BEIRUT: Lebanon has begun the countdown to what are expected to be muted New Year’s Eve celebrations.
Despite some hotels and nightclubs reporting healthy bookings for parties and events, the country’s dire economic situation and a surge in coronavirus disease (COVID-19) cases is likely to result in most citizens seeing in 2021 at home.
Shops and catering stores have been relatively busy with people buying items to mark New Year’s Eve and pre-ordering home deliveries of food.
Hotels hosting parties said bookings had exceeded expectations, but restaurant owners’ syndicate head, Pierre Al-Achkar, pointed out that 167 hotels damaged by the Beirut port explosion still required repairs and were unable to open.
In the run-up to New Year’s Eve, tourist police and internal security forces permanently closed six nightclubs, bars, and restaurants and issued fines to 64 others for violating general mobilization rules and failing to comply with health and public safety measures.
Breaches included employees not wearing face masks or respecting social distancing, allowing premises to become overcrowded, and offering hookah.
The country’s Internal Security Forces on Wednesday announced that strict security measures would be in place on New Year’s Eve, “to maintain the security and safety of citizens, and to ensure the protection of tourist, commercial and economic facilities and places of worship, in addition to securing traffic in order to reduce congestion.”
Citizens have also been ordered not to celebrate by shooting guns into the air, and dancing in bars and restaurants has already been banned.
Lebanon has recently witnessed a sharp rise in COVID-19 cases, with new daily recorded numbers hitting highs in excess of 2,800.
“The closure of nightclubs and restaurants that do not comply with the required procedures is necessary because hospitals are no longer able to admit new patients and the Christmas experience was not good,” said Dr. Sharaf Abu Sharaf, head of the Lebanese Order of Physicians.
The spike in virus cases has led many Lebanese to choose to stay at home or organize private parties in rented halls, with invitees having to take a polymerase chain reaction test two days before attending events.
Due to the collapse of the Lebanese lira against the dollar, many are also struggling to make ends meet and pay toward the cost of New Year’s Eve food, drink, and entertainment.
Tony Bejjani, owner of a restaurant and bar in Beirut, said: “Customer traffic declined during the holidays and I will not receive customers on New Year’s Eve due to COVID-19 fears and because the cost will exceed profits.
“The quality of customers varies according to their financial capabilities. Many bars around me have closed their doors, but I want to continue with a small profit so that I do not become unemployed. But I do not have much confidence in the new year,” he added.
Meanwhile, authorities have highlighted a recent rise in the number of armed robberies taking place throughout Lebanon, particularly in the Bekaa region, and there have also been reports of looting, most notably in the city of Zahle.
Lebanese Forces deputy, Cesar Al-Maalouf, said: “What is happening in Zahle is unacceptable. Because of the state’s failure to ensure the security and safety of the city, our young people are its guards.
“This is the final warning for what is left of this dilapidated system. We are no longer to be blamed for resorting to self-security,” he added.
MP Michel Daher said: “The security lapse that Zahle and its districts are witnessing is no longer acceptable and we call for an increase in the number of security forces and strict measures so that people do not have to resort to self-security, the last scene that foretells the fall of the state.”
Lebanon’s head of General Security, Maj. Gen. Abbas Ibrahim, on Wednesday met with Maronite Patriarch Mar Bechara Boutros Al-Rahi. After the meeting, he said: “Security is well kept and under control. It is true that it is influenced by politics, but we as organs, on top of us the Lebanese Army, are working to control the security completely.
“But certainly, the stressful and difficult social situation must be reflected on security in terms of looting and security lapses, but I do not see that it will reach the stage of chaos.”