Top Lebanese hospitals fight exhausting battle against virus

Top Lebanese hospitals fight exhausting battle against virus
Hospitals in Lebanon are reaching full capacity amid a dramatic surge in coronavirus cases across the crisis-hit Mediterranean nation even amid strict lockdown. (AP)
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Updated 23 January 2021

Top Lebanese hospitals fight exhausting battle against virus

Top Lebanese hospitals fight exhausting battle against virus
  • In recent weeks, Lebanon has seen a dramatic increase in virus cases, following the holiday season

BEIRUT: Death stalks the corridors of Beirut’s Rafik Hariri University Hospital, where losing multiple patients in one day to COVID-19 has become the new normal. On Friday, the mood among the staff was even more solemn as a young woman lost the battle with the virus.
There was silence as the woman, barely in her 30s, drew her last breath. Then a brief commotion. The nurses frantically tried to resuscitate her. Finally, exhausted, they silently removed the oxygen mask and the tubes — and covered the body with a brown blanket.
The woman, whose name is being withheld for privacy reasons, is one of 57 victims who died on Friday and more than 2,150 lost to the virus so far in Lebanon, a small country with a population of nearly 6 million that since last year has grappled with the worst economic and financial crisis in its modern history.
In recent weeks, Lebanon has seen a dramatic increase in virus cases, following the holiday season when restrictions were eased and thousand of expatriates flew home for a visit.
Now, hospitals across the country are almost completely out of beds. Oxygen tanks, ventilators and most critically, medical staff, are in extremely short supply. Doctors and nurses say they are exhausted. Facing burnout, many of their colleagues left.
Many others have caught the virus, forcing them to take sick leave and leaving fewer and fewer colleagues to work overtime to carry the burden.
To every bed that frees up after a death, three or four patients are waiting in the emergency room waiting to take their place.
Mohammed Darwish, a nurse at the hospital, said he has been working six days a week to help with surging hospitalizations and barely sees his family.
“It is tiring. It is a health sector that is not good at all nowadays,” Darwish said.
More than 2,300 Lebanese health care workers have been infected since February, and around 500 of Lebanon’s 14,000 doctors have left the crisis-ridden country in recent months, according to the Order of Physicians. The virus is putting an additional burden on a public health system that was already on the brink because of the country’s currency crash and inflation, as well as the consequences of the massive Beirut port explosion last summer that killed almost 200 people, injured thousands, and devastated entire sectors of the city.
“Our sense is that the country is falling apart,” World Bank Regional Director, Saroj Kumar Jha, told reporters in a virtual news conference Friday.
At the Rafik Hariri University Hospital, the main government coronavirus facility, there are currently 40 beds in the ICU — all full. According to the World Health Organization, Beirut hospitals are at 98% capacity.
Across town, at the private American University Medical Center — one of Lebanon’s largest and most prestigious hospitals — space is being cleared to accommodate more patients.
But that’s not enough, according to Dr. Pierre Boukhalil, head of the Pulmonary and Critical Care department. His staff were clearly overwhelmed during a recent visit by The Associated Press, leaping from one patient to another amid the constant beep-beep of life-monitoring machines.
The situation “can only be described as a near disaster or a tsunami in the making,” he said, speaking to the AP in between checking on his patients. “We have been consistently increasing capacity over the past week or so, and we are not even keeping up with demands. This is not letting up.”
Boukhalil’s hospital raised the alarm last week, coming out with a statement saying its health care workers were overwhelmed and unable to find beds for “even the most critical patients.”
Since the start of the holiday season, daily infections have hovered around 5,000 in Lebanon, up from nearly 1,000 in November. The daily death toll hit record-breaking more than 60 fatalities in in the past few days.
Doctors say that with increased testing, the number of cases has also increased — a common trend. Lebanon’s vaccination program is set to begin next month.
The World Bank said Thursday it approved $34 million to help pay for vaccines for Lebanon that will inoculate over 2 million people.
Jha, the World Bank’s regional director, said Lebanon will import 1.5 million doses of Pfizer vaccines for 750,000 people that “we are financing in full.” He added that the World Bank also plans to help finance vaccines other than Pfizer in the Mediterranean nation.
Darwish, the nurse, said many COVID-19 patients admitted to Rafik Hariri and especially in the ICU, are young, with no underlying conditions or chronic diseases.
“They catch corona and they think everything is fine and then suddenly you find the patient deteriorated and it hits them suddenly and unfortunately they die,”
On Thursday night, 65-year-old Sabah Miree was admitted to the hospital with breathing problems. She was put on oxygen to help her breathe. Her two sisters had also caught the virus but their case was mild. Miree, who suffers from a heart problem, had to be hospitalized.
“This disease is not a game,” she said, describing what a struggle it is for her to keep breathing. “I would say to everyone to pay attention and not to take this lightly.”
A nationwide round-the-clock curfew imposed on Jan. 14 was extended on Thursday until Feb. 8 to help the health sector deal with the virus surge.
“I still have nightmares when I see a 30-year-old who passed away,” said Dr. Boukhalil. “The disease could have been prevented.”
“So stick with the lockdown ... it pays off,” he said.


Egypt backs call to internationalize Ethiopia dam dispute

Egypt backs call to internationalize Ethiopia dam dispute
Updated 15 min 57 sec ago

Egypt backs call to internationalize Ethiopia dam dispute

Egypt backs call to internationalize Ethiopia dam dispute
  • The dispute centers on how much water Ethiopia will release downstream if a multi-year drought occurs and how the three countries would settle any future disputes
  • Sudan wants Ethiopia to coordinate and share data on dam’s operation to avoid flooding and protect its own power-generating dams on the Blue Nile

CAIRO: Egypt said Wednesday it has endorsed a Sudanese proposal to internationalize arbitration in a years-long dispute with Ethiopia over a massive dam Addis Ababa is building on the Blue Nile.
Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shukry said Cairo backs the formation of an “international quartet” including the US, the European Union, and the UN, along with the African Union to facilitate reaching a deal on the filling and operation of the Grand Ethiopia Renaissance Dam.
The dispute centers on how much water Ethiopia will release downstream if a multi-year drought occurs and how the three countries would settle any future disputes. Egypt and Sudan also call for a legally binding agreement on the dam’s filling and operation, while Ethiopia insists on guidelines.
Shukry said Egypt wants to develop the negotiating mechanism to reach a “legally binding agreement” at the earliest possible opportunity.”
He announced Egypt’s position during a meeting Wednesday in Cairo with Alphonse Ntumba Luaba, the coordination of Democratic Republic of the Congo’s current leadership of the African Union.
There were no immediate comments from Washington, Brussels, or the UN
Sudan has announced its proposal earlier this year after AU-led talks failed to achieve progress. Since then, Khartoum has become vocal against Ethiopia’s plans to start the second filling during the next rainy season.
Prime Minister Abddalla Hamdok said earlier this month that the dam threatens at least 20 million Sudanese, roughly half the country’s population.
Sudan wants Ethiopia to coordinate and share data on dam’s operation to avoid flooding and protect its own power-generating dams on the Blue Nile, the main tributary of the Nile River. The Blue Nile meets with the White Nile in central Sudan from where the Nile winds northward through Egypt and flows into the Mediterranean Sea.
There was no comment from Ethiopia that had left a US-led attempt to mediate the dispute, alleging bias. The administration of former President Donald Trump last year sanctioned Ethiopia over the dam’s first filling before reaching a deal with Egypt and Sudan.
On Friday, President Joe Biden’s administration said it has de-linked the sanctions from the dam dispute.
About 85 percent of the Nile’s flow originates from Ethiopia. Officials hope the dam, now more than three-quarters complete, will reach full power-generating capacity in 2023, helping pull millions of its people out of poverty.
Egypt, the Arab world’s most populous country with over 100 million people, called the dam an existential threat and worries that it would reduce its share of Nile waters. The country relies almost entirely on the Nile to supply water for agriculture and its people.


Lebanon MPs who jumped vaccine queue defend their actions

Lebanon MPs who jumped vaccine queue defend their actions
Updated 25 February 2021

Lebanon MPs who jumped vaccine queue defend their actions

Lebanon MPs who jumped vaccine queue defend their actions
  • World Bank threatens to suspend its backing for the country’s vaccination drive

BEIRUT: Lebanese lawmakers who allegedly jumped the queue and received the first shot of the coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccine on Tuesday are feeling pressure to defend their actions.

Eleven politicians, some of them younger than 75 years old, even had their vaccines “delivered” to Parliament.

A spokesman for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, the organization in charge of monitoring the country’s vaccination plan, “was unaware that President Michel Aoun, his wife and his work team had received the vaccine on Friday, which is a violation to the terms of the national plan.”

As a result, the ethics officer of Lebanon’s vaccination committee, Dr. Talia Arawi, resigned on Wednesday.

It also prompted representatives from the World Bank, the Lebanese Health Ministry, the country’s COVID-19 vaccination committee and other commissions to meet and discuss the breach within the national vaccination plan. 

The World Bank, represented by its Beirut-based office, said it “will continue supporting Lebanon, but with respect to priority groups. If necessary, it is ready to suspend the financing for vaccines.”

Lawmakers who received the vaccine early were on the defensive Wednesday.

“How are lawmakers at fault?” Elie Ferzli, the Parliament's deputy speaker, asked. “Twenty-five lawmakers have been infected in parliament so far, along with 25 other employees. The latest infections occurred during the Procurement Law Committee’s meeting.”

Ferzli said he and other officials registered on the platform, based on the ministry’s request. Of those who registered, 27 lawmakers received approval for the vaccine, because they were 70 or older. Sixteen said they were inoculated in hospitals while the other 11 received the vaccine in Parliament.

Ferzli cited an American University of Beirut (AUB) report that said more than 50 percent of those who have received the vaccine did not register on the national platform.

He accused World Bank regional director Saroj Kumar Jha of “playing a political role”. He said: “This reflects the lack of ethics that a World Bank representative should have. If this is how the bank is planning to deal with us in financing the vaccination plan, forget about the vaccines.”

Ferzli also attacked activists on social media who criticized the lawmakers, describing them as “ridiculous” and “electronic flies.”

Ghazi Zaiter, a politician and former minister, who was summoned for questioning by the former judge leading the probe into the Beirut port explosion, also tried to defend himself. He took to social media, claiming that “he is more Lebanese than others, which gives him the right to the vaccine before the others.”

Zaiter was heavily criticized, with some even calling on him to leave the country. Using a hashtag that was trending on Twitter, online activists said he “considers himself above the law and citizens.”

The AUB called on the ministry to clarify and apologize for the alleged breach of the vaccination plan. It also suggested more transparency when it comes to publishing criteria for those who are eligible for the vaccine, the number of inoculated people in each center, who should not be included in the priority groups and why.

The country’s vaccination campaign started 11 days ago. Yet half of the 12,000 doctors who are members of the medical association have not been vaccinated, nor have 55 percent of the nursing staff.


Turkish lawyer held for ‘insulting the president’ with tweet

Turkish lawyer held for ‘insulting the president’ with tweet
Updated 25 February 2021

Turkish lawyer held for ‘insulting the president’ with tweet

Turkish lawyer held for ‘insulting the president’ with tweet
  • Police raided Mert Yasar’s house on Tuesday and detained the lawyer after an investigation by the Istanbul chief public prosecutor’s office

ISTANBUL: A Turkish lawyer has been arrested and charged with “insulting the president” over a controversial tweet that included sexist remarks directed at ruling Justice and Development Party MP Ozlem Zengin. 

Police raided Mert Yasar’s house on Tuesday and detained the lawyer after an investigation by the Istanbul chief public prosecutor’s office.  

Zengin sparked widespread anger recently with dismissive comments on alleged human rights violations and strip searches in Turkish prisons, ridiculing the claims of dozens of conservative women who said they had been subjected to intrusive searches in recent years. 

“An honorable woman, a woman with morals, wouldn’t wait a year (before complaining). This is an imaginary narrative,” Zengin said on Feb. 19. 

Amid public debate on the topic, Zengin said that women were falling pregnant on orders from various “illegal” groups seeking to trigger public anger over babies growing up in prisons.

“These people are having babies upon directives so that they can assert ‘there are pregnant women or women with babies in jails’,” she said on Feb. 21.

Yasar responded to this latest statement with a furious tweet, targeting the MP: “If the presidential cabinet is given the right of the first night, will Ozlem Zengin close her mouth?” he tweeted, sparking anger among women’s rights activists from all sides of politics. 

Fahrettin Altun, presidential communications director, immediately issued a statement urging the “independent Turkish judiciary to punish this creature named Mert Yaşar in the severest way possible.”

“What will the opposition do in the face of this dishonor? They will, most probably, hide their heads in the sand. We will follow it up,” he said. 

Yasar was arrested on charges of insulting the president according to Article 299 of the Turkish penal code — which critics say points to the disproportionate use of this clause since his tweet targeted an MP, not the president himself. 

Article 299 stipulates that the person who insults the president shall be punished by imprisonment from one to four years, and if the crime is committed publicly, the punishment will be increased by one to six years.

Between 2014 and 2019, about 128,872 investigations were carried out into alleged insults against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, with prosecutors launching about 27,700 criminal cases.

A total of 9,556 defendants were sentenced by Turkish courts, while about 900 minors aged between 12 and 17 also appeared before the court on the same charge. 

“The politicization of the judiciary continues with unlawful arrest and false accusation,” rights activist Nesibe Kiris said. 

Several female politicians and right activists offered examples of their personal experiences with insults that failed to lead to criminal proceedings, sparking debate about the “politically motivated” implementation of such penal clauses. 

“All kinds of insults, threats, sexist attacks on me and all opposing women are free and even they provide a reason for a decision of non-prosecutions. But when it comes to an AKP politician, it becomes a reason for his arrest. It is a tailor-made judiciary. The people’s scales of conscience will weigh all of you when the day comes,” Canan Kaftancioglu, Istanbul head of the opposition Republican People’s Party tweeted. 

A group of lawyers issued a message in support of Yasar, saying that his arrest “is the continuation of the judicial practice that makes decisions under the pressure of social media and political power.”

The arrest was also attacked as being a warning against any vocal criticisms on social media.


Egypt pledges commitment to war on terror in call with US Secretary of State

Egypt pledges commitment to war on terror in call with US Secretary of State
Updated 25 February 2021

Egypt pledges commitment to war on terror in call with US Secretary of State

Egypt pledges commitment to war on terror in call with US Secretary of State
  • The call from Blinken was the first official contact Egypt had received from the new American administration of President Joe Biden

CAIRO: Egyptian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sameh Shoukry on Wednesday pledged his country’s commitment to the war on terror during a phone conversation with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

The call from Blinken was the first official contact Egypt had received from the new American administration of President Joe Biden.

Shoukry told Blinken that Egypt was keen to build on the progress made over recent decades to develop cooperation between the two countries.

According to an official statement, their talks focused on regional and international issues of joint interest. They also discussed the latest developments in Libya and Palestine, and the need to continue working together to combat terrorism and other challenges and security threats facing the region.

Highlighting the historic partnership between the US and Egypt, the officials agreed to further develop political, economic, and cultural ties while promoting issues related to human rights.

US State Department spokesman, Ned Price, said that Blinken’s call to Shoukry showed the importance that America attached to its strategic partnership with Egypt, especially in the areas of security, combating terrorism, and the exchange of views on regional matters.

However, the statement said that Blinken had raised US concerns over Egypt’s potential procurement of Russian Sukhoi Su-35 fighter aircraft.

During the call, they also discussed support for UN-led Libyan peace negotiations, the Middle East peace process, and cooperation in fighting terrorism in Sinai.


Qatar, Egypt to appoint envoys, resume work of embassies

Qatar, Egypt to appoint envoys, resume work of embassies
Updated 25 February 2021

Qatar, Egypt to appoint envoys, resume work of embassies

Qatar, Egypt to appoint envoys, resume work of embassies
  • Cairo and Doha thanked Kuwait for hosting the first round of talks between them

CAIRO: Qatar and Egypt have agreed to appointment envoys and reopen their embassies in the wake of the AlUla agreement to mend relations with Doha.

The resolve came after delegations from both countries held talks in Kuwait to plan the normalization of links between the nations.

“The two parties agreed to resume the work of their diplomatic missions … followed by the appointment of an Egyptian ambassador in Doha and a Qatari ambassador in Cairo,” an Egyptian diplomatic source said.

Qatar’s permanent representative to the Arab League, Ibrahim Abdul Aziz Al-Sahlawi, was expected to become Doha’s envoy in Cairo, the source added.

During the meeting in Kuwait, Egypt was said to have set out its conditions for settling relations with Qatar, which included strict demands for Doha not to interfere in Egyptian internal affairs.

The AlUla agreement, signed on Jan. 5 during the Gulf Cooperation Council summit held in the ancient city, saw Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain, and Egypt restore ties with Qatar, ending a dispute which started in 2017.

A statement from the Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said: “The two sides welcomed the measures taken by both countries after signing the AlUla agreement as a step toward building confidence between the two brotherly countries.”

The meeting discussed ways to enhance joint work and bilateral relations in areas including security, stability, and economic development.

Cairo and Doha thanked Kuwait for hosting the first round of talks between them and for its efforts to heal the rift and promote Arab unity.

Egypt’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs recently announced that Cairo and Doha had exchanged two official memoranda agreeing to restore diplomatic relations and on Jan. 18 flights between Egypt and Qatar resumed after having been suspended for more than three years.