Lebanon starts two-week coronavirus lockdown

A woman wearing a face mask walks past an “I love Beirut” sign, near a shopping district, as Lebanon imposed a partial lockdown for two weeks starting on Friday in an effort to counter the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), which have spiralled since the catastrophic explosion at Beirut port, Lebanon August 21, 2020. (Reuters/Alkis Konstantinidis)
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Updated 21 August 2020

Lebanon starts two-week coronavirus lockdown

  • Country has almost 11,000 cases
  • Pandemic source of poverty, says expert

BEIRUT: Lebanon started a two-week coronavirus lockdown on Friday, as the country’s health minister described the situation as “dangerous and sensitive.”

There are 10,952 cases and a death toll of 113 in a country whose population does not exceed four million.

According to Ministry of Health estimates, Lebanon could record a total of 5,000 new in the next two weeks. 

Signs of a surge were evident on Thursday, when more than 600 new cases were recorded and four died due to the pandemic. Half of these new cases resulted from people coming into contact with each other in the chaos that followed a massive explosion at the Port of Beirut on Aug. 4.

Health Minister Hamad Hassan described the situation as being “dangerous and sensitive.”

“We are back to square one, yet with advanced moral and logistic readiness, much higher than when the pandemic first spread, and we are benefitting from expertise and measures that we acquired previously,” he said. “However, this phase requires cooperation and solidarity from all."

The lockdown imposes a curfew between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m. and the closure of commercial and private enterprises, malls, popular markets, tourist facilities, stadiums, sports clubs and gyms, swimming pools, coffee shops, and nightclubs, in addition to banning all gatherings, social occasions and ceremonies.

However the decision excludes restoration work, rubble removal, distributing aid, and relief work in the areas and neighborhoods affected by the port explosion.

But Hassan’s lockdown decision has been criticized by private sector businessmen who are facing a double crisis - an economic meltdown and the explosion that destroyed many Beirut businesses, to the extent that the Lebanese capital turned into “an arid desert,” according to one investor.

Dr. Jassem Ajaka, an economic and strategic expert, said that the lockdown would have huge economic repercussions. 

“The COVID-19 pandemic has become a cause of impoverishment to the people, for people’s revenues have retreated to a large extent, and it seems that the pandemic will last for a long time, which will further contribute to the spread of poverty,” he told Arab News. “The problem is that Lebanon lacks confidence, whether at the local or foreign level, and we need to create ways to coexist with the virus.”

Ajaka supported Hassan’s argument - that health security superseded everything - but added that general lockdowns based on scientific measures would be more feasible. “Superpowers and big states have reached this dilemma and have succeeded in containing the matter via practical confinement. Isolating a whole country would not work. You could isolate areas with a high number of cases. However, why would you isolate areas with no cases of infection?”

Private sector investors expressed their intention during a meeting on Thursday to ignore the lockdown, considering it “a stupid decision directed against the citizen rather than with him, at a time when people have reached rock bottom.”

Dr. Abdul Rahman Bizri, who specializes in infectious diseases, viewed the lockdown as “a mere break” for healthcare personnel to relieve the pressure on them.

“General lockdown is against human nature,” he said. “However, it is a temporary measure before setting a comprehensive plan to counter the spread of the virus.”

On Friday Hassan said that a strategy was being set up for the lockdown period that entailed keeping the airport open but imposing a period of home confinement of between five and 14 days on arrivals, even if their PCR tests were negative. 

He added that this strategy would be implemented by the epidemiological surveillance and preventive medical team, district medical doctors, and local police. 

“Every person who violates the mandatory lockdown will be slandered in the media, and will be prosecuted if he does not wait for the results of his PCR test, and mixes up with other people in a way that increases the risks of the spread of the pandemic,” he said.

Former Health Minister Dr. Mohamad Jawad Khalifeh said the lockdown should have been coupled with mechanisms to support people affected by it.

The country endured months of economic and financial hardship even before the pandemic arrived on its shores, and the government resigned amid widespread public anger after the Aug. 4 blast.  

“Superpowers and states with strong economies tried to resort to general lockdown coupled with support,” he told Arab News. “In spite of this, owners of enterprises could not relaunch their businesses after two months of general mobilization.”

Khalifeh, who is a surgeon at the American University of Beirut Medical Center, added: “The problem in Lebanon is multifaceted, for the economic crisis is much bigger than that of coronavirus - and the catastrophe of the Port of Beirut was even bigger - so how would the Lebanese state arm not get twisted because of these three huge problems? At a time when we are witnessing a floundering in dealing with the pandemic because of the parties that are setting the national plan?”

Ajaka feared that the state would be “incapable” of resolving any of the problems the country was facing.

“September will be a critical month for Lebanon whether regarding COVID-19 or the economic situation,” he said. “If a political solution is not secured, and if needed reforms are not undertaken by the next government, then we head toward complete chaos. The state deficit today is estimated at around LBP3 trillion ($2 billion, based on rates set by the Lebanese Central Bank), and the state can no longer get loans, while nobody accepts dealing with the Banque du Liban (Central Bank) because it is the central bank of a broken state. We need a political miracle, then economic solutions would be possible.”

Turkey may resume talks with Greece, warns against EU sanctions

Updated 20 September 2020

Turkey may resume talks with Greece, warns against EU sanctions

  • Countries locked in a bitter dispute over the extent of their continental shelves in the eastern Mediterranean
  • Tensions flared last month when Turkey sent a vessel to survey for gas and oil in contested waters

ISTANBUL: Turkey and Greece could soon resume talks over their contested Mediterranean claims but European Union leaders meeting this week will not help if they threaten sanctions, Turkey’s presidential spokesman said on Sunday.
The NATO members and neighbors have been locked in a bitter dispute over the extent of their continental shelves in the eastern Mediterranean. Tensions flared last month when Turkey sent a vessel to survey for gas and oil in contested waters.
European Union member Greece condemned the move as illegal and pressed, along with Cyprus, for a strong response from EU leaders when they meet on Thursday.
Ankara withdrew the Oruc Reis vessel last week. It described the move as a routine maintenance stop but later said it opened up the chance for diplomacy to reduce tensions with Athens.
“At this point, the climate has become much more suitable for negotiations to begin,” presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin told Dogan News Agency.” “… Exploratory talks may start again.”
Last month Greece and Turkey were on the verge of resuming those “exploratory” talks, suspended in 2016. But Turkey broke off contact and sent Oruc Reis into disputed waters after Greece signed a maritime demarcation deal with Egypt, angering Ankara.
Erdogan has had talks with EU Council president Charles Michel, who chairs the meetings of EU leaders, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who is seeking to ease the crisis.
But Cyprus, protesting the presence of two Turkish exploration vessels in waters off the divided island, insists on sanctions against Ankara and has blocked EU action against Belarus for alleged election fraud until its demands are met.
“Threats of blackmail and of sanctions against Turkey does not give results,” Kalin said. “European politicians should know this by now.”
Erdogan tweeted at the weekend that Turkey believed the dispute could be resolved through dialogue while still defending its rights in the region.
“We want to give diplomacy as much space as possible, by listening to every sincere call,” he tweeted. “With this vision, we will continue to defend any drop of water and area of our country to the end.”