Lebanon looks to keep COVID-19 cases down over the holidays

Lebanon looks to keep COVID-19 cases down over the holidays
The Ministry of Health is racing to stop the new wave by holding open vaccination campaigns every weekend, or what is known as the “Pfizer marathons.” (AP)
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Updated 15 December 2021

Lebanon looks to keep COVID-19 cases down over the holidays

Lebanon looks to keep COVID-19 cases down over the holidays

BEIRUT: The Lebanese Ministry of Health fears a surge in COVID-19 cases in the coming weeks, which would force Lebanon to face a repeat of last year’s scenario.

Health Minister Dr. Firass Abiad said Tuesday: “Cases are on the rise. More patients are being admitted to hospitals every day.

“We have been working to ensure hospitals are ready to receive patients; the occupancy rate has risen to 76 percent, which is a cause for concern,” Abiad added.

The Ministry of Health is racing to stop the new wave by holding open vaccination campaigns every weekend, or what is known as the “Pfizer marathons.”

On Monday, the ministry reported 787 new COVID-19 cases and 12 deaths.

Abiad said that three cases with the omicron variant had been registered in Lebanon. “Omicron cases are expected to rise in Lebanon, like in other countries.”

So far, 40 percent of those registered on the vaccination platform, or about 2.2 million people, have received the first vaccine shot, 34 percent (nearly 1.9 million) have received the second one, while only 11 percent have had the booster shot.

MP Assem Araji, a cardiologist who heads Parliament’s health committee, stated that “after last year’s holidays, we had between 1,600 and 1,900 daily cases.

“We do not want the same scenario this year. People are not adhering to precautionary measures, so we asked the Minister of Health and all concerned ministries, namely the ministries of tourism and interior, to be strict in applying preventive measures. We have a sufficient number of vaccines and the number of vaccinated people has reached 150,000 last week. This is a good number and we have to stay on this path because there is no excuse for not being vaccinated. We do not want history to repeat itself because we cannot face another outbreak and vaccines are available for everyone,” Araji said.

The committee that follows up on COVID-19 preventative measures issued a decision to “impose a limit of 50 percent capacity at any venue.” There are no indications of a lockdown yet.

Araji urged people to “abide by the precautionary measures during the holidays,” pointing out that about 2,000 nurses have left the country, which means Lebanon is facing a severe shortage of medical staff.

Doctors fear that last year’s scenario will be repeated more tragically amid the shortages in the medical sector.

The Syndicate of Owners of Restaurants, Cafes and Nightclubs in Lebanon announced that it is “aware of the recent increase in COVID-19 cases and the search for the best preventive methods is underway, especially during the upcoming holidays.”

Although many Lebanese expats are returning home for the holidays, Pierre Al-Ashkar, the head of the Syndicate of Hotel Owners in Lebanon, described the atmosphere as “gloomy and not quite festive.”

He said: “The tourism sector is in freefall. The main problem is that the Ministry of Health focuses on monitoring restaurants and hotels without monitoring homes, chalets, and private parties.

“If we tell customers that we cannot exceed a certain number of attendees, they will automatically resort to holding a New Year’s party, for example, at a chalet they rent. Yes, overcrowding in homes and chalets exists and is many times greater, and it’s even less expensive than going out.”


Iran ready to swap prisoners, urges US to free jailed Iranians

Iran ready to swap prisoners, urges US to free jailed Iranians
Updated 57 min 55 sec ago

Iran ready to swap prisoners, urges US to free jailed Iranians

Iran ready to swap prisoners, urges US to free jailed Iranians
  • Iran called on President Joe Biden’s administration to “act instead of performing theatrical shows”

DUBAI: Iran is ready to swap prisoners with the United States, its foreign ministry spokesman was quoted as saying on Wednesday, calling on President Joe Biden’s administration to “act instead of performing theatrical shows.”
Tehran has sought the release of over a dozen Iranians in the United States, including seven Iranian-American dual nationals, two Iranians with permanent US residency and four Iranian citizens with no legal status in the United States.
“We are ready to swap prisoners with Washington ... The US must release jailed Iranian citizens without any conditions,” the semi-official Fars news agency quoted foreign ministry spokesman Nasser Kanaani as saying.
On Tuesday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken tweeted that Siamak Namazi had now spent 2,500 days “wrongfully detained” in Iran and Washington was determined to secure the freedom of all Americans held by its Middle East adversary.
Kanaani spoke as Tehran and Washington sought to revive a 2015 nuclear pact after lengthy negotiations. The European Union and United States said on Tuesday they were studying Iran’s response to what the EU has called its “final” proposal to save the deal, after Tehran called on Washington to show flexibility.


Israel, Turkey to restore full diplomatic relations

Israel, Turkey to restore full diplomatic relations
Updated 38 min 55 sec ago

Israel, Turkey to restore full diplomatic relations

Israel, Turkey to restore full diplomatic relations

JERUSALEM: Israel and Turkey have decided to restore full diplomatic ties and will return ambassadors to each other’s country following a steady improvement in relations, Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid’s office said on Wednesday.
“Upgrading relations will contribute to deepening ties between the two peoples, expanding economic, trade, and cultural ties, and strengthening regional stability,” the statement said.


Egypt’s FM addresses Caribbean meeting on climate change

Egypt’s FM addresses Caribbean meeting on climate change
Updated 17 August 2022

Egypt’s FM addresses Caribbean meeting on climate change

Egypt’s FM addresses Caribbean meeting on climate change

CAIRO: In his capacity as president-designate of the 27th UN Climate Change Conference, Egypt’s foreign minister delivered a speech via video at the opening of a Caribbean regional meeting on climate change, hosted by the Bahamas.

Sameh Shoukry presented Egypt’s vision for the UN conference and the most prominent topics on its agenda.

He stressed the importance of shifting from promises to implementation, and of mobilizing the necessary support for global climate action.

Shoukry highlighted the need to support developing countries, including island nations, against the repercussions of climate change.

Before participating in the meeting, he held a video conference call with the Bahamas’ Prime Minister Philip Davis.


Syria denies holding US journalist Tice captive

Syria denies holding US journalist Tice captive
Updated 17 August 2022

Syria denies holding US journalist Tice captive

Syria denies holding US journalist Tice captive
  • US is certain Tice is being held by the government of President Bashar Assad

DAMASCUS: The Syrian government on Wednesday denied holding American nationals captive, including journalist Austin Tice who was abducted a decade ago in Damascus.
It issued a statement in response to US President Jo Biden saying last week that he knows “with certainty” that Tice “has been held by the Syrian regime,” and calling on Damascus to help bring him home.
The foreign ministry denied the accusation in a statement carried by the official SANA news agency.
“The Syrian Arab Republic denies that it has kidnapped or forcibly disappeared any American citizen who entered its territory or resided in areas under its authority,” the statement said.
It said it would only accept “official dialogue or communication with the American administration if the talks are public and premised on a respect for Syria’s sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity.”
Tice was a freelance photojournalist working for Agence France-Presse, McClatchy News, The Washington Post, CBS and other news organizations when he disappeared after being detained at a checkpoint near Damascus on August 14, 2012.
Thirty-one years old at the time he went missing, Tice appeared blindfolded in the custody of an unidentified group of armed men in a video a month later, but there has been little news of him since.
Biden’s statement came on the tenth anniversary of Tice’s disappearance.
“There is no higher priority in my administration than the recovery and return of Americans held hostage or wrongfully detained abroad,” Biden said.
The previous administration under Donald Trump sent a White House official on a rare mission to Damascus in 2020, aiming to seek Tice’s freedom.
But that mission yielded no visible results.
In 2018, US authorities announced a $1 million reward for information that would lead to the journalist’s recovery.


Egypt to release 25 pretrial detainees: report

Egypt to release 25 pretrial detainees: report
Updated 17 August 2022

Egypt to release 25 pretrial detainees: report

Egypt to release 25 pretrial detainees: report

CAIRO: Egypt will release 25 pretrial detainees pending investigations on Wednesday, according to a member of the Presidential Pardon Committee. 

The group of pretrial detainees are to be released within around 24 hours, said Tarek El-Kholy, as quoted by Ahlam Online.   

This will be the latest batch of pretrial detainees released pending investigations.

The Presidential Pardon Committee is mandated to review the cases of pretrial detainees for political crimes.

El-Kholy previously noted in an interview with The Africa Report that only individuals who have not participated in violent acts or killed military personnel or civilians will be considered for pardon.  

Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi re-affirmed on several occasions that Egypt holds no political prisoners and that the government promotes respect for human rights.