Lebanon ‘botched virus response’, say health advisers; return to tough lockdown urged

People push trollies, as they head to board a plane at Beirut International airport, Lebanon July 17, 2020. Picture taken July 17, 2020. (REUTERS)
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Updated 26 July 2020

Lebanon ‘botched virus response’, say health advisers; return to tough lockdown urged

  • Number of new daily cases doubles in a week
  • Tons of rotten and expired chicken and fish meat recycled in factories far from Beirut

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s government was accused on Saturday of botching its response to the coronavirus pandemic and urged to impose a tough new lockdown after the average number of daily cases doubled in a week.

The state coronavirus committee of medical specialists has advised closing markets, bars, nightclubs, indoor pools, children’s clubs and sports halls, and banning beach parties and religious and social events for a week.

“If Lebanon continues to witness an increase in cases of infection, and as long as the Lebanese do not adhere to the preventive and precautionary measures, then we must get to this level,” Dr. Abdel-Rahman Bizri, a member of the national committee for infectious diseases, told Arab News.

The number of cases of COVID-19 infections in Lebanon passed 3,400 on Saturday, and the death toll rose to 46. The number of infections during the past week increased from 75 cases a day to 166.

“We are currently wavering between the third and fourth phase in confronting the virus, which means that we reached the stage of societal reproduction because the virus is internally spread and not being transmitted by people coming from abroad,” Bizri said.

Lebanon reopened its international airport on July 1 for commercial air traffic, with passengers required to be tested and proved free of the virus.

Dr. Ismail Sukkarieh, head of the health, rights and dignity commission, said COVID-19 had regained momentum in Lebanon. “The state that is supposed to manage the health crisis has lost its credibility,” he said.

“It did not allocate a specific hospital to receive those who have contracted COVID-19, nor did it train people on how to confront it. Government hospitals are not prepared to confront the pandemic, while private hospitals have relinquished their responsibilities and the state was not able to force them to allocate special departments for people infected with COVID-19, although they have been the biggest beneficiaries of state funds for years.

“The way the airport was reopened to the public was marred by chaos. There were frauds in virus tests, and no measures were taken against the counterfeiters, which proves that people in Lebanon are reckless in dealing with the disease.

“The state wanted to show itself as the victor for reasons not related to health, but the reality is different. They opened the airport, allowed weddings and gatherings, and the real situation was revealed.”

In Saudi Arabia, authorities recorded 2,201 new virus cases, taking the total to 264,973, and the death toll rose by 31 to 2,703. Worldwide, the virus has infected more than 16 million people and killed nearly 645,000.

There were more than 280,000 new cases recorded globally on both Thursday and Friday, the highest daily increases since the pandemic began. Nearly a third of the worldwide infections have been registered since July 1.

The World Health Organization said on Saturday that more than a million cases had been recorded in each of the past five weeks. 

“While no country is unaffected, this rise is driven by high transmission in large and populous countries in the Americas and South Asia,” it said.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Health, along with relevant security services, has seized tons of rotten and expired chicken and fish meat recycled in factories far from Beirut.

Dr. Zouhair Berro, president of the Consumer Protection Association, said it was “only the tip of the iceberg,” and that there were, in Lebanese warehouses, huge amounts of accumulated goods, many of which were sold to Syrian refugees.

“The association had warned the Ministry of Health about the issue. What is the government waiting for to implement the laws of food safety, free competition and prohibiting monopoly?”

“There are crises of waste handling, electricity, bread and gasoline. Political parties are all warning of starvation while, at the same time, they are exchanging accusations while no one is held accountable for what has been committed.”

“Warehouses are full and there is no threat of shortage or starvation, rather there are monopolies, theft, fraud and privileged merchants, while the judiciary is absent and I do not know who would protect the citizens.”



Seth Rogen’s Israel comments highlight fraught diaspora ties

Palestinian firefighters try to extinguish a fire after an Israeli airstrike, on a floor in a building that also houses international media offices in Gaza City. (Reuters/File)
Updated 37 min 22 sec ago

Seth Rogen’s Israel comments highlight fraught diaspora ties

  • Jewish comedians’ conversation on Israel spark an uproar

TEL AVIV: It began as a lighthearted conversation between two Jewish comedians, riffing on a podcast about the idiosyncrasies of their shared heritage. But after talk turned to Israel, it didn’t take long for Marc Maron and Seth Rogen to spark an uproar.

Their comments about Israel — especially Rogen saying the country “doesn’t make sense” — infuriated many Israel supporters and highlighted the country’s tenuous relationship with young, progressive Jewish critics in the diaspora.
Israel has long benefited from financial and political support from American Jews. But in recent years the country has faced a groundswell of opposition from young progressives, disillusioned by Israel’s aggressive West Bank settlement building, its perceived exclusion of liberal streams of Judaism and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s cosy relationship with President Donald Trump.
“What Seth Rogen said is par for the course among our generation and the Israeli government has to wake up and see that their actions have consequences,” said Yonah Lieberman, spokesman for If Not Now, an American Jewish organization opposed to Israel’s entrenched occupation of the West Bank.
Rogen’s remarks follow a dramatic shift by an influential Jewish American commentator who recently endorsed the idea of a democratic entity of Jews and Palestinians living with equal rights on the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. Peter Beinart’s argument that a two-state solution — Israel and Palestine — is no longer possible sent shock waves through the Jewish establishment and Washington policymaking circles.
For many Jews, Israel is an integral part of their identity, on religious grounds or as an insurance policy in the wake of the Holocaust and in a modern age of resurgent anti-Semitism. But polls have shown that while most American Jews identify with Israel and feel a connection to the country, that support has waned over recent years, especially among millennials.
Some have even embraced the Palestinian-led movement calling for boycotts, divestment and sanctions against Israel to protest what it says is Israeli oppression of Palestinians. Israel accuses the movement of waging a campaign to delegitimize its very existence.


Their comments about Israel — especially Rogen saying the country ‘doesn’t make sense’ — highlighted the country’s tenuous relationship with young, progressive Jewish critics in the diaspora.

In the podcast, Rogen, who appeared in such smash comedies as “Superbad” and “Knocked Up,” talked about attending Jewish schools and Jewish summer camp while growing up in Vancouver. He said his parents met on an Israeli kibbutz.
As they continued to chat, Rogen appeared to question why Israel was established.
“You don’t keep all your Jews in one basket. I don’t understand why they did that. It makes no sense whatsoever,” Rogen said. “You don’t keep something you’re trying to preserve all in one place especially when that place has proven to be pretty volatile. I’m trying to keep all these things safe. I’m going to put them in my blender and hope that that’s the best place to, that’ll do it.”
Rogen then said he was “fed a huge amount of lies” about Israel during his youth. “They never tell you that ‘oh, by the way, there were people there.’ They make it seem like, ‘the (expletive) door’s open.’”
Maron and Rogen both joked about how frightened they were about the responses they would receive from Israel’s defenders. Their concerns were justified.
Rogen’s comments immediately lit up “Jewish Twitter.” They unleashed a flurry of critical op-eds in Jewish and Israeli media. And they prompted Rogen to call Isaac Herzog, the head of the Jewish Agency, a major nonprofit that works to foster relations between Israel and the Jewish world.
In a Facebook post, Herzog said he and Rogen had a frank and open conversation. He said Rogen “was misunderstood and apologized” for his comments.
“I told him that many Israelis and Jews around the world were personally hurt by his statement, which implies the denial of Israel’s right to exist,” Herzog wrote.
In an interview with the Israeli daily Haaretz, Rogen said he called Herzog at the urging of his mother and he denied apologizing. He said the comments were made in jest and misconstrued.
“I don’t want Jews to think that I don’t think Israel should exist. And I understand how they could have been led to think that,” he said.
Rogen also said he is a “proud Jew.” He said his criticism was aimed at the education he received, and he believed he could have been given a deeper picture of a “complex” situation.
Ironically, Rogen was on the podcast to promote his new movie, “An American Pickle,” about a Jewish immigrant to the US at the start of the 20th century who falls into a vat of pickle brine and emerges 100 years later. He called the project a “very Jewish film.”
Lieberman, from If Not Now, said the uproar shows “how much the conversation has changed” about Israel among American Jews.
Shmuel Rosner, a senior fellow with the Jewish People Policy Institute, a Jerusalem think tank, said Israel should not be expected to change its “security and foreign policies” based on growing estrangement from Jews overseas.
But he said it can take realistic steps to close the gap, such as establishing a pluralistic prayer site at the Western Wall, long a sticking point between Israel’s Orthodox establishment and more liberal Jews in the US
“It’s a challenge for Israel. It’s inconvenient. We want everyone to love us, especially other Jews,” he said. “Israel can do certain things to make it somewhat better.”