Lebanon hospitals run out of beds as virus cases surge

Lebanon hospitals run out of beds as virus cases surge
People wearing protective face masks walk outside Rafik Hariri University Hospital, amid concerns over the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Beirut, Lebanon January 4, 2021. (Reuters)
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Updated 06 January 2021

Lebanon hospitals run out of beds as virus cases surge

Lebanon hospitals run out of beds as virus cases surge
  • Fourth lockdown follows record daily infections and warnings of ‘worse to come’

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s health system is on the brink of collapse as the country begins a 25-day nationwide lockdown to battle a record surge in coronavirus infections.

The lockdown starting on Thursday — the country’s fourth in just over 10 months — follows a dramatic spike in the infection rate, with 3,620 cases reported in a single day, the highest number since the outbreak began in late February, 2020.

Amid growing alarm at the deteriorating situation, health officials warned that hospitals are running out of beds and intensive care facilities are being overwhelmed.

Pharmacists also told Arab News that stocks of drugs and medicines required to treat coronavirus patients are running low because of the rising demand.

The daily curfew will last until Feb. 1, and will run from 6 p.m. until 5 a.m.

Health Minister Hamad Hassan warned that those who breach the lockdown will legal action as well as fines.

“The pandemic challenge has become a danger to the lives of Lebanese as hospitals are no longer able to provide beds,” he said.

Coronavirus cases more than doubled in Lebanon after the government relaxed preventive measures during the holiday season, hoping the move would deliver a boost to the country’s battered economy.

Around 3,000 new virus cases have been recorded each day for the past week, bringing the total since last February to almost 193,000, with almost 1,500 deaths.

Private hospitals have been urged to join the national response, with Maronite Patriarch Bechara Boutros Al-Rai calling on administrators to “prepare the necessary rooms and suites for coronavirus patients.”

However, several private hospitals in Lebanon claimed that the government was unwilling to pay money it already owed for the treatment of patients.

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Emergency wards are full, there is a shortage of COVID-19 medicines, and doctors are urging patients to stay home unless their situation is critical.

A number of doctors and nurses also complained that they were being overworked at the same time as the value of their income, which is in Lebanese pounds, declined.

Director of the Rafik Hariri University Hospital in Beirut, Dr. Firas Al-Abyad, said that he feared the situation would worsen.

“For the first time since the virus began spreading, more than 30 percent of the PCR tests conducted at the hospital in one day returned positive results. That means there will be higher numbers of cases in coming weeks.”

Assem Araji, head of the parliamentary health committee, described the situation as “very alarming,” saying that hospitals had run out of beds.

“If we want to reduce the number of cases, the lockdown must be strictly enforced,” he told Arab News.

President Michel Aoun this week announced that a contract had been signed with Pfizer for the purchase of COVID-19 vaccines.

Secretary-General of the Lebanese Red Cross, Georges Kettaneh, said that emergency teams were taking about 100 coronavirus patients to hospital every day.

Hospitals in Beirut and Mount Lebanon were full, including emergency wards. “There are also waiting lists,” he said.

Doctors urged patients through local television channels to avoid visiting hospital unless they suffer severe shortness of breath. Patients were advised to keep oximeters at home to monitor their oxygen levels.

Meanwhile, private and government laboratories have been overwhelmed by hundreds of people waiting for PCR tests.

Nurse Hussain Ayoub told Arab News that some people seeking tests wanted to travel abroad, but mostly it is “those who have been to New Year’s Eve parties and want reassurance after reports of an infection.”

Many factory owners have said that they will ignore caretaker Industry Minister Imad Hoballah’s order to shut down next Monday.

Professional unions also called on authorities to exempt them from complete closure and to avoid “punishing grassroots groups and low-income people.”

However, Araji said that medical and nursing staff are the largest segment affected by the virus, “and their fears for their health and the health of their families is valid.”

“Lebanon is in a state of general mobilization. There is a pandemic, and we have no option but to face it. Hospitals cannot relax and professional unions cannot violate decisions. Compliance with the lockdown must be unhesitating,” he said.

Pharmacist Samer Soubra told Arab News that stocks of antibiotics, vitamin C, cortisone and zinc used to treat patients are running low as pharmacies face growing pressure on already limited supplies.


US urges Lebanese leaders to break political impasse

US urges Lebanese leaders to break political impasse
Updated 13 min 37 sec ago

US urges Lebanese leaders to break political impasse

US urges Lebanese leaders to break political impasse
  • U.S. official said America and the international community can do nothing meaningful without a Lebanese partner
  • Current crisis was the culmination of decades of mismanagement, corruption and leaders’ failure to put the country’s interests first, said Hale

BEIRUT: A senior US official on Wednesday berated Lebanese politicians for fighting over the formation of a new government for months while millions endure mounting economic hardship.
David Hale, US undersecretary of state for political affairs, said America and the international community are ready to help, “but we can do nothing meaningful without a Lebanese partner.”
Hale spoke on a two-day visit to Lebanon amid a months-long political deadlock and dangerous rift between the president and prime minister-designate. The split has prevented the formation of a new Cabinet tasked with halting the country’s rapid economic collapse.
The outgoing government resigned last August, following a massive explosion at Beirut’s port that killed 211 people, injured more than 6,000 and damaged entire neighborhoods in the capital.
The blast hastened the country’s economic and financial decline, which began in late 2019 and has emerged as the gravest threat to Lebanon’s stability since the 15-year civil war ended in 1990.
The local currency has been in free fall since late 2019, losing around 90 percent of its value. The government defaulted on its foreign debt last year and nearly half the population has been pushed into poverty and unemployment.
“America and its international partners are gravely concerned with the failure here to advance the critical reform agenda long demanded by the Lebanese people,” Hale told reporters Wednesday after meeting Lebanon’s longtime Parliament Speaker, Nabih Berri.
The current crisis, he said, was the culmination of decades of mismanagement, corruption and the failure of Lebanese leaders to put the interests of the country first.
“It is time now to call on Lebanese leaders to show sufficient flexibility to form a government that is willing and capable of true and fundamental reform,” Hale added, calling it the only path out of this crisis.
“It’s also only a first step. Sustained cooperation will be needed if we’re going to see transparent reforms adopted and implemented.”


Saudi Arabia: Iran must be prevented from obtaining nuclear weapons

Saudi Arabia: Iran must be prevented from obtaining nuclear weapons
Updated 33 min 9 sec ago

Saudi Arabia: Iran must be prevented from obtaining nuclear weapons

Saudi Arabia: Iran must be prevented from obtaining nuclear weapons
  • Saudi Arabia said it was following with concern the current developments of the Iranian nuclear program

DUBAI: The international community must take measure to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons, Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs warned on Wednesday.

Iran’s increase of uranium enrichment to 60 percent cannot be considered as part of a peaceful program, the ministry said in a statement reported by state tv Al-Ekhbariya.

The world should take into account the concerns of the countries in the region about the escalation of Iran, the statement said.

The international community must reach an agreement with Iran, the statement added, urging for “stronger parameters of a longer duration.”

Saudi Arabia said it was following with concern the current developments of the Iranian nuclear program and called on Iran to avoid escalation and not to expose the security and stability of the region to further tension.

The kingdom also called on Iran to seriously engage in the negotiations currently underway.

Meanwhile, the European powers party to the Iran nuclear deal told Tehran on Wednesday that its decision to enrich uranium at 60 percent purity and install a further 1,000 centrifuges at its Natanz site were contrary to efforts to revive the 2015 nuclear deal.
Talks between world powers, Iran and the United States are due to resume in Vienna on Thursday, but in a joint statement Britain, France and Germany said Tehran’s decision to enrich at 60 percent was not based on credible civilian reasons and constituted an important step in the production of a nuclear weapon.
“Iran’s announcements are particularly regrettable given they come at a time when all JCPoA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) participants and the United States have started substantive discussions, with the objective of finding a rapid diplomatic solution to revitalise and restore the JCPoA,” the three countries said.
“Iran’s dangerous recent communication is contrary to the constructive spirit and good faith of these discussions.”
Tehran has said its decisions came after arch-foe Israel sabotaged its key Natanz nuclear site on Sunday.
“In light of recent developments, we reject all escalatory measures by any actor, and we call upon Iran not to further complicate the diplomatic process,” the E3 said.

Iran's president said his country’s decision to dramatically increase its uranium enrichment after saboteurs attacked a nuclear site “an answer to your evilness,” saying Israel hoped to derail ongoing talks aimed at reviving Tehran's tattered nuclear deal with world powers.
This weekend's sabotage at the Natanz nuclear facility appears to be part of an escalating shadow war between the two countries. Israeli authorities have not commented on the attack, but are widely suspected of having carried it out.


Jordan begins investigation on those who attempted to destabilize the county

Jordan begins investigation on those who attempted to destabilize the county
Updated 29 min 41 sec ago

Jordan begins investigation on those who attempted to destabilize the county

Jordan begins investigation on those who attempted to destabilize the county
  • At least 16 detentions have been made in relation to the case

CAIRO: Jordan’s state public prosecutor has proceeded with an investigation of all those involved in an alleged plot to destabilize the country. 

Local state media, Al-Mamlaka TV, reported the news on Wednesday citing an unnamed source.

Jordanian officials announced on April 3 the arrest of citizens Al-Sharif Hassan bin Zaid, Bassem Awad Allah, a former head of the Jordanian Royal Court, for security reasons. 

At least 16 detentions have been made in relation to the case. 

Authorities at the time said those were being held as part of “joint comprehensive investigation undertaken by security forces,” according to state-run Petra news agency.  

Jordanian foreign minister Ayman Safadi said previously that investigations found links between Bassem Awadallah and external parties, and the so-called foreign opposition. 


Turkey hails ‘new era’ with Egypt after tensions

Turkey hails ‘new era’ with Egypt after tensions
Updated 14 April 2021

Turkey hails ‘new era’ with Egypt after tensions

Turkey hails ‘new era’ with Egypt after tensions
  • Turkish officials said last month Ankara had established the first diplomatic contacts with Cairo since 2013
  • Cavusoglu told Turkish reporters that the appointment of ambassadors “will come up on the agenda”

ANKARA: Turkey’s foreign minister hailed the start of “a new era” with Egypt as Ankara pushes ahead with normalizing relations with Cairo, local media reported on Wednesday.
Turkey and Egypt broke off relations after the 2013 overthrow of ex-Islamist president Muhammad Mursi, who was supported by Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
That year Turkey and Egypt expelled each others’ ambassadors and froze their relations.
Turkish officials said last month Ankara had established the first diplomatic contacts with Cairo since 2013 as part of wider efforts to fix ties with other Middle Eastern rivals.
“A new era is beginning,” Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu was quoted as saying by NTV broadcaster.
He said there would be a meeting between the two countries’ deputy foreign ministers and diplomats but a date had not yet been set.
Cavusoglu told Turkish reporters that the appointment of ambassadors “will come up on the agenda” during those talks.
When asked, the minister also indicated there would be meetings between himself and his Egyptian counterpart.
“Why not. There can be reciprocal visits and meetings, too,” Cavusoglu said.
Last month, members of Egypt’s Istanbul-based opposition media said Turkish officials had asked them to “tone down” criticism of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi.
The request appeared to be an attempt by Turkey to curry favor with Egypt in a bid to mend relations.
An Egyptian broadcaster known for his outspoken criticism of Cairo on an Istanbul-based channel, said on Saturday he was going on “unlimited leave.”
Moataz Matar, 46, made the announcement during his popular daily show “With Moataz,” which he has presented for several years on the liberal El-Sharq channel.
Matar said he was not forced by Turkey or the channel to leave but added he did not want to “embarrass” anyone.
“I will come back when I am able to tell the truth on El-Sharq again as I always have,” he added.
After the Arab Spring, Istanbul became a capital of Arab media critical of their governments back home, especially for Egyptian media linked to Mursi’s Muslim Brotherhood.


Twenty killed in road accident in Egypt

Twenty killed in road accident in Egypt
Updated 14 April 2021

Twenty killed in road accident in Egypt

Twenty killed in road accident in Egypt
  • The bus from Cairo collided with a truck loaded with cement in the province of Assiut
  • Reckless driving and the poor condition of roads are responsible for many crashes in Egypt

CAIRO: Twenty people were killed and three injured in an accident involving a bus and a truck on a desert highway in Upper Egypt late on Tuesday, the health ministry said on Wednesday.

The bus from Cairo collided with a truck loaded with cement, which was stopping due to a malfunction, in the province of Assiut, about 370 km south of the capital, the provincial governor's office said in a statement.

The bus was burned out within minutes, and the bodies and the injured were removed from it with difficulty, it added.

Thirty-six ambulances rushed to the scene, the health ministry said.

Reckless driving and the poor condition of roads are responsible for many crashes in Egypt. Dozens have been killed in a recent spate of rail and road crashes.

Eighteen people were killed in March when a truck collided with a minibus in Giza province, about 80 km south of Cairo. At least 20 people were killed and nearly 200 people wounded injured when two trains collided near Tahta, about 440 km south of Cairo.