Lebanon can’t handle next COVID-19 wave, warns hospital chief

Lebanon can’t handle next COVID-19 wave, warns hospital chief
A medic assists a patient as others wait in a hallway at the Rafic Hariri University Hospital (RHUH) in Lebanon's capital Beirut on July 23, 2021.(File/AFP)
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Updated 24 July 2021

Lebanon can’t handle next COVID-19 wave, warns hospital chief

Lebanon can’t handle next COVID-19 wave, warns hospital chief
  • After dropping over the spring, COVID-19 cases are on the rise again as Lebanese expats flood home for the summer

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s deepening economic crisis has piled pressure on hospitals, leaving them ill-equipped to face any new wave of the coronavirus, a top hospital director has warned.
Already struggling with shortages of medicine and an exodus of staff abroad, the country’s health facilities are now also having to contend with almost round-the-clock power cuts.
“All hospitals... are now less prepared than they were during the wave at the start of the year,” said Firass Abiad, the manager of the largest public hospital in the country battling COVID-19.
“Medical and nursing staff have left, medicine that was once available has run out,” and ever lengthening cuts to the mains power supply have left hospitals under constant threat.
Even the Rafik Hariri University Hospital he runs has been struggling to cope.
“We only get two to three hours of mains electricity, and for the rest of the time it’s up to the generators,” Abiad said.
On top of worrying they could burn out, “we have the huge burden of having to constantly be on the hunt for fuel oil.”
Huge demand for the increasingly scarce commodity has driven up prices by more than 80 percent since June 17.
Even at the prestigious RHUH, some medicines are routinely running out.
“Some days it’s antibiotics, others it’s anaesthetics,” the hospital chief said.
Sometimes “we’re forced to ask the patients’ relatives to go and try to find the medicine from another hospital or a pharmacy.”
After dropping over the spring, COVID-19 cases are on the rise again as Lebanese expats flood home for the summer, and many gather with family and friends.
On Thursday alone, 98 people tested positive for COVID-19 on arrival at Beirut airport, the health ministry said.
“It could be catastrophic if this rise in coronavirus numbers leads to a spike like the one we saw at the start of the year,” Abiad said.
Abiad said the solution was better social distancing and more inoculations in a country where just 15 percent of the population have been fully vaccinated.
On Thursday, private hospitals warned of a looming “catastrophe” as some were only hours away from running out of fuel to power their generators.
The following day, pharmacies said they were going on indefinite strike over persistent shortages of medicines, just weeks after drug importers said the central bank owed millions of dollars to their suppliers abroad.
Pharmacies said importers are refusing to make deliveries as they are unhappy with the new prices for drugs that are no longer subsidised, and cannot get lines of credit for those that still are.
Around 1,300 doctors have emigrated since the economic crisis began in 2019, with the numbers picking up over the past 12 months, the doctors’ syndicate says.
Since February last year, Lebanon has recorded 553,615 cases of COVID-19, 7,890 of them fatal, according to health ministry figures.


Sudan ruling body chief pledges reforms to army

Sudan ruling body chief pledges reforms to army
Updated 8 sec ago

Sudan ruling body chief pledges reforms to army

Sudan ruling body chief pledges reforms to army
  • Al-Burhan said the armed forces are committed to holding elections on the date fixed for ending the transition

KHARTOUM: The general who heads Sudan’s ruling transitional authority on Sunday pledged to reform the army, days after a failed coup.
“We are going to reorganize the armed forces... Partisan activities are banned in the army,” Sovereign Council chief General Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan said at the opening of a military hospital in Khartoum.
“The armed forces are committed to holding elections on the date fixed for ending the transition” in 2023, he said.
“After that, the army will leave the political scene and its role will be limited to protecting the country.”
Sudan is led by a civilian-military administration under an August 2019 power-sharing deal signed after president Omar Bashir’s ouster by the military in April that year following mass protests against his iron-fisted rule.
Sudan’s government said it thwarted a September 21 coup attempt involving military officers and civilians linked to the regime of imprisoned Bashir. At least 11 officers were among those arrested.
Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok has since called for reforms within the army, a highly sensitive issue in Sudan.
A transition to full civilian rule has remained shaky, reeling from deep fragmentation among political factions, economic woes and a receding role for civilian leaders.
Paramilitary leader and Burhan’s deputy in the Sovereign Council, Mohamed Hamdan Daglo, has pointed a finger of blame at politicians after the failed coup.
“Politicians are the main cause behind coups because they have neglected the average citizen... and are more concerned fighting over how they can stay in power,” Daglo said.


Tunisians protest against president’s power grab as opposition deepens

Tunisians protest against president’s power grab as opposition deepens
Updated 14 min 18 sec ago

Tunisians protest against president’s power grab as opposition deepens

Tunisians protest against president’s power grab as opposition deepens
  • President Kais Saied gives himself power to rule by decree two months after he sacked the prime minister

TUNIS: About 3,000 demonstrators gathered in Tunis on Sunday under a heavy police presence to protest against Tunisian President Kais Saied’s seizure of governing powers in July and called on him to step down.
Saied this week brushed aside much of the 2014 constitution, giving himself power to rule by decree two months after he sacked the prime minister, suspended parliament and assumed executive authority.
“The people want the fall of the coup,” they chanted in the center of Tunis along Habib Bourguiba Avenue, a focal point of the demonstrations that ended the rule of former President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali on January 14, 2011. “Step down.”
The crisis has endangered the democratic gains that Tunisians won in a 2011 revolution that triggered the “Arab spring” protests and has also slowed efforts to tackle an urgent threat to public finances, worrying investors.
Saied has said his actions, which his opponents have called a coup, are needed to address a crisis of political paralysis, economic stagnation and a poor response to the coronavirus pandemic. He has promised to uphold rights and not become a dictator.
Nadia Ben Salem said she traveled 500 kilometers from the south to express her anger in the protest.
“We will protect democracy... the constitution is a red line,” she said, holding up a copy of the constitution.
Saied still has wide support among Tunisians, who are tired of corruption and poor public services and say his hands are clean.
He has not put any time limit on his seizure of power, but said he would appoint a committee to help draft amendments to the 2014 constitution and establish “a true democracy in which the people are truly sovereign.” Tunisia’s largest political party, the moderate Islamist Ennahda, has called Saied’s moves “a flagrant coup against democratic legitimacy” and called for people to unite and defend democracy in “a tireless, peaceful struggle.”
Ennahda has been the most powerful party in Tunisia since the 2011 revolution that led to the ousting of its long-time president, playing a role in backing successive coalition governments.
But Saied’s coup has left it facing a severe split: More than 100 prominent officials of Ennahda, including lawmakers and former ministers, resigned on Saturday in protest at the leadership’s performance.
Tunisia’s influential labor union on Friday rejected key elements of Saied’s action and warned of a threat to democracy as opposition widened against a move his foes call a coup.
A first protest against Saied since his intervention on July 25 took place last week. It consisted of several hundred people.
“The language of dialogue has been disrupted with Saied...He does not like dialogue,” said independent lawmaker Iyadh Loumi.
“He wanted to isolate everyone and he is taking all power...Saied must be sacked and put on trial.”
Four other political parties issued a joint statement condemning Saied on Wednesday and another large party, Heart of Tunisia, has also done so.


Syria coronavirus spike sees hospitals reach capacity

Syria coronavirus spike sees hospitals reach capacity
Updated 47 min 38 sec ago

Syria coronavirus spike sees hospitals reach capacity

Syria coronavirus spike sees hospitals reach capacity
  • Around 70 percent of the country’s pre-war medical staff have left since the start of the war

DAMASCUS: Hospitals in the Syrian capital Damascus and the coastal province of Latakia have reached capacity due to rising coronavirus admissions, a health official said Sunday.
“We have started transferring Covid-19 patients from the province of Damascus to the (central) province of Homs, and from Latakia to the province of Tartus,” Tawfiq Hasaba, a health ministry official, was quoted as saying by Syrian state TV.
The move came after “hospitals in these areas reached capacity because of a large spike in coronavirus cases,” he added.
Syria on Saturday logged 442 new coronavirus infections in government-held areas — a new daily record for a conflict-hit country that has documented more than 32,580 cases, including 2,198 deaths in regime controlled territory, since the start of its outbreak last year.
“It is the first time the number of cases reaches 400” in one day, Hasaba said, adding that the number of new infections was highest in Damascus, Aleppo and Latakia.
Coronavirus cases have been on the rise across Syria since mid-August, including in the northwest and northeast, large parts of which fall beyond government control.
According to the World Health Organization, only two percent of Syria’s population has been at least partially vaccinated.
Syria’s conflict has since 2011 killed nearly half a million people and ravaged a health care sector struggling to cope with a mass outflux of professionals.
Around 70 percent of the country’s pre-war medical staff have left since the start of the war.


War monitor: Russia raids kill 11 pro-Turkish fighters in Syria

War monitor: Russia raids kill 11 pro-Turkish fighters in Syria
Updated 50 min 9 sec ago

War monitor: Russia raids kill 11 pro-Turkish fighters in Syria

War monitor: Russia raids kill 11 pro-Turkish fighters in Syria
  • Strikes hit school used as a ‘military base’ by the Al-Hamza Division outside the north Syria town of Afrin

BEIRUT: At least 11 fighters from a pro-Turkish rebel group were killed Sunday in Russian air raids in northern Syria, a war monitor said Sunday.
The strikes hit a school used as a “military base” by the Al-Hamza Division outside the north Syria town of Afrin which has been under the control of Turkey and its Syrian rebel proxies since 2018, said the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
“Eleven fighters were killed and another 13 were wounded in the Russian strikes,” said the monitor, which relies on a network of sources inside Syria.
It said the death toll could climb further amid ongoing efforts to pull victims from the rubble.
Observatory head Rami Abdul Rahman said such Russian raids are rare in this region of Syria, which has been controlled by Turkey and its Syrian rebel allies for three years.
A Russian raid outside Afrin last month targeted a position of Faylaq Al-Sham, another Turkey-backed rebel group, he said.
A spokesperson for the National Army, a coalition of Turkey-backed rebel groups, called Sunday’s attack a “clear message from Russia” to Turkey, showing that there are no “red lines.”
Turkey supports Syrian rebel forces battling President Bashar Assad’s government and it has also launched multiple operations across Syria’s northern border against Kurdish forces and against the Daesh group.
Russia, on the other hand, is a staunch supporter of the Syrian regime and has intervened militarily in support of Assad since 2015.
Although they back opposite sides, Ankara and Moscow have worked together to broker several cease-fire deals in Syria’s northwest, including a 2020 truce agreement in the Idlib region, the country’s last major opposition bastion.


Iran says 2 inmates dead in jail south of Tehran

Iran says 2 inmates dead in jail south of Tehran
Updated 26 September 2021

Iran says 2 inmates dead in jail south of Tehran

Iran says 2 inmates dead in jail south of Tehran
  • Iran regularly defends itself against reports by the UN or international rights groups criticizing its treatment of prison inmates

TEHRAN: Iranian prison authorities confirmed the deaths of two inmates within a week at a jail south of the capital and opened investigations into the circumstances.
“A committee has been set up to probe the death of Amir-Hossein Hatami in Grand Tehran prison,” penitentiary authorities in the capital announced in a brief statement issued late Saturday.
The Ghanoun newspaper said Hatami was a 22-year who worked in Tehran bazaar and had been arrested after getting into a fight.
On Thursday, the chief of Iran’s prisons, Mohammad-Mehdi Hadj-Mohammadi, ordered an investigation into the death of Chahine Nasseri, another inmate of Grand Tehran, located some 30 kilometers from the capital.
Hadj-Mohammadi last month acknowledged cases of “unacceptable behavior” after footage of prison guards beating and mistreating detainees was reportedly obtained by hackers who accessed surveillance cameras at Tehran’s Evin prison.
Iran regularly defends itself against reports by the UN or international rights groups criticizing its treatment of prison inmates.