added.




Architect Edgard Mekssas uses 3D printers to produce these masks. (Supplied)

“There are new types of locally manufactured masks in Lebanon, and these are cheaper than the imported ones, but they lack medical standards, so I do not buy them to sell them to people. These are the product of personal efforts, and some are made of cloth that can be penetrated by viruses.” Many types of face masks have been seen in Lebanon, in different colors and designs such as khaki to suit military uniforms and black for security forces. There are also masks with logos of political parties.
A Nabatiyeh-based media man, Samer Wehbe, said that the masks bearing party slogans are available in the market. He said the Amal movement is promoting green-colored masks, which is the color of the movement. “They may also use these masks with their slogan later,” he added.

HIGHLIGHTS

• Beirut has reported 17 deaths and 520 confirmed cases.

• A box containing 50 face masks is being sold for $66.

• Masks with logos of political parties are also marketed.

A resident of the southern suburb, Hassan, said: “There are street vendors offering colored masks at low prices but they are of very poor quality.”  
He did not rule out the possibility of political parties using their slogans on locally manufactured masks. “But people feel a bit shy using such masks publicly,” he added.
The Internal Security Forces Directorate on Saturday tweeted a video showing inmates at Roumieh Central Prison making medical masks to be used by security forces and prisoners when needed.
Others have also begun making masks.
Architect Edgard Mekssas said there was a Swedish design that protected the eyes, nose, and mouth and he used 3D printers in his office to recreate it.
“We have developed the technology so that the robot-like machines that used to produce a mask every two hours started producing it within 48 minutes,” Mekssas told Arab News.
The mask comprises a piece of clear plastic that covers the entire face and is attached to a plastic arch that surrounds the head. Mekssas said his mask did not contain the spongy material that picked up germs and that his product had a medical certificate saying it did not transmit germs.
His printers were working around the clock, producing 155 masks a day, and the products were being sold at a nominal price on beiruting.com.
He contacted the Lebanese Dental Association to distribute the masks provided they donate enough money for purchasing the raw materials required for the masks.
Mekssas shared his experience online so that others could benefit from it for free. “It is time for social solidarity and raising awareness to ensure the safety of society,” he added.
Meanwhile, planes carrying Lebanese expats returning from coronavirus-hit countries are due to land on Sunday and authorities are trying to plan for their quarantine.
Repatriation efforts have been delayed 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.


Turkish map of ‘divided’ Iraq triggers criticism

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. (AP)
Updated 3 min 31 sec ago

Turkish map of ‘divided’ Iraq triggers criticism

  • Row follows launch of two major military operations against PKK last month in northern Iraq

ISTANBUL: A map posted by the official Twitter account of the Turkish Presidency drew an angry reaction from Baghdad because it showed a divided Iraq.

The map, which was deleted after criticism, was intended to illustrate the locations of Turkish troops that have crossed the border and advanced up to 40 kilometers in 38 areas of Northern Iraq. However, it highlighted the northern part of the country in yellow and the rest in green. It also revealed that Turkish forces were deployed in the cities of Erbil, Soran, Duhok and Zakho.

“If you share such maps, you will then legitimize other official sources who share maps of a divided Turkey,” said Aytun Ciray, a Turkish opposition politician from the IYI Party, emphasizing the need for respecting neighboring Iraq’s territorial unity.

The row over the map follows the launch of two major operations against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in mid-June in northern Iraq, dubbed Claw-Tiger and Claw-Eagle, which were criticized by Iraqi authorities. A fifth Turkish soldier has been killed during the ground offensive, Turkey’s Defense Ministry announced on Sunday night.

The PKK is listed as a terror group by Ankara, Brussels and Washington. The group allegedly uses about 81 locations in northern Iraq as bases from which to launch attacks in Turkey.

Baghdad considers the presence of Turkish troops a “blatant breach of the UN charter” and said it is concerned about the safety of “unarmed civilians” during Turkish operations. Iraqi Foreign Ministry spokesman Ahmad Al-Sahaf said on July 3 that the country might file an official complaint with the UN Security Council (UNSC) if Turkey does not halt its military activity in the north.

He added: “We reject any unilateral action that would harm our sovereignty. We started with a statement of condemnation and may resort to gathering support from the Arab League and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation and could file a complaint to the UNSC.”

Ryan Bohl, a regional analyst with the Stratfor geopolitical consultancy, suggested that the release of the contentious map was an attempt by Ankara to signal to Iraq, as well as the PKK and the international community, that it intends to maintain its current level of operations for some time.

“That in and of itself is a strain with Baghdad, since Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi can’t necessarily count on the operation winding down and going back to a status quo,” he said.

However, Bohl added that the withdrawal of the map shows that Ankara does not want to be viewed as a permanent occupying force by Iraq or its allies.

“(Turkey) wants northern Iraq to be seen as different than its spheres of influence in Syria, which are signaled to be much longer term,” he said. “So Ankara is trying to walk a fine line between showing that this operation will be more significant than previous ones against the PKK, but trying not to make it appear like it will be an occupying or permanent force in northern Iraq.”