Lebanese rush to shops, banks, and cafes as 4-day virus lockdown lifted

Special Lebanese rush to shops, banks, and cafes as 4-day virus lockdown lifted
People walk past open shops in Beirut, as Lebanon is gradually reopening its economy following a shutdown imposed to curb the spread of the coronavirus. (Reuters)
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Updated 19 May 2020

Lebanese rush to shops, banks, and cafes as 4-day virus lockdown lifted

Lebanese rush to shops, banks, and cafes as 4-day virus lockdown lifted
  • PM urges citizens to ‘take responsibility’ for stopping spread of COVID-19 as anti-government protesters return to streets

BEIRUT: The end of Lebanon’s four-day lockdown on Monday saw citizens flood to shops, banks, cafes, and places of work amid government fears that ignoring social distancing guidelines could have serious “consequences” for the country.

Pressures caused by the economic crisis and collapse of the Lebanese pound forced the decision to reopen the country for business a week before Eid Al-Fitr, despite random testing for the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) detecting new cases in the capital Beirut and elsewhere.

Prime Minister Hassan Diab said: “Each of us must take responsibility for himself.”

Monday also witnessed a resumption of virtual talks between the Lebanese government and representatives of the International Monetary Fund aimed at easing the country’s dire financial situation.

As the latest session of negotiations took place protesters returned to the streets to carry on their anti-government demonstrations, with sit-ins taking place outside the Palace of Justice in Beirut, the Ministry of Economy, and the Ministry of Social Affairs.

Many Lebanese emerging from the four-day curfew were reported not to be complying with government requests to wear a face mask and apply social distancing rules to avoid any further spread of COVID-19.

Assem Araji, head of Lebanon’s parliamentary health committee, told Arab News: “Continuing to close the country is no longer useful in light of the suffocating economic crisis and the collapse of the Lebanese pound.

“The country had to be reopened because the people want to eat and the unemployment rate touched 70 percent, according to the Ministry of Social Affairs.

“The condition for this return to work was the commitment to preventive measures, but people seem not to want to comply and we cannot put a soldier for every citizen to force them to comply. It is the responsibility of individuals to take care of themselves, their families and all who come into contact with them, and I fear that recklessness will lead to consequences.”

Continuing to close the country is no longer useful in light of the suffocating economic crisis and the collapse of the Lebanese pound.

Assem Araji, Head of Lebanon’s parliamentary health committee

The end of the lockdown coincided with the release of the results of random tests conducted by medical teams in Beirut and other regions to help determine the epidemiological trend of the virus.

Seventeen Syrian and foreign workers living in a building in the Ras El Nabeh area of Beirut were found to have contracted COVID-19 and were immediately placed under home quarantine by the Internal Security Forces. And a soldier from the municipality of Libbaya in the western Bekaa district was also reported to have been infected with the virus.

In the towns and villages of Akkar in northern Lebanon, there was heavy traffic on roads as food stores, cafes and restaurants reopened with many people again reported to be ignoring preventive measures to control COVID-19.

Sobhi Saqr, mayor of Hermel in the northern Bekaa, said there was confusion due to the government’s “lack of clarity” over the lifting of restrictions.

The president of Nabatieh Traders’ Association, Mohammed Kassem Melli, said: “The agony in the commercial sector has prompted us to pressure the concerned actors to allow us to reopen the markets, and the communications succeeded in allowing the opening of the commercial markets throughout the week leading up to Eid Al-Fitr.”

Chlorinated swimming pools have been given the green light to reopen and the Minister of Education has recommended ending the academic year and promoting students to the next level, according to certain regulations.

Head of the Syndicate of Seaside Resort Operators, Jean Beiruti, said the resumption of work would “be without profit, but rather a continuity, in the hope that the sector will survive in light of the economic crisis, which may not provide the option to go to the swimming pools for many.”

Wael Kassab, a member of the Merchants’ Association in the southern city of Sidon, said: “There was a remarkable movement of shoppers inside Sidon’s commercial market, but the majority of customers were surprised by the high prices. They were not eager to buy except in small amounts in shops selling kids’ clothes.”

Araji said that it was likely that the number of infected people in Lebanon was double that of declared figures because “about 80 percent of people do not show symptoms of having COVID-19. We did not conduct PCR (polymerase chain reaction) tests for all people, and therefore what the results show indicates that the number is greater. This applies to the whole world.”

He added that over the three months since the outbreak of COVID-19 in Lebanon, doctors and health teams throughout the country had learnt how to deal with the virus and had shared their experiences. “But if the virus mutates, our capabilities decline, and we go for the herd immunity.”