Lebanese health official weeps as he tells of growing coronavirus toll

Lebanese health official weeps as he tells of growing coronavirus toll
Healthcare workers gather the the nurses station in the intensive care unit of the Rafic Hariri University Hospital in the Lebanese capital Beirut. (AFP)
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Updated 10 January 2021

Lebanese health official weeps as he tells of growing coronavirus toll

Lebanese health official weeps as he tells of growing coronavirus toll
  • ‘People are begging for help,’ says tearful Lebanese doctor
  • Lebanon still has not received any vaccine as parliament delays action on needed law

BEIRUT: A senior Lebanese health official broke down in tears while describing how stricken coronavirus patients had begged him for a vacant hospital bed so that they would not die at home in front of their families.

Dr. Joseph Al-Helou, director of the Ministry of Public Health’s medical care directorate, said that hospitals in Lebanon are rapidly being overwhelmed but are receiving hundreds of calls from seriously ill people pleading to be admitted.

“Hospitals are under great pressure as there are only a few vacant beds,” Al-Helou said in a video address that was widely shared on social media platforms.

His comments came as the rise in coronavirus cases exceeded even the bleakest predictions, with more than 5,400 new infections reported on Thursday and Friday, and warnings that case numbers could reach 9,000 on Sunday.

Revealing the suffering of medical staff unable to offer beds to patients, a tearful Al-Helou said: “We are receiving hundreds of calls from people who want to be admitted, even if only to the emergency departments. If we tell them that they have to wait for a vacant bed for five, 10 or even 24 hours, they accept. Today, there are 41 people waiting in emergency departments.

“We are working until past midnight to provide transport for patients. Some people decided to celebrate New Year’s Eve in restaurants — isn’t that a grave crime?”

Al-Helou said that a nurse had come to him in tears, saying that a priest had died in front of her.

“I have never cried, but this is unbearable,” he said. “A man begs me, a woman pleads with me to let her die on the street and not in front of her children. How can that be? Medical personnel are drained. Some people are dying at home, and others lack oxygen at home.”

Aida Al-Noori, a nursing supervisor at the Al-Makassed Islamic Charitable Society Hospital in Beirut, told Arab News: “It is a terrifying scene in emergency departments. Doctors are giving patients prescriptions to get treatment at home, and we teach those who need oxygen how to use it at home. Patients in critical conditions stay here.”

She added: “In the coronavirus department, we have 21 intensive care beds and we are clearing another floor in order to dedicate 16 beds to coronavirus patients.”

Dr. Andre Kozaily, director of the Bouar Public Hospital in Keserwan, Mount Lebanon, said that medical staff are treating some coronavirus patients in cars because the facility has reached maximum capacity.

According to the Ministry of Health’s daily COVID-19 data, infected cases have reached their peak in Ashrafieh (Beirut), Haret Hreik (in the southern suburb of Beirut), Dekwaneh (Metn), Aley and Zouk Mosbeh (Keserwan), Jbeil, Saida, Zgharta, Riyaq (Bekaa), Hermel (Baalbek) and Abbasiyeh (in the south).

Dr. Sharaf Abu Sharaf, head of the Lebanese Order of Physicians, criticized the ministry, saying it had failed to adequately equip public hospitals for the past year.

“Doctors and medical personnel in the private sector are carrying out their duty to the fullest. Private hospitals cannot be blamed. I was in the Zahle Public Hospital today where only six of 120 beds are occupied. Why weren’t people directed to go there? Where is the money that has been paid to the ministry to equip hospitals? Nothing has been prepared.”

Lebanon has 30 government and 130 private hospitals.

Abu Sharaf said that there is a shortage of doctors available to treat the rising numbers of patients.

Hamad Hassan, the caretaker health minister, called on people to “refrain from going anywhere, unless absolutely necessary, during the lockdown.”

Lebanon still has not received any vaccine while the country waits on parliament to adopt a law protecting vaccinated people who might suffer from complications.

Lamia Yammine, the caretaker labor minister, revealed on Saturday that she has been infected with the virus, while Information Minister Manal Abdel-Samad urged media companies to “intensify awareness-raising campaigns to reduce the number of infections.”

Petra Khoury, adviser to the caretaker prime minister on medical matters, warned that with cases peaking in Lebanon, every person has a moral duty to avoid infecting another person.”

“Wear masks,” she said.


Sudan to start vaccine rollout next week after getting COVAX doses

Sudan to start vaccine rollout next week after getting COVAX doses
Updated 04 March 2021

Sudan to start vaccine rollout next week after getting COVAX doses

Sudan to start vaccine rollout next week after getting COVAX doses
  • Sudan received 828,000 doses of the AstraZeneca-produced vaccine on Wednesday at Khartoum airport
  • The delivery follows that of 4.5 metric tons of syringes and disposal boxes through COVAX in late February

KHARTOUM: Sudan will begin vaccinating health care workers followed by people aged 45 or older with chronic conditions for free next week after becoming the first country in the Middle East and North Africa to benefit from COVAX facility vaccines.
Sudan received 828,000 doses of the AstraZeneca-produced vaccine on Wednesday at Khartoum airport, a health ministry official said. The delivery follows that of 4.5 metric tons of syringes and disposal boxes through COVAX in late February.
Sudan says it expects to receive the remainder of a total 3.4 million doses through COVAX, a vaccine-sharing program co-led by the World Health Organization, in the second quarter of this year.
It aims to cover 20% of its population of 44 million through COVAX by September, health ministry officials said.
“This is an essential part of our battle against coronavirus,” Health Minister Omer Elnageib said.
Sudan was also in initial discussions to produce the vaccine domestically, Elnageib added.
Sudan is a young country, with only about 4% of its population over the age of 65, according to UN statistics.
It has been suffering from a long economic crisis that has left it unable to import some basic medicines and its health care system suffered from decades of neglect and sanctions under former President Omar Al-Bashir before his overthrow in 2019.
As of March 1, Sudan had officially recorded 28,545 cases of coronavirus since the start of the pandemic one year ago, including 1,895 deaths.


Iran accepts ‘technical meetings’ with IAEA from early April

Iran accepts ‘technical meetings’ with IAEA from early April
Updated 04 March 2021

Iran accepts ‘technical meetings’ with IAEA from early April

Iran accepts ‘technical meetings’ with IAEA from early April
  • France, Britain and Germany planned to introduce a resolution at a meeting of the IAEA’s board of governors criticizing Iran’s suspension of some IAEA inspections
  • Diplomats said the resolution will now not be put forward

VIENNA: Iran has accepted holding a series of meetings with the UN nuclear watchdog in order to “clarify a number of outstanding issues,” the body’s Director General Rafael Grossi said Thursday.

“We are going to be starting this process... with a technical meeting which will take place in Iran at the beginning of April, which I hope will be followed by other technical or political meetings,” Grossi, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), told reporters at a press conference.

The new process will be aimed at clarifying queries the IAEA has raised about the possible previous presence of nuclear material at undeclared sites.

Meanwhile, The European nations will not go ahead with a planned resolution criticising Iran at this week’s meeting of the UN nuclear watchdog, diplomatic sources said on Thursday.

France, Britain and Germany had planned to introduce a resolution at a meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency’s board of governors, with the support of the United States, criticising Iran’s suspension of some IAEA inspections.

However, diplomats said the resolution, which had not yet been formally submitted, will now not be put forward.

The decision to hold off was taken “to give time to diplomacy,” one diplomatic source said, pointing to “initiatives undertaken by (IAEA Director General Rafael) Grossi” and signs of “good faith” on the Iranian side.

The latest moves come at a delicate moment for diplomacy on the Iranian nuclear issue, with fragile efforts underway to revive the ailing 2015 deal between Iran and world powers on its nuclear programme.

The Iranian Ambassador to the IAEA Kazem Gharib Abadi, tweeted on Thursday that “due to extensive diplomatic consultations” at the IAEA, “a glimpse of hope is looming to prevent unnecessary tension.”

“Wisdom prevails,” he added.

The US told IAEA that Iran has been given a chance to address the concerns on uranium particles found at undeclared, old sites and Washington will watch closely.

“Iran has now been given another opportunity by the Director General to offer up the necessary cooperation before this Board next meets,” the US statement to the board said, shortly after diplomats said plans for a resolution criticizing Iran had been scrapped.

“The United States, like all Board members, will calibrate our views on the Board’s next steps according to whether Iran seizes the opportunity now before it to finally and credibly address the IAEA's concerns,” it added.

US President Joe Biden has said he is willing to bring the United States back to the landmark 2015 deal, known as the JCPOA.

It has been unravelling since Biden’s predecessor Donald Trump pulled the US out of the agreement in 2018.

Earlier this week, a report in the Iranian Vatan-e-Emrouz newspaper said Tehran had “temporarily suspended the production of uranium metal on the order of the President (Hassan Rouhani).”

The government in Tehran has not disputed the accuracy of the report.

The production of uranium metal goes against a 15-year ban in the JCPOA on “producing or acquiring plutonium or uranium metals or their alloys”

However, Iran says it has the right to breach this and a series of other constraints on its nuclear activities laid down in the deal in retaliation for the US withdrawal from the accord and subsequent imposition of sanctions.

Iran says the uranium metal production is part of its plans to provide advanced fuel for a research reactor in Tehran.

But the topic is sensitive because uranium metal can be used as a component in nuclear weapons.

Late last month Iran suspended some IAEA inspections as US sanctions had not yet been lifted, described by Grossi as a “huge loss” for the agency.

However, after two days of talks with Iranian officials in Tehran, a three-month arrangement was agreed under which Iran pledged to keep recordings “of some activities and monitoring equipment” and hand them over to the IAEA as and when US sanctions are lifted.

Iran had threatened to suspend that arrangement in the event of a critical resolution at the IAEA.

European states and the US criticised Iran’s suspension of inspections in their statements to the IAEA's board this week.

“How does ending such monitoring serve Iran’s goal of re-establishing confidence in its nuclear programmes and intentions?” asked US Charge d'Affaires Louis L Bono.

“These steps are counterproductive, and Iran should reverse them,” he added.


US blasts ICC decision to probe Israel over war crimes

US blasts ICC decision to probe Israel over war crimes
Updated 04 March 2021

US blasts ICC decision to probe Israel over war crimes

US blasts ICC decision to probe Israel over war crimes
  • Secretary of state: International Criminal Court ‘has no jurisdiction over this matter’
  • ICC prosecutor: Decision to investigate ‘followed painstaking preliminary examination that lasted close to five years’

CHICAGO: US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken condemned the decision by the International Criminal Court (ICC) to open a formal investigation into war crimes committed by both Israel’s military and Palestinian militants.

ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda, who will be replaced by Karim Khan on June 16, said in December 2019: “War crimes have been or are being committed in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip.”

She named both the Israel Defense Forces and armed Palestinian groups such as Hamas as possible perpetrators.

Blinken said: “The ICC has no jurisdiction over this matter. Israel is not a party to the ICC and has not consented to the court’s jurisdiction, and we have serious concerns about the ICC’s attempts to exercise its jurisdiction over Israeli personnel.”

The Biden administration “firmly opposes and is deeply disappointed” by this decision, he added. “The Palestinians do not qualify as a sovereign state and therefore are not qualified to obtain membership as a state in, participate as a state in, or delegate jurisdiction to the ICC.”

Despite his denunciation, Blinken said the US “remains deeply committed to ensuring justice and accountability for international atrocity crimes. We recognize the role that international tribunals such as the ICC can play — within their respective mandates — in the pursuit of those important objectives.”

The US “believes a peaceful, secure and more prosperous future for the people of the Middle East depends on building bridges and creating new avenues for dialogue and exchange, not unilateral judicial actions that exacerbate tensions and undercut efforts to advance a negotiated two-state solution,” he added.

“We will continue to uphold our strong commitment to Israel and its security, including by opposing actions that seek to target Israel unfairly.”

Israel also denounced the ICC decision, while the Palestinian Authority welcomed it. Bensouda said the decision to open an investigation “followed a painstaking preliminary examination undertaken by my office that lasted close to five years.”

She added: “In the end, our central concern must be for the victims of crimes, both Palestinian and Israeli, arising from the long cycle of violence and insecurity that has caused deep suffering and despair on all sides.”

Ned Price, State Department press secretary, said despite opposing an ICC investigation, the Biden administration “would always stand up for human rights.”

He added: “We are thoroughly reviewing sanctions pursuant to Executive Order 13928 as we determine our next steps.”

Executive Order 13928, issued by former US President Donald Trump in June 2020, “blocks property of certain parties associated with the International Criminal Court.”


UAE reports 2,742 new coronavirus cases, 17 deaths

UAE reports 2,742 new coronavirus cases, 17 deaths
Updated 04 March 2021

UAE reports 2,742 new coronavirus cases, 17 deaths

UAE reports 2,742 new coronavirus cases, 17 deaths
  • An additional 1,691 individuals have recovered from the contagious disease

DUBAI: UAE health officials reported 2,742 new coronavirus infections and a further 17 deaths overnight as the country further expanded its testing protocols with an additional 235,797 COVID-19 tests done in the past 24 hours.
The Ministry of Health and Prevention said that recorded COVID-19 cases now stand at 402,205 while the total number of fatalities was at 1,286.
An additional 1,691 people have recovered from the disease, state news agency WAM reported, bringing the total number of recoveries to 387,278.
The UAE has implemented stringent protocols to curb the spread of coronavirus to complement its widespread inoculation campaign.
In Sharjah, security inspection teams apprehended 13 people who were playing cricket which violated measures to combat COVID-19, a separate WAM report said.
Neighboring Ajman emirate meanwhile has mandated workers employed in businesses including restaurants, cafes, supermarkets, gyms, men’s and women’s salons, and food and meal delivery companies to undergo weekly PCR examinations.
Employees who have received two doses of the COVID-19 vaccine are exempted from the latest regulation.


UN to investigate war crimes in Ethiopia

UN to investigate war crimes in Ethiopia
Updated 04 March 2021

UN to investigate war crimes in Ethiopia

UN to investigate war crimes in Ethiopia
  • Reports says a preliminary analysis of the information indicated that serious violations of international law, possibly amounting to war crimes and crimes against humanity, may have been committed

GENEVA: The UN rights chief said Thursday that her office had corroborated grave violations that could amount to “war crimes and crimes against humanity” in Ethiopia’s Tigray region, including by Eritrean troops.
Michelle Bachelet stressed in a statement the urgent need for an independent investigation into the situation in Tigray, which has been rocked by months of fighting.
Her office had “managed to corroborate information about some of the incidents that occurred in November last year, indicating indiscriminate shelling in Mekelle, Humera and Adigrat towns in Tigray region.”
It had also verified “reports of grave human rights violations and abuses including mass killings in Axum, and in Dengelat in central Tigray by Eritrean armed forces,” it said.
A preliminary analysis of the information indicated that “serious violations of international law, possibly amounting to war crimes and crimes against humanity, may have been committed by multiple actors in the conflict,” the statement warned.
Those actors included the Ethiopian National Defense Forces, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), Eritrean armed forces, and Amhara Regional Forces and affiliated militia, it said.
“With multiple actors in the conflict, blanket denials and finger-pointing, there is a clear need for an objective, independent assessment of these reports,” Bachelet said.
She urged the Ethiopian government to grant her office and other United Nations investigators access to Tigray “with a view to establishing the facts and contributing to accountability, regardless of the affiliation of perpetrators.”
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights pointed out that her office was continuing to receive information of ongoing fighting in central Tigray in particular.
She lamented “deeply distressing reports of sexual and gender-based violence, extrajudicial killings, widespread destruction and looting of public and private property by all parties.”
“Without prompt, impartial and transparent investigations and holding those responsible accountable, I fear violations will continue to be committed with impunity, and the situation will remain volatile for a long time to come,” she said.
Bachelet also voiced concern at the detentions this week in Tigray of journalists and translators working for local and international media, including AFP.
While they had been released, she pointed to worrying remarks by a government official that those responsible for “misleading international media” would be held responsible.
“Victims and witnesses of human rights violations and abuses must not be hindered from sharing their testimony for fear of reprisals,” she said.
Tigray has been gripped by fighting since early November 2020, when Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed announced military operations against the TPLF, accusing them of attacking federal army camps.
Abiy — who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2019 — declared victory after pro-government troops took the regional capital Mekele in late November, although the TPLF vowed to fight on, and clashes have persisted in the region.
The presence of Eritrean troops in the Tigray conflict has been widely documented but has been denied by both countries.