Lebanon issues fines to enforce wearing of face masks

A street vendor sells protective face masks and face shields along a street, as face masks become compulsory in public as part of the latest measures by authorities to curb the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Beirut, Lebanon May 29, 2020. (REUTERS)
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Updated 30 May 2020

Lebanon issues fines to enforce wearing of face masks

  • The UN said that the pandemic had hit the country at a time of instability, leading to an increase in domestic violence and the gender gap in employment and unpaid work

BEIRUT: Lebanese security forces on Friday began handing out fines to enforce the wearing of face masks, as the country recorded four new coronavirus cases to bring its tally to 1,172.

The fine is LBP50,000 ($33), a steep sum amid the country’s ongoing economic crisis and the financial hardships that the Lebanese have endured for months because of it.

People are wearing surgical masks or improvised face coverings to avoid the fines when out and about and security forces have organized patrols to ensure compliance with the face mask decision, especially among worshippers heading to mosques.

Lebanon’s interior minister said that, as of May 8, places of worship could reopen to the general public provided that worshippers performed ablutions in homes, brought their own prayer mats, wore face masks and gloves, and checked their temperature before entering mosques.

Health Minister Hamad Hassan said 76,000 PCR tests had been conducted to date, and the government is waiting to reopen the airport to commercial flights pending the assessment of the COVID-19 response committee.

“The decline in the number of cases in Lebanon is not due to the decline or non-development of the virus, but in Lebanon things are still under control and the health sector is still able to receive and treat the infected cases so far,” Dr. Firas Al-Abyad, director of the Hariri Governmental University Hospital, told Arab News. “The number of patients on ventilators in the Hariri Governmental University Hospital, which is allocated by the state to receive COVID-19 cases in Lebanon, can be counted on one hand.”

Al-Abyad said that the total number of cases constituted 0.2 percent of the country’s population and residents, and that this figure was due to the “rapid measures” taken by the government and the “rapid traceability” of people infected with coronavirus and contact tracing. “The decline in the number of cases depends on people’s commitment to wearing face masks and social distancing,” he added.

FASTFACT

People are wearing surgical masks or improvised face coverings to avoid the fines when out and about and security forces have organized patrols to ensure compliance with the face mask decision, especially among worshippers heading to mosques.

Dr. Al-Abyad said the committee evaluating the path of the virus and future steps to take in response, including the airport’s reopening, depended on the study of the evacuation experience that took place in three stages, the resulting infections and whether this number was acceptable.

“The problem in Lebanon is that a large number of people depend on travel to complete their work and there are many expatriates and students abroad. We have to wait for the decision of the International Air Transport Association allowing passengers to be seated next to each other in an aircraft. We have to look at it in two ways: Health and public safety, and economic and social impact. The decision is up to the council of ministers,” he said.

The UN said that the pandemic had hit the country at a time of instability, leading to an increase in domestic violence and the gender gap in employment and unpaid work.

“Since the outbreak of the pandemic women are reporting lay-offs, and income and wage reductions at higher numbers to men, which could result in a prolonged dip in women’s engagement in the paid economy,” Rachel Dore-Weeks, head of UN Women Lebanon, said. “Lebanon has been witnessing an increase in cases of domestic violence since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

The UN, she added, was working to provide “unconditional cash” to women and men laid off as a result of the pandemic, and basic assistance and urgent protection services. It was also working to provide advice to government partners on how social protection and economic stimulus measures could be devised to equally affect women and men.

Asma Kurdahi, head of UNFPA Lebanon, said: “With movement being restricted and many confined to their homes, women and girls find themselves at risk of gender-based violence and harmful practices on a daily basis. We must continue to work towards ensuring protection measures are in place to reach those most at risk.”
 


UN food chief: Beirut could run out of bread in 2 1/2 weeks

Updated 25 min 43 sec ago

UN food chief: Beirut could run out of bread in 2 1/2 weeks

  • Beasley said a ship with 17,500 metric tons of wheat flour should arrive in Beirut “within two weeks"

UNITED NATIONS: The head of the UN food agency said Monday he’s “very, very concerned” Lebanon could run out of bread in about 2 ½ weeks because 85% of the country’s grain comes through Beirut’s devastated port — but he believes an area of the port can be made operational this month.
David Beasley, who is in Beirut assessing damage and recovery prospects, told a virtual UN briefing on the humanitarian situation following last week’s explosion in the Lebanese capital that “at the devastated site, we found a footprint that we can operate on a temporary basis.”
“Working with the Lebanese army, we believe that we can clear part of that site,” Beasley said. “We’ll be airlifting in a lot of equipment, doing everything we can.”
Beasley said he had met with Cabinet ministers — who all resigned later Monday — and told them the UN needs “absolute cooperation now, no obstacles” because people on the streets are angry and said they need international help but “please make certain that the aid comes directly to the people.”
For the first time since last week’s blast, two ships docked at Beirut’s port on Monday including one carrying grain, according to state media.
The head of the workers union at the port, Bechara Asmar told Al-Jadeed TV that since the grain silos were destroyed by the explosion, the material will be pumped directly to trucks or bags after being sanitized.”
“This is a glimmer of hope,” Asmar said about the first arrivals adding that the port’s 5th basin where the ships docked remains intact despite the blast.
Beasley, the executive director of the World Food Program, said a ship with 17,500 metric tons of wheat flour should arrive in Beirut “within two weeks, and that’s to put bread on the table of all the people of Lebanon and that will give us a bread supply for 20 days.”
“While we’re doing that, we’ve got a 30-day supply of about 30,000 metric tons of wheat that we’re bringing in, and then another 100,000 metric tons over the next 60 days after that,” Beasley said.
Najat Rochdi, the UN humanitarian coordinator for Lebanon, told a press conference after briefing UN members that Beasley went to the port with engineers to assess what can be done.
“They are very optimistic to start actually this rehabilitation as soon as this week to increase the capacity of the port of Beirut,” she said.
Rochdi said she understands a ship will be arriving Thursday with some construction material, followed by a ship with wheat and grain, “to address the issue of food security and to hopefully make sure Beirut is not going to be short of bread.”
UN humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock told diplomats the “swift and wide-ranging” humanitarian response is just the first of a three-phased response to the tragedy.
“The second — recovery and reconstruction — will cost billions of dollars and require a mix of public and private finance,” he said. ”The third element is responding to the Lebanon’s pre-existing socioeconomic crisis which is already exacerbated by COVID-19.”
Lowcock, the undersecretary-general for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief coordinator, stressed the Beirut explosion last Tuesday “will have repercussions far beyond those we see in front of us now.”
He urged donors, international financial institutions and the wider international community to “come together and put their shoulder to the wheel,” stressing that the Lebanese people will be served best by a collective response.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told UN member nations the voices of Lebanon’s angry people “must be heard.”
“It is important that a credible and transparent investigation determine the cause of the explosion and bring about the accountability demanded by the Lebanese people,” he said. “It is also important that reforms be implemented so as to address the needs of the Lebanese people for the longer term.”
Guterres also pledged that “the United Nations will stand with Lebanon to help alleviate the immediate suffering and support its recovery.”