Lebanon registers sharp rise in number of COVID-19 cases

A worker disinfects a room where patients undergo tests for the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), at Rafik Hariri University Hospital in Beirut, Lebanon. (File/Reuters)
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Updated 08 October 2020

Lebanon registers sharp rise in number of COVID-19 cases

  • The Lebanese authorities said they would start a phased reopening of schools next Monday, admitting only senior students at this stage
  • UNRWA spokesperson Hoda Samra warned that there was a coronavirus outbreak in Palestinian refugee camps

BEIRUT: Lebanon recorded the highest number of COVID-19 cases since February on Wednesday. The 1,459 new cases brought the total to more than 48,000, while the number of deaths has risen by nine to 433.
Among the cases registered on Wednesday was former Lebanese Justice Minister Gen. Ashraf Rifi, who announced a week ago that his son had contracted the virus.
Medical staff are concerned about a number of hospitals in Beirut reaching their maximum capacity, especially in intensive care units (ICUs).
UNRWA spokesperson Hoda Samra warned that there was a coronavirus outbreak in Palestinian refugee camps. She said that the camps were overcrowded, and people were not committing to staying at home or following preventive measures.
The Lebanese authorities said they would start a phased reopening of schools next Monday, admitting only senior students at this stage.
Hilda El-Khoury, director of the counseling and guidance department at the Ministry of Education and Higher Education, said: “Initially, 60,000 students out of the 120,000 currently enrolled in intermediate and high schools will be returning to schools in stages. There are students, however, who will not return within the next two weeks because the areas where they live are in lockdown due to the spread of COVID-19.”
The Committee to Oversee the COVID-19 Preparedness and Response in Lebanon recommended the closure of all nightclubs, discotheques, and bars until further notice. The committee also required identifying the towns with a high daily infection rate on a weekly basis so as to include them in the closure decision.
The committee’s decisions have been criticized by the Policy Rationalization Center of the Faculty of Health Sciences at the American University of Beirut (AUB). The center described the current state of the COVID-19 outbreak in Lebanon as “terrifying, with 10 percent of all PCR tests returning positive results.” Moreover, “80 percent of the ICU beds designated for Covid-19 cases are full, some towns have been quarantined, complying with the preventive measures is history, and there is no clear assessment of the readiness of schools in this context. This means that the current situation clearly does not allow for the reopening of schools.”
The center said: “The best option now is to pursue remote education,” stressing that “the timing for reopening schools cannot be determined by the number of days, but through a series of health conditions that must be met, such as monitoring the rate of the virus transmission in the community and implementing a strict monitoring system based on tests, tracing people in contact with the cases, isolating the cases, and the extent to which a school is willing and capable of implementing and maintaining the preventive measures.”
It said that 170 educational institutions in Beirut were damaged in the Aug. 4 port blast, and this has taken a toll on continuing the education of 70,000 students and the lives of 7,600 teachers.
While medical professionals are busy fighting this pandemic, the financial crisis facing Lebanon has caused the Banque du Liban to remove subsidies on sanitation materials, including those used in hospitals. Lebanon may also reduce subsidies on medicines, fuel, and wheat due to the shortage of foreign exchange reserves.
Suleiman Haroun, head of the Syndicate of Private Hospitals, warned against this move. He said: “Hospitals will have to make patients pay the difference in cost.”

Turkish president denies country has a ‘Kurdish issue’

Updated 26 November 2020

Turkish president denies country has a ‘Kurdish issue’

  • Erdogan defended the removal of 59 out of 65 elected Kurdish mayors from their posts
  • Erdogan's lack of sensitivity to the Kurdish issue could inflame tensions with Kurds in Syria and Iraq: analyst

ANKARA: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan denied the country has a “Kurdish issue,” even as he doubled down on his anti-Kurdish stance and accused a politician of being a “terrorist who has blood on his hands.”

Erdogan was addressing members of his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) on Nov. 25 when he made the remarks.

The Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) launched an insurgency against the state in 1984, and is designated a terrorist group by Turkey, the European Union and US. Erdogan accuses the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) of links to the PKK, which it denies.

Erdogan told AKP members that Selahattin Demirtas, the HDP’s former co-chair who challenged him in the 2015 presidential elections, was a “terrorist who has blood on his hands.”

Demirtas has been behind bars since Nov. 4, 2016, despite court orders calling for his release and faces hundreds of years in prison over charges related to the outlawed PKK.

The president defended the removal of 59 out of 65 elected Kurdish mayors from their posts in the country's Kurdish-majority southeast region since local elections in March 2019.

He also said the AKP would design and implement democratization reforms with its nationalistic coalition partner, which is known for its anti-Kurdish credentials.  

His words are likely to disrupt the peace efforts that Turkey has been making with its Kurdish community for years, although they have been baby steps. They could also hint at a tougher policy shift against Kurds in Syria and Iraq.

According to Oxford University Middle East analyst Samuel Ramani, Erdogan’s comments should be read as a reaction to Tuesday’s resignation of top presidential aide Bulent Arinc, who urged for Demirtas to be released and insisted that the Kurds were repressed within Turkey.

“This gained widespread coverage in the Kurdish media, including in Iraqi Kurdistan's outlet Rudaw which has international viewership,” he told Arab News. “Erdogan wanted to stop speculation on this issue.”

Ramani said that Erdogan's lack of sensitivity to the Kurdish issue could inflame tensions with Kurds in Syria and Iraq.

“It is also an oblique warning to US President-elect Joe Biden not to try to interfere in Turkish politics by raising the treatment of Kurds within Turkey.”

But Erdogan’s comments would matter little in the long run, he added.

“Much more will depend on whether Turkey mounts another Operation Peace Spring-style offensive in northern Syria, which is a growing possibility. If that occurs during the Trump to Biden transition period, the incoming Biden administration could be more critical of Turkey and convert its rhetoric on solidarity with the Kurds into action.”

The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces have been a key partner for the US in its fight against Daesh. During a campaign speech in Oct. 2019, Biden criticized the US decision to withdraw from Syria as a “complete failure” that would leave Syrian Kurds open to aggression from Turkey.

“It’s more insidious than the betrayal of our brave Kurdish partners, it’s more dangerous than taking the boot off the neck of ISIS,” Biden said at the time.

UK-based analyst Bill Park said that Erdogan was increasingly influenced by his coalition partners, the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP).

“He might also believe that both the PKK and the HDP have been so weakened that he doesn't have to take them into consideration,” he told Arab News. “The Western world will not respond dramatically to this announcement but they are tired of Erdogan. There is little hope that Turkey's relations with the US or the EU can be much improved. The Syrian Kurdish PYD militia are seeking an accommodation with Damascus, while the Kurdistan Democratic Party, the largest party in Iraqi Kurdistan, is indifferent to the fate of Turkey's Kurds and has problems of its own.”

The HDP, meanwhile, is skeptical about Erdogan’s reform pledges and sees them as “politicking.”

“This reform narrative is not sincere,” said HDP lawmaker Meral Danis Bestas, according to a Reuters news agency report. “This is a party which has been in power for 18 years and which has until now totally trampled on the law. It has one aim: To win back the support which has been lost.”

Turkey’s next election is scheduled for 2023, unless there is a snap election in a year.