BEIRUT: Lebanon has announced that it will reopen Rafik Hariri International Airport in Beirut in early July.
Prime Minister Hassan Diab said during a meeting of the tourism sector’s representatives on Tuesday: “We will work to resume flights to the Arabian Gulf region, and we will focus on countries conducting PCR tests to detect coronavirus infections.”
The Cabinet Office said on Tuesday that all public-sector employees should return to their workplaces while “taking the necessary measures to prevent coronavirus.”
The total number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Lebanon reached 1,368 as of Tuesday after 18 new cases were recorded. All of the new cases had been in contact with infected people. The death toll stands at 30.
The government is trying to improve the economic situation, which has worsened with the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, by promoting medical tourism, Diab told the heads of tourist establishments, restaurants and hotels.
The leaders of the tourism sector’s syndicates complained of the decline in their businesses due to the deterioration of the lira. The president of the Union of Owners of Restaurants, Cafes, Amusements and Patisseries, Tony Al-Rami, said that “80 percent of restaurants, including top restaurants and establishments, have not been able to open.”
The president of the Syndicate of Tourist Establishments in South Lebanon, Ali Tabajah, said that “95 percent of the establishments in the south could not open because they were unable to pay rent or even buy goods.”
The head of the Syndicate of Car Rental Agencies, Mohammed Daqduq, highlighted that “25 percent of car rental companies have closed, and there are 700 unemployed families because this sector depends 76 percent on expatriates and foreign tourists.”
The head of the Syndicate of Maritime Firms, Jean Beiruty, said: “Domestic tourism is not possible due to the high exchange rate of the dollar, and 80 percent of maritime firms did not open because their maintenance licenses have not been completed.”
Jean Abboud, president of the Association of Travel and Tourist Agents, warned that “the inability to transfer money abroad will lead companies to withdraw from Lebanon.”
Ibrahim Al-Zaidi, head of the Syndicate of Restaurants in the Southern Suburbs of Beirut and Mount Lebanon, said that “the main problem lies in the dollar exchange rate.”
“The victim is not the restaurant sector alone, but also the employees who lost their salaries,” he said.
Following the disturbances during the protests on Saturday former Prime Minister Saad Hariri attended a meeting held on Tuesday by the Supreme Islamic Legislative Council in Dar Al-Fatwa. Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdul Latif Derian presided over the meeting. The council, which includes Sunni figures, called on the government to “impose control on the entire Lebanese territory, including stopping smuggling through the Lebanese-Syrian border, adjusting the exchange rate of the dollar, and addressing the random price hikes that are burdening citizens.”
The council accused “infiltrators, who were among the peaceful protesters last Saturday, of attacking the security forces and carrying out acts of sabotage of public and private property.” The council demanded that an investigation be held and the instigators of the riots that took place in Beirut’s streets be held accountable.
The council warned against “igniting the fire of sectarian strife in light of the offensive slogans that targeted a religious figure,” demanding that the perpetrators be held accountable. It also called on Muslims in Lebanon to “rise above the strife-inciting hate speech and adhere to the spiritual and patriotic values that make Lebanon the country of coexistence.”
In the Palace of Justice in Beirut, the head of the Beirut Bar Association, Melhem Khalaf, stressed that “dialogue is the only way to restore what has been destroyed by the crises.” He said: “We will not allow our unity to be targeted.”