BEIRUT: The Lebanese Parliament convened for the third time this week on Wednesday as dozens of protestors again took to the streets in their cars to raise their concerns about rising poverty and hardships amid the COVID-19 lockdown.
Parliament dropped the expedited status of a proposed law to waive the immunity of presidents and ministers and returned it to parliamentary committees “for further study, to secure the independence of the judiciary and its constitutional right to trial.”
Parliament also rejected a bill proposing that — in line with demands of protestors for the past six months — the current parliamentary term be shortened and elections held as soon as possible, and another bill proposing the suspension of public works in order to focus on the construction of the Bisri Dam. The dam has been strongly opposed by the civil movement, residents of mountainous areas, and environmental activists.
Parliament did approve a proposed law put forward by MP Paula Yacoubian to ban pictures and posters of political leaders, officials, and employees in public places. Prime Minister Hassan Diab announced his approval of this move, while Progressive Socialist Party bloc MP Hadi Abou Hassan said, “It is implementation that matters.”
Independent MP Michel Moawad suggested that the law should also apply to “posters of religious figures and party flags,” referring to Hezbollah.
A number of MPs attempted to address Lebanon’s ongoing economic and social crisis, which has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. They warned of possible civic unrest and of the possibility of a greater collapse of the Lebanese lira against the dollar. A number of MPs also enquired about the fate of misappropriated funds.
Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri responded that the government “has completed its promised economic plan, and Parliament will soon discuss it.”
After the legislative session, Diab said the government’s reform plan would be discussed next week.
The civil movement continued its car-bound protests for the second day in succession — obeying the social-distancing guidelines — but protestors were unable to get close to where the legislative session was held.
The Ministry of Health reported five new COVID-19 cases, including two in Rayak in the Bekaa Valley, which brought the total number of cases in Lebanon to 682. One patient from Dinniyeh in northern Lebanon with underlying health issues died bringing the number of COVID-19-related deaths to 22.
Baalbek-Hermel Governor Bachir Khodr announced that the Palestinian refugee in the Galilee camp who tested positive for COVID-19 earlier — becoming the first case reported in Palestinian camps in Lebanon — had taken a second test and the result had been negative. Khodr claimed “all measures have been taken as if the result were positive.”
Health Minister Hamad Hassan said: “The Ministry of Health and international organizations, especially UNRWA, have a shared responsibility to implement the same measures adopted with the discovery of every other case in other parts of Lebanon.”
The camp’s entrances have been closed and other measures put in place by state security and municipal police. The Popular Committee inside the camp stressed the importance of committing to home quarantine, closing shops, and sanitizing neighborhoods, houses and cars.
Hamad also said that the ministry has “15 days to increase the number of randomized PCR tests to get a better understanding of the epidemic in Lebanon and take the appropriate measures in light of field data,” adding that the apparent decrease in the rate of infection is not a sufficient indicator to relax the current measures, in case that leads to a second wave of infections.
Dr. Iman Shankiti, World Health Organization (WHO) representative in Lebanon, said the measures taken to prevent the spread of the epidemic in Lebanon should continue. She counseled patience on the part of the Lebanese people, and said that Lebanon has entered international COVID-19 clinical trials.
The US Embassy in Lebanon announced on Wednesday that it will provide $13.3 million to help stop the spread of COVID-19 in Lebanon, which includes an $8 million donation to UNHCR to assist refugees and Lebanese host communities.