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.


UAE administers 118,805 doses of COVID-19 vaccines overnight

UAE administers 118,805 doses of COVID-19 vaccines overnight
Updated 26 min 39 sec ago

UAE administers 118,805 doses of COVID-19 vaccines overnight

UAE administers 118,805 doses of COVID-19 vaccines overnight
  • UAE health officials reported 2,022 new coronavirus cases overnight

DUBAI: The UAE administered 1118,805 more doses of COVID-19 vaccines overnight bringing total jabs given to residents and citizens to 9,156,728 or about 92.58 doses per 100 individuals.

The nationwide inoculation program aims to give the population immunity from coronavirus that will help curb its spread as well as bring down infection cases.

UAE health officials reported 2,022 new coronavirus cases overnight, bringing the country’s caseload to 487,697 since the pandemic began. Four deaths were also confirmed due to COVID-19 complications, bringing the total number of deaths in the country to 1,537.

Meanwhile, an additional 1,731 individuals had fully recovered from COVID-19, bringing the total number of recoveries to 471,906.


Biden administration proceeding with $23 billion weapon sales to UAE

Biden administration proceeding with $23 billion weapon sales to UAE
Updated 47 min 27 sec ago

Biden administration proceeding with $23 billion weapon sales to UAE

Biden administration proceeding with $23 billion weapon sales to UAE

WASHINGTON: US President Joe Biden’s administration has told Congress it is proceeding with more than $23 billion in weapons sales to the United Arab Emirates, including advanced F-35 aircraft, armed drones and other equipment, congressional aides said on Tuesday.
A State Department spokesperson said the administration would move forward with the proposed sales to the UAE, “even as we continue reviewing details and consulting with Emirati officials” related to the use of the weapons.
The Democratic president’s administration had paused the deals agreed to by former Republican President Donald Trump in order to review them.


Israel shocked by self-immolation of traumatized ex-soldier

Israel shocked by self-immolation of traumatized ex-soldier
An honour guard of Israeli soldiers with their rifles stands to attention during a one minute siren, as they partake in a state ceremony for Memorial Day in Jerusalem on April 13, 2021. (AFP)
Updated 14 April 2021

Israel shocked by self-immolation of traumatized ex-soldier

Israel shocked by self-immolation of traumatized ex-soldier
  • ‘He saw horrible things and nobody took care of him,’ his tearful brother Avi Saidian told journalists at the hospital

JERUSALEM: Israel was shaken Tuesday after a 26-year-old former soldier suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder since the 2014 Gaza war set himself on fire, suffering severe injuries.
Itzik Saidian went to a support service for wounded soldiers near Tel Aviv on Monday, doused himself with a flammable liquid and lit it, “due to significant psychological distress,” the army said.
He was rushed to the intensive care unit of Tel Hashomer Hospital near Tel Aviv and was in “critical condition” with “deep burns all over his body,” the hospital said.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he was “very shocked” and “determined to undertake a complete reform of the way we take care of our disabled and wounded veterans.”
The young man had been recognized as partially disabled because he suffered from PTSD related to his service during the 2014 war between Israel and the armed Islamist movement Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
Around 2,250 Palestinians were killed in the war, mostly civilians, and 74 Israelis, mostly soldiers.
Saidian’s self-immolation came on the eve of Israel’s Remembrance Day for fallen soldiers and attack victims.
It sparked controversy over the support system for wounded or psychologically ill soldiers, which is often deemed inefficient and bureaucratic.
“He saw horrible things and nobody took care of him,” his tearful brother Avi Saidian told journalists at the hospital.
Defense Minister Benny Gantz announced a “thorough investigation to find the reasons for this tragic event.” His ministry pledged to “substantially improve the treatment of post-traumatic soldiers.”
Military service is mandatory in Israel for 18-year-olds. Women serve two years and men two years and six months.


Lebanon’s president says new maritime claim needs government approval

Lebanon’s president says new maritime claim needs government approval
Updated 13 April 2021

Lebanon’s president says new maritime claim needs government approval

Lebanon’s president says new maritime claim needs government approval
  • Aoun's decision could significantly delay the process
  • Israeli Energy Minister said Monday Lebanon's expanded claim would derail talks

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s president said on Tuesday a draft decree expanding its maritime claims in a dispute with Israel must be approved by the caretaker government, rejecting a request to grant it swift presidential approval.
The dispute with Israel over the maritime boundary has held up hydrocarbon exploration in a potentially gas-rich area of the eastern Mediterranean.
The decree, approved by Lebanon’s caretaker prime minister, defense minister and minister of public work on Monday, would add around 1,400 square km (540 square miles) to an exclusive economic zone in the eastern Mediterranean claimed by Lebanon.
Caretaker Prime Minister Hassan Diab’s office said the decree should be approved by President Michel Aoun so that the new maritime coordinates setting out Lebanon’s claim could be submitted to the United Nations.
But the presidency said it should be approved by Diab’s full cabinet, even though the government resigned eight months ago following a devastating explosion in Beirut, because of the gravity of the issue.
The draft decree “needs a collective decision from the council of ministers..., even under a caretaker government, due to its importance and the consequences,” a statement from Aoun’s office said.
Aoun’s decision could significantly delay the process. Since the government resigned in August it has referred all issues for exceptional approval by the president, leaving them to get formal endorsement when a new government is finally agreed.
Negotiations were launched in October to try to resolve the dispute with Israel yet the talks, a culmination of three years of diplomacy by the United States, have since stalled.
Israel already pumps gas from offshore fields but Lebanon has yet to find commercial gas reserves in its own waters.
Israeli Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz said on Monday Lebanon’s expanded claim would derail the talks rather than help work toward a common solution, warning that Israel would implement “parallel measures.”
Lebanon, in the throes of a deep financial meltdown that is threatening its stability, is desperate for cash as it faces the worst economic crisis since its 1975-1990 civil war. But political leaders have failed to bridge their differences and form a new government.


Ramadan in Lebanon limited due to high inflation, virus restrictions

Ramadan in Lebanon limited due to high inflation, virus restrictions
Mahmud Fannas, who carries out the traditional role of a Musaharati (Ramadan drummer), who awakens Muslims for the pre-dawn traditional suhur meal during Ramadan, visits a young fan in an alley in the old city of Sidon, Lebanon. (AFP)
Updated 14 April 2021

Ramadan in Lebanon limited due to high inflation, virus restrictions

Ramadan in Lebanon limited due to high inflation, virus restrictions
  • Iftar events banned as new curfew goes into effect and donations are fleeting during the holy month
  • People ask me about the prices, and when I answer, they seem very unhappy. Some even beg me to give them lower prices. But the truth is, I am one of these people. I am suffering just like them

BEIRUT: The social events, traditions and gatherings usually celebrated during Ramadan will be very different this year in Lebanon as the country continues to grapple with unprecedented economic collapse and a coronavirus (COVID-19) surge.

Leading up to the holy month, preparations for Ramadan were slight in Beirut as only a few signs reminding people to donate could be seen in the city’s main streets. Charity foundations usually rely on the month of Ramadan every year to collect donations but the country’s ability to give is fleeting.

“More than 50 percent of the Lebanese now live under the poverty line,” World Bank Group Vice President for Middle East and North Africa Farid Belhaj said on April 4.

In an attempt to combat the spread of the virus, the National Disaster Management Operations Room imposed a new curfew that applies during Ramadan from 9 p.m. until 5 a.m. It has also banned all iftar events.

Charitable organizations can distribute food to houses, but only after obtaining a permit from the electronic platform. The capacity of worshippers at mosques will be limited to 30 percent while restaurants and cafes, which have already endured several months of lockdown, will be closed again during the holy month.

The price inflation has become a daily nightmare for the Lebanese, and with the arrival of Ramadan, the prices of essential goods, like vegetables and fruits, have increased even further due to the high demand.

“The price of one kilo of beef has increased to between 60 and 70,000 pounds and a kilo of taouk chicken was sold at 50,000 pounds on the first day of Ramadan,” Abbas Ali Salim, a butcher shop owner in Beirut’s southern suburbs, told Arab News.

“People ask me about the prices, and when I answer, they seem very unhappy. Some even beg me to give them lower prices. But the truth is, I am one of these people. I am suffering just like them. The black market is trading the state-subsidized meat, monopolized by traders who are controlling the prices.”

Due to inflation, the cost of a typical iftar meal — lentil soup, fattoush salad, a main dish of chicken and rice, a half a cup of yogurt and a single date — has reached more than 60,000 Lebanese pounds, according to the crisis observatory at the American University of Beirut.

By those estimates, a full month of iftar meals for a family of five would cost 1.8 million pounds, which is much higher than the Lebanese minimum wage of 675,000 pounds. This cost does not even cover the juices, desserts, gas, electricity or cleaning material used for cooking.

Researchers at the observatory said a fattoush salad for a small family that cost 6,000 pounds during Ramadan last year, now costs 18,500 pounds. This means that the cost of a daily salad during this year’s Ramadan would be about 82 percent of the minimum wage.

The observatory feared that families might cope with the inflation by “cutting quantities or opting for cheaper alternatives to replace vegetables and meat, which would result in malnutrition.”

Mohammad Chamseddine, a researcher from the independent studies and statistics company Information International, said: “The prices of basic goods in Ramadan have increased by between 25 and 100 percent, with a significant reduction in sales, as the purchasing power of the Lebanese, especially those getting paid in Lebanese pounds, has eroded.”

Ramadan has also been affected by the country’s slow COVID-19 vaccination plan, which started in February. Lebanon's Health Minister Hamad Hassan said on Tuesday that “over 20 percent of the Lebanese people have developed immunity, either through infection or vaccination.”