BEIRUT: Lebanon is enduring an Eid holiday surge in COVID-19 infections, with a record 224 new coronavirus cases recorded on Saturday.
The new patients bring the total number of cases in Lebanon to 4,555, and the death toll rose by two to 59.
Among the casualties of the pandemic fallout were celebrations to mark the 75th anniversary of Lebanon’s army.
A general lockdown reimposed last Thursday in a renewed effort to contain the outbreak forced the military to curtail its plans.
The occasion was marked with little of the fanfare of previous years, and traditional celebrations including a parade and graduation ceremony were abandoned.
Instead President Michel Aoun delivered a televised speech and received a delegation led by army chief Gen. Joseph Aoun.
The president told the army that “surrender is not permitted.” He said: “During my military career, I learned how to walk in a minefield to save the wounded. And today the wounded is the country itself.”
Aoun used his address to criticize opponents of reform to address Lebanon’s worst economic crisis in decades.
“The reforms that are being implemented will not stop until we know the real situation of public finances, and lay our hand on suspicious files in order to find the right solutions and sue the corrupt,” he said.
The president said that an anti-corruption campaign would extend to all government sectors in an effort to win back the trust of the Lebanese people.
He criticized those “who are attacking all salvation attempts in order to score vocal triumphs, especially those who ran away from responsibility in the midst of the crisis.”
Aoun also called on the army “to preserve Lebanese sovereignty against Israeli aggression while abiding by UN Resolution 1701,” pointing out that “we have to defend ourselves, our territories, water and sovereignty, and there will be no complacency.”
The army chief told the president: “Since the start of protests last October, the subsequent economic crisis and the outbreak of the pandemic, the Lebanese army has made every effort to preserve security and stability.”
The military would “remain the guarantor and the core basis for the country’s safety and security,” he said.
On the eve of Army Day, clashes between Lebanese troops and villagers in the northern Wadi Khaled area on the border with Syria left one person dead and several soldiers wounded.
The clashes erupted after the army arrested townsmen for allegedly smuggling sheep from Syria into Lebanon.
Soldiers clashed with protesters and fired rubber bullets at residents who blocked roads.
Violence mounts against Iraqi doctors as COVID-19 cases spike
“All the doctors are scared,” said Sheibani, speaking at his home in Kufa a few weeks after the Aug. 28 attack
More than 8,000 people have died, a number that some doctors fear will rise sharply
Updated 34 min 32 sec ago
NAJAF: Iraqi doctor Tariq Al-Sheibani remembers little else beyond cowering on the ground as a dozen relatives of a patient, who had just died of COVID-19, beat him unconscious.
About two hours later the 47-year-old director of Al-Amal Hospital in the southern city of Najaf woke up in a different clinic with bruises all over his body.
“All the doctors are scared,” said Sheibani, speaking at his home in Kufa a few weeks after the Aug. 28 attack. “Every time a patient dies, we all hold our breath.”
He is one of many doctors struggling to do their job as COVID-19 cases rise sharply in Iraq.
They are working within a health service that has been left to decay through years of civil conflict and underfunding, and now face the added threat of physical attack by grieving and desperate families.
Reuters spoke to seven doctors, including the head of Iraq’s Medical Association, who described a growing pattern of assaults on medical staff. Dozens have taken place since the COVID-19 pandemic began.
Meanwhile, the United Nations has warned that the pandemic could spiral out of control in Iraq.
Authorities have lifted many lockdown measures, allowing restaurants and places of worship to reopen, but they have shut borders to pilgrims ahead of a large Shiite Muslim pilgrimage that normally draws millions to the south of the country.
Iraq has recorded several thousand new coronavirus infections every day, and the total now exceeds 300,000.
More than 8,000 people have died, a number that some doctors fear will rise sharply, putting frontline health care workers under huge pressure and in some cases in physical danger.
The health ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the COVID situation in Iraq and medics’ complaints about the threat of violence.
Sheibani, whose beating went viral when CCTV footage circulated online, said the family of the deceased patient blamed his staff for the death. He said he did not know how the video reached the public domain.
The patient had arrived at hospital in critical condition.
“I hate myself and I hate the day I became a doctor in Iraq,” Sheibani told Reuters. “They brought the patient in his final stages and he died, and they want the health system to bear the responsibility.”
Enforcing health safety guidelines within the hospital is not always easy, especially when tensions between families of sick patients and hospital staff are running high.
During a recent visit to Sheibani’s hospital, which is a coronavirus isolation center, Reuters reporters saw relatives of COVID-19 patients coming in and out of the ward without wearing full protective gear as they are supposed to.
Some were only wearing surgical face masks.
Iraq is fighting the pandemic with a depleted force of doctors and nurses.
In 2018, it had just 2.1 nurses and midwives per thousand people, compared with Jordan’s 3.2 and Lebanon’s 3.7, according to official estimates. It had 0.83 doctors per thousand people, while neighboring Jordan, for example, had 2.3.
There are also significant shortages of drugs, oxygen, and vital medical equipment, the result of years of underspending.
Many young doctors say they are overworked, putting in 12-16 hour shifts every day meaning they are more likely to make mistakes in prescriptions and treatment. Some take kickbacks for handing over certain drugs, physicians told Reuters.
The Health Ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Government vows action
Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi has condemned the attacks against medical staff and promised to hold perpetrators to account.
The attacks have increased in recent months, said Medical Association president Abdul Ameer Hussein. He said his association could not keep track of all of them, but they include verbal and physical abuse and even stabbings.
Sheibani filed a complaint with police, but he said he had received threats from the people who beat him up to drop the case.
“They might attack me or my family,” Sheibani said, adding that he no longer left his house alone.
Doctors say the government has not taken tough enough action to protect them from violence, which they have faced for years even before the pandemic.
The health ministry said in a statement on Saturday that it would assign its legal division to file lawsuits against those who attacked health workers, as well as those medics who fell short in treating patients.
According to the Medical Association, at least 320 doctors have been killed since 2003, when US-led forces toppled President Saddam Hussein, ushering in years of sectarian violence and extremist insurgencies.
Thousands more have been kidnapped or threatened.
Doctors and human rights activists say the state is so weak that it cannot bring doctor’s assailants to justice, especially if they come from a powerful tribe or belong to a militia.
“The government can’t protect doctors from tribes. Doctors end up dropping the cases because they receive threats,” said Hussein, adding that he often asks tribal leaders to mediate when a doctor is being threatened.
Doctors have gone on strike and protested in recent months over what they say is government inaction over the attacks.
Abbas Alaulddin, 27, a doctor in Baghdad who was assaulted last week by the family of a patient who died of COVID-19, said he was considering seeking asylum.
“The situation here is unbearable.”