Lebanese MPs discuss fresh measures to fight COVID-19

Lebanese MPs discuss fresh measures to fight COVID-19
This picture taken on March 21, 2020 shows an aerial view of the Place de l'Etoile (Sahet al-Nejme) where the Lebanese parliament is located, with the government palace seen behind, in the centre of Lebanon's capital Beirut. (AFP)
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Updated 22 December 2020

Lebanese MPs discuss fresh measures to fight COVID-19

Lebanese MPs discuss fresh measures to fight COVID-19
  • The preventive measures were applied during the legislative session of parliament on Monday at the UNESCO palace instead of the parliament headquarters

BEIRUT: The Lebanese Ministry of Health’s scientific committee has recommended that flights from London to Beirut be suspended for a few days pending more information on the new strain of COVID-19 found in Britain.
The committee recommended that expatriates heading to Lebanon for the holidays change their route if they were traveling through London and commit to mandatory home quarantine for five days, after which they must take a PCR test.
The preventive measures were applied during the legislative session of parliament on Monday at the UNESCO palace instead of the parliament headquarters.
This is because the palace’s hall is more spacious, allowing for the application of social-distancing measures. In addition, members of parliament and the attendees wore face coverings throughout.
Parliament also passed a law to ratify the proposal to lift banking secrecy for anyone involved in public affairs.
Parliament, according to Speaker Nabih Berri, issued a decision that all state bodies, including the Banque du Liban, the ministries, departments and public institutions, are subject to a financial or forensic audit in response to a letter from President Michel Aoun to parliament.
Parliament recommended this decision in a previous session. Berri said: “Parliament cannot respond to Aoun’s message with a law.”
Parliament referred the bill — aimed at recovering cash and financial portfolios transferred abroad — to the joint committees, provided it was completed within 15 days. The move led to a loss of the impetus on which parliament is counting to recover stolen money transferred abroad.
Caretaker Minister of the Displaced Ghada Shreim said: “We had hoped to pass the bill to retrieve the money transferred abroad after Oct. 17 instead of referring it to the committees. Recovering these funds is the first step on a long road.”
Parliament also passed a law for the first time punishing sexual harassment, especially in the workplace, and another amending the law to protect women and other family members from domestic violence.
Claudine Aoun, president of the National Commission for Lebanese Women, described the move as a positive step to protect women from sexual harassment and domestic violence.
Caretaker Health Minister Hamad Hassan, meanwhile, stressed the need to comply with coronavirus preventive measures during the holidays, warning that the repercussions of failing to do so could be tragic.
The scientific committee noted during its meeting on Monday “the absence of public mobilization in the country and the decline in the rate of wearing face-coverings,” according to Hassan.
As of Monday morning, the total number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Lebanon reached 158,104, at a rate of more than 1,500 cases a day. Sometimes more than 2,000 cases were recorded a day. The death toll has reached 1,281, at a rate of 10 deaths a day.
In Lebanon’s medical sector, 1,904 COVID-19 cases have been recorded to date since the first infection was detected last February.
Meanwhile, eight of those detained in the Lebanese Army’s Military Police Prison in Rihaniya over the Beirut port explosion have contracted COVID-19 from a security guard.


Lebanese protesters break lockdown: ‘Death by COVID-19 is better than starvation’

Lebanese protesters break lockdown: ‘Death by COVID-19 is better than starvation’
Updated 41 min 35 sec ago

Lebanese protesters break lockdown: ‘Death by COVID-19 is better than starvation’

Lebanese protesters break lockdown: ‘Death by COVID-19 is better than starvation’
  • Hundreds of people took to the streets in Tripoli, Sidon, and Beirut to denounce the suspension of the economy

BEIRUT: The closure and curfew period in Lebanon has been extended for two more weeks to contain the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), prompting people in Tripoli, Beirut, and Sidon to take to the streets.

The protests were spontaneous, considering that the neighborhoods from which they started are poor, where the residents work for daily wages.

The Minister of Social Affairs and Tourism in the caretaker government Ramzi Musharrafieh said on Tuesday that “230,000 families in Lebanon benefit from aid and have been receiving 400,000 Lebanese pounds ($263) per month since the beginning of the crisis.” He added that “25 percent of the Lebanese people do not need aid.”

Hundreds of people took to the streets in Tripoli, Sidon, and Beirut to denounce the suspension of the economy and the failure to provide people with alternatives.

One of the protesters said: “Contracting COVID-19 and dying of it is easier than having my family and myself starve to death.”

Protesters in Tripoli took to Al-Nour Square on Monday after days of expressing their impatience and protesting outside the houses of the city’s officials.

One of the protesters said: “COVID-19 does not scare us. We cannot tolerate this life of humiliation anymore. The officials in power have starved and robbed us.”

The protesters clashed with the security forces — the army and the Internal Security Forces — hurling stones and water bottles at them. 

Their chants demanded financial compensation for the poorest families, who have not been able to work for two weeks and must wait a further two weeks before they can return to their jobs, resulting in a whole month without any financial income.

The protests spiralled out of control and turned into riots that ended with dozens of arrests. Several army personnel were deployed to control the situation in Al-Nour Square and its vicinity. Riot police used tear gas to disperse the protesters.

The Lebanese Red Cross said it brought in six ambulances as 41 people were injured during the protests. The organization transferred 12 people to hospitals, while 29 were treated at the scene.

In support of the Tripoli protests, dozens gathered at the Ring Bridge in central Beirut.

Activists gathered in Sidon’s Elia Square for a vigil, amid security measures. The protesters chanted slogans denouncing the political authority’s arbitrary decisions, which they argue worsened the economic collapse. 

Some protesters said that 60 percent of the poor people in Lebanon are suffering because of these decisions, which were not accompanied with support for people who were laid off due to lockdown measures.

The protests extended to Taalbaya in the Bekaa and the coastal town of Jiyeh. The protesters moved from the poor neighborhoods of Beirut to Corniche el Mazraa and blocked the road, but the riot police reopened it.

Bechara Al-Asmar, head of the General Labor Union, told Arab News: “Things are heading toward chaos, and the authorities’ decisions are ill-considered. When forcing people to stop working, it is important to give them incentives and compensation. There are 120,000 daily workers impacted by the closure, which has come amid a severe economic crisis.”

He added: “They must exempt the factories that suspended production so that they can survive and not lay off their workers if the closure results in stopping operation. 

“What can the factories that have agreements with clients abroad do to deliver their products? This is the only sector that is bringing Lebanon fresh money and giving people jobs.”

Al-Asmar said that aid provided by the government “covers 47,000 families, and a further 8,000 taxi drivers have been added to them. This is a small percentage compared to the need among the general population.”

He continued: “Employees are now receiving half a salary or a very meager salary if they don’t lose their jobs as employers prefer shutting down their businesses to continuous losses.”

Bechara added: “We are facing a major social crisis. The daily workers are complaining of their inability to put bread on the table, while the state is unable to hold coordination meetings, so how can it provide compensation for those affected?”