Conflict, division blight virus response in Libya

Members of the Libyan National Army hold a position during fighting against militants in Qanfudah, on the southern outskirts of Benghazi. (AFP/File)
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Updated 13 June 2020

Conflict, division blight virus response in Libya

  • The GNA has reported 393 coronavirus infections and five deaths nationwide, around half of them in and around Sabha

TRIPOLI: War and division are weakening Libya’s fight against the novel coronavirus, with the government struggling to deal with an outbreak deep in the desert south.
The oil-rich North African nation has been mired in chaos since a NATO-backed uprising toppled and killed longtime ruler Muammar Qaddafi in 2011.
The Government of National Accord (GNA) controls the west, including the capital Tripoli, while military strongman Khalifa Haftar controls the east and some of the far-flung oases and oilfields that dot the south.
With Libya already largely cut off from the rest of the world by conflict when it reported its first coronavirus case at the end of March, the situation appeared relatively contained.
Cases of infection were “very low” compared to neighboring countries, according to Badreddine Al-Najjar, head of Libya’s center for disease control.
“We even had weeks without new infections,” he said.
The rival administrations imposed curfews and closed borders, schools, businesses and mosques, in a bid to prevent often obsolete and worn-down health facilities from becoming overwhelmed.
But health measures “are difficult to apply due to the political and security context,” Najjar said.
The situation has changed rapidly in recent weeks, with dozens of cases appearing in the south’s largest oasis city Sabha.
The GNA has reported 393 coronavirus infections and five deaths nationwide, around half of them in and around Sabha.
But that only accounts for cases that the Tripoli-based disease control center has been able to confirm.
Najjar said local authorities in Sabha, which is under the control of pro-Haftar forces, were not equipped to deal with an outbreak, and initially refused the GNA’s help.

SPEEDREAD

The rival administrations imposed curfews and closed borders, schools, businesses and mosques, in a bid to prevent often obsolete and worn-down health facilities from becoming overwhelmed.

“It was difficult to open up isolation rooms ... and the equipment didn’t arrive until after a large number of infections among close contacts,” Najjar said.
“The residents did not cooperate and did not respect the preventive measures,” Najjar said. “They acted like nothing was wrong.”
Ibrahim Al-Zouay, head of the committee to fight the pandemic in Sabha, acknowledged that local authorities had been overwhelmed by the task.
“We were unable to isolate ‘patient zero’ because the number of cases grew,” he told AFP.
“The support and rapid intervention teams stuck to testing and monitoring the family and friends” of confirmed cases, he added.
Divisions and accusations of mismanagement have also marred a plan to repatriate more than 15,000 Libyans stuck abroad.
Libya lacks adequate infrastructure for quarantining arrivals on its soil, and the security situation prompted fears that armed individuals could release people from isolation by force.
So authorities decided to quarantine returnees before their repatriation instead, a decision critics say has led to new infections among those who came into contact with them.
“Each flight carrying returnees was like bringing back booby traps,” said Mahmoud Abdeldayem, who works in the civil registry in Tripoli.
“How come there were cases?” he asked, questioning the quarantine and testing arrangements prior to departure.
“There must be a problem in implementing the program.”
More than 8,000 people had been brought home before repatriations were suspended last week as fighting in the country intensified.
Mahmoud Khalfallah, a former Health Ministry adviser, said Libya’s political divisions had marred its handling of the pandemic.
“Health is above all a service. Involving it in political struggles is shameful and unacceptable,” he said.
“It’s Libyans who will pay the price.”


#OurHomesAreOpen: Lebanese offer spare beds to Beirut blast victims

Updated 35 min 45 sec ago

#OurHomesAreOpen: Lebanese offer spare beds to Beirut blast victims

  • Social media users have freely offered up spare beds and empty properties to victims
  • Others shared contacts of doctors who were available to suture wounds in their clinics as hospitals were overwhelmed

AMMAN: Using social media, hundreds of Lebanese have offered shelter to strangers displaced by a devastating blast, which Beirut’s governor said may have left 250,000 people homeless.
Tuesday evening’s explosion in port warehouses storing explosive material was the most powerful ever to rip through the capital, killing some 110 people, injuring about 4,000 and tearing the facades off buildings and overturning cars.
Using the hashtag #OurHomesAreOpen in Arabic and English, social media users have freely offered up spare beds and empty properties to victims, providing their names, phone numbers and details on the size and location of the accommodation.
“I wanted to do something about it, I was going crazy,” said the founder of the platform ThawraMap, originally used to identify protest locations, which is curating a list of available beds, including free accommodation from hotels.
“Today a lot more people are going to be homeless. They go to their family or friends for a day or two and then what are they going to do?” the anti-government activist told the Thomson Reuters Foundation, who declined to publish his name for safety.
The disaster — which rattled windows about 160km away — has united a city still scarred by civil war three decades ago and reeling from a financial crisis rooted in corruption and economic mismanagement and a surge in coronavirus infections.
ThawraMap, or Revolution Map, has been sharing its shelter list on Twitter and Instagram, along with a map of more than 50 locations offered so far, ranging from people with extra beds in their homes to hotels providing up to 40 rooms.
Lebanon on Wednesday declared a two-week state of emergency in Beirut where some 250,000 people lost their homes in the blast, which has caused $3 to $5 billion in damage, governor Marwan Abboud told local media after taking a tour of the city.
Other city residents have been using the hashtag to make their own offers, with some volunteering transport as well in a painful reminder of the 1975 to 1990 civil war that tore the nation apart and destroyed swathes of Beirut.
“For anyone in need of a house, I have an empty bedroom with an en suite bathroom, welcoming Beirut and its people,” wrote one Twitter user Wajdi Saad.
Others shared contacts of doctors who were available to suture wounds in their clinics as hospitals were overwhelmed.
The crisis has stoked anger against Lebanon’s political elite and raised fears of hunger as it wrecked the main entry point for imports for some 6 million people, including almost 1 million Syrian refugees, according to United Nations figures.
“Beirut is more than cursed,” tweeted one user named Reyna.
“The first morning after the tragedy: nothing in Beirut is in one piece. Not the streets, not homes, not people, nothing.”
President Michel Aoun told the nation the government was “determined to investigate and expose what happened as soon as possible, to hold the responsible and the negligent accountable, and to sanction them with the most severe punishment.”