BEIRUT: Lebanon may tighten health checks on expats after 11 out of the 226 nationals who returned on Tuesday tested positive for coronavirus.
The expats had come back from Paris and Madrid, and there was an additional coronavirus case discovered on a private jet.
Those returning from abroad were placed in quarantine for 14 days, as were the employees who came into contact with them at hotels they spent their first night in upon arriving in Beirut.
Lebanon had 575 cases as of Wednesday and a death toll of 19, according to a Health Ministry report.
“We have not recorded cases among passengers returning from Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Kinshasa because these countries are not considered infected with the virus,” Dr. Abdul Rahman Bizri, an infectious disease specialist and member of the emergency coronavirus committee on coronavirus, told Arab News. “The problem was with citizens returning from Europe, as many of those countries have a high number of cases. In light of the test results of expatriates returning from Istanbul and Lagos, we will assess the matter and make decisions at a medical meeting Thursday, and we may be strict in testing people before they board the plane to Beirut.”
Officials are also considering suspension of operations to repatriate Lebanese from Europe.
Lebanese President Michel Aoun said there was a need for tighter security measures and to maintain coordination between the military and security forces, while Prime Minister Hassan Diab said it was important to take precautions and “pre-emptive security (measures)” to ensure stability. The Supreme Council of Defense is due to discuss the possibility of extending the general mobilization period until the end of this month.
Bizri said that the spread of the virus in Bsharri town, where there have been 34 more cases, required Lebanese municipal authorities to enforce quarantines because returning expats hailed from different regions. Monitoring quarantine was the responsibility of the Interior Ministry, he added.
Health Minister Hamad Hassan said that the critical period between containing the epidemic in Lebanon and the continuation of its spread would extend until the end of this month.
He visited Bsharri to inspect the situation and the preventive measures put in place to check the spread of the disease.
Amaury Gregoire, who is head of the Medecins Sans Frontières (MSF) mission in Lebanon, expressed concern about the insufficient number of team members currently present in the Bekaa Valley in the event of an outbreak. This region includes Syrian and Palestinian refugee camps, although no cases have been reported in camps.
He said medical centers were making preparations “to better anticipate the flood of COVID-19 patients” and that non-emergency surgical services would be temporarily suspended.
Hospitals in Bekaa and south Lebanon, especially the central hospital of the Palestine Red Crescent Society in Lebanon, were being supported through the provision of hygiene supplies and breathing tubes for patients, in addition to training UN staff in infection prevention and control, and organizing intensive health awareness sessions on COVID-19 for fragile communities in Tripoli and Akkar.
Lebanese Minister of Social Affairs Ramzi Musharrafieh launched a program within the social emergency plan to help families affected by the pandemic.
He emphasized in a press conference that none of the families that submitted their forms to the ministry will be excluded, and the Lebanese army will distribute aid.
Sheikh Abdul Latif Derian, the Grand Mufti of Lebanon, directed institutions affiliated with Dar Al-Fatwa in all governorates to work with philanthropists to help the needy and alleviate hunger and poverty.
Derian appealed to Arab states to support Lebanon and its people in facing the repercussions of the coronavirus pandemic.
The prime minister condemned price gouging as food prices rose by up to 70 percent. “The livelihood of Lebanese people is a red line, and it is forbidden for businessmen to touch food security,” he said.