Lebanon to impose two-week coronavirus lockdown

A deserted bridge on the eastern outskirts of the Lebanese capital Beirut, during a lockdown imposed by the authorities due to the novel coronavirus pandemic. (AFP/File)
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Updated 28 July 2020

Lebanon to impose two-week coronavirus lockdown

  • Shutdown includes Eid Al-Adha holiday

BEIRUT: Lebanon is imposing a two-week coronavirus lockdown starting July 30, the country’s health minister said, as he slammed the “lack of community discipline and disregard” for all preventive measures and warned that the outbreak was taking a “dangerous turn.”

The number of confirmed cases on Monday reached 135 and Saturday’s cases were the highest since February at 175.

“The number is very large and indicates the seriousness of this stage,” said Health Minister Hamad Hassan, following a meeting of a COVID-19 ministerial committee headed by Prime Minister Hassan Diab.

He added that what was happening was another indication of the “rapid spread” of the virus within one week. “The infected person is now spreading the infection to 3 people.” 

The total lockdown of the country is from July 30 to August 3 and from August 6 until August 10, including the days of Eid Al-Adha. It is a measure intended to relieve pressure on hospitals that have started to get overcrowded. However, the final decision will be taken by the Council of Ministers that will meet Tuesday.

Hassan warned that the community outbreak of the disease was beginning to take a “dangerous turn” and he regretted “the lack of community discipline and disregard for all preventive measures imposed on people.”

Fears of COVID-19 have overtaken the country’s many financial and economic concerns, with politicians, parliament officials, ministry and court staff taking polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests on Monday and entire towns shutting down.

Although the ministerial committee did not recommend closing Beirut International Airport, it decided that nobody would be allowed into Lebanon from the start of August without a negative PCR test from the departure country.

"Passengers will have to stay in quarantine for two days at their own expense in special centers, pending the results of the second PCR test at the airport,” Hassan said. “Those who have the logistical capacity for quarantine will not have to go to these centers.” 

Hassan requested hospitals to postpone receiving cold medical cases to later appointments because there were 222 cases within the health sector among doctors, nurses and employees. He called on hospitals to “completely prevent visits to patients or make them minimal.”

Lawyers in the Bar Association had to take PCR tests after one of their number was found to have the disease. Employees and judges at the Palace of Justice in Beirut were tested and it was decided to suspend trial sessions for four days.

Fear of contracting the virus has also reached politicians. The minister of defense, Zeina Aker, announced that her daughter had been infected with the virus. Parliament closed on Monday to carry out PCR tests for MPs who had mixed with George Aqis, including Speaker Nabih Berri. Aqis’ first test was positive but the second was negative.

The need for hundreds of Syrian workers to take PCR tests before entering Syrian territory has led to overcrowding in Lebanese government hospitals, with long lines of people waiting to be seen at authorized laboratories for testing.

“There was great pressure on the 50 laboratories,” Hassan said. “The number of tests increased to between seven and eight thousand daily, which caused a delay in announcing the results and affected the control of positive cases.”

Seventeen members of the Lebanese Red Cross contracted the virus from an infected volunteer who had moved one of his relatives to hospital. The relative suffered from burns at home and it was found out that he had COVID-19.

Streets before suits: US envoy vists Beirut’s ‘real’ rescue hub

Updated 35 min 1 sec ago

Streets before suits: US envoy vists Beirut’s ‘real’ rescue hub

  • Hale’s visit to the volunteer hub in the Gemmayzeh district came days after Macron took a tour of the same street last week
  • Students and young professionals have ditched classes and day jobs to save lives and provide emergency support

BEIRUT: Arriving in Lebanon after last week’s deadly Beirut blast, US envoy David Hale bypassed politicians to head straight to a hard-hit neighborhood where young volunteers are helping people abandoned by their state.
At the volunteer hub dubbed the “Base Camp,” there is a “focus on getting things done,” Hale told a press conference after his tour.
He contrasted the hive of activity to the “dysfunctional governance and empty promises” of Lebanon’s political leaders, who face public outrage over the explosion of a vast stock of ammonium nitrate stored for years at Beirut’s port.
Volunteer efforts “could not only be tapped to rebuild Beirut but (also) to undertake necessary reforms that will bring the kind of transformation that is necessary for Lebanon,” Hale said.
In the wake of the August 4 explosion of a the huge chemical store that laid waste to whole Beirut neighborhoods, students and young professionals have ditched classes and day jobs to save lives, provide emergency support and start to rebuild.
Hale’s visit to the volunteer hub in the blast-hit Gemmayzeh district came days after French President Emmanuel Macron took a tour of the same street last Thursday, as well as meeting Lebanese leaders.
But while Macron was welcomed as a savior, it was clear that the heroes of the moment were the volunteers.
“I don’t know why (Hale) would do that second step and go to meet politicians,” said Wassim Bou Malham, 33, who leads a database management team at the Base Camp.
“The aid is happening here, the data collection is happening here, the cleaning is happening here, the reconstruction is happening here,” he told AFP.
Wearing face masks and neon vests, volunteers sounded like international experts as they explained how they were cleaning up their government’s mess.
In fluent English, they described 3D mapping operations, data collection and relief efforts organized since the cataclysmic blast.
Bou Malham, who spoke with Hale during the tour, is not a data expert but picked up useful experience managing client databases for two of Beirut’s biggest nightclubs.
After the blast tore through the city, wounding 6,500 people and displacing 300,000 from their homes, his skills became vital for the aid effort.
The digitised database developed by Bou Malham and his team of volunteers is now critical for sorting and delivering aid to thousands of blast survivors.
“We haven’t seen any government official or representative actually come in here and ask us if we need anything,” he said.
“It’s so funny that David Hale is the first.”
It is not only in the Base Camp that the state has been thin on the ground.
In the first hours after the explosion, civil defense teams were vastly outnumbered by young volunteers flooding the streets to help.
By the next day, the latter had set up a camp where they offered food, medicine, temporary shelter and repair services to thousands of blast victims, in partnership with several non-governmental groups.
Operations have continued to expand since.
A Base Camp relief hotline received more than 200 calls in the first two hours. Volunteers have assessed the damage to around 1,200 homes and installed at least 600 wooden doors.
“The work is going to speak for itself,” said Bushra, a 37-year-old volunteer.
Simmering anger against Lebanon’s leaders has flared since the blast, which appears to have been caused by years of state corruption and negligence.
With 171 people dead, it is widely seen as the most tragic manifestation yet of the rot at the core of the country’s political system.
Western donors too are fed up with Lebanon’s barons, who have for years resisted reforms demanded by the international community.
In a joint statement released after an international donor conference organized by France in the wake of the disaster, world leaders called for aid to be delivered directly to the Lebanese people.
USAID acting administrator, John Barsa, said at the time that American help “is absolutely not going to the government.”
USAID “will increase its financial support to civil society groups in Lebanon by 30 percent to $6.627 million,” Barsa said in a press briefing on Thursday.
At the volunteer camp in Gemmayzeh, it was clear that funding would be put to good use.
Ziad Al-Zein, arrives before volunteers start their shifts at 9:00 am to ensure the camp is clean and secure.
The 33-year-old was among the first groups of volunteers clearing debris in Gemmayzeh.
“We are not speacialists in crisis management or catastophe management. We are learning things as we go,” he said.
“There is no state,” he added. “We will not abandon our fellow Lebanese in these conditions.”