BEIRUT: Lebanon’s Higher Defense Council recommended a two-week extension of the country’s lockdown on Tuesday, amid a continued spike of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) infections in the country, which, if approved by the Cabinet on Thursday, would see the lockdown set to end on June 7.
Lebanon recorded 23 new infections on Tuesday: Eight were resident citizens and 15 returning expats who were not tested before arrival in the country, raising the total number of confirmed cases to 954.
Prime Minister Hassan Diab called on the Lebanese people “not to take the coronavirus issue lightly and to take preventive measures against it.”
Diab stressed that Lebanon could be placed under total lockdown once again if citizens did not adhere to social distancing measures, warning that “unprecedented measures” could be implemented if the “state of chaos” persisted.
After the Higher Defense Council’s meeting, Lebanese Health Minister Hamad Hasan said the country was in a “transitional phase,” calling for the cooperation of municipalities and communities to ensure that lockdown measures were being followed.
Lebanon opened its border with Syria for the third time since closing it on March 15 as part of measures to curb the outbreak of the coronavirus. It approved the entry of 150 people through Lebanon’s Aboudieh border crossing, who were subjected to testing and required to undergo home quarantine for 14 days.
Six Middle East Airlines planes carrying evacuated Lebanese expats from Kuwait City, Doha, Paris, Georgia, Abidjan in the Ivory Coast and Cotonou in Benin arrived in Beirut on Tuesday — part of the third phase of the government’s repatriation plan, which began on May 14 and will run until May 24.
The extended lockdown has stunted Lebanon’s already flailing economy, with the impact most devastating on migrant domestic workers.
Lebanese Labor Minister Lamia Yammine followed up on the situation of foreign workers in Lebanon with a delegation from the Ethiopian Consulate in Beirut, headed by the country’s charge d’affaires, Aklilu Tatere Wube. The discussions focused on the “voluntary repatriation of workers to their country, the problems experienced by workers as a result of the economic conditions that have emerged in Lebanon, and ways to coordinate with the ministry to obtain their rights,” reported the minister’s office.
The exchange rate of the US dollar at money exchanges has doubled, creating problems between employers and foreign workers paid in dollars.
The economic crisis, fueled by COVID-19, has forced various sectors to call for assistance.
Hani Bohsali, president of the Syndicate of Importers of Foodstuffs, Consumer Products and Drinks, warned: “Lebanon’s food reserve has plummeted to dangerous levels due to the difficulties facing the food import sector as a result of the lack of liquidity in dollars and the high exchange rate, sending commodities prices skyrocketing.
“The situation will lead to the possibility that the import of basic and nonessential food products will cease after about two months, and therefore the loss of goods from the market after about four months,” Bohsali added.
Amid the uptick of infections, the Cabinet also agreed to end the academic year for schools and to cancel official state exams, which were already in doubt due to the nonpayment of school fees by many parents, resulting in a failure to pay teachers’ salaries.
However, the General Directorate of Islamic Endowments in Lebanon has announced the reopening of mosques for Friday prayers.
The directorate said in a statement: “The mosques will reopen gradually based on medical reports from health specialists on the coronavirus pandemic.”
The directorate reminded people about preventive measures for performing Friday prayers, such as refraining from handshaking, and urged chronically ill people, seniors, women and children to stay at home. The directorate also called on all imams to shorten sermons to 10 minutes.