01/14/2021, 13.01
LEBANON
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Lebanon prepares for a tough lockdown to curb an escalating COVID-19 pandemic

by Fady Noun

Compared to the previous seven days, the latest count saw the number of cases spike by more than 70 per cent. For experts this is due to the relaxed atmosphere of the Christmas and New Year holidays. The lockdown and other bans will remain in place until 25 January, pending the start of the vaccination campaign. People stormed supermarkets and pharmacies. Doubts persist about compliance with the restrictions, especially in the poorest areas.

Beirut (AsiaNews) – Overwhelmed by an exponential growth of the COVID-19 infection curve, Lebanon entered into a new general lockdown effective today, 14 January, until 25 January.

With the exception of some professional groups, everybody else will need a permit to move around, whether to buy bread, walk the dog, go to a pharmacy or receive a traveller.

As a result of a let-up of the restrictions during the Christmas and New Year holidays, the number of daily cases went from an average of 1,500 to over 4,500 in just a few days.

According to estimates by the Agence France-Presse (AFP), the latest count of cases jumped by 70 per cent compared to the previous seven days and Lebanon is among the countries where the pandemic has spread most rapidly after Portugal (+73 per cent), Nigeria (+77 per cent) and Ireland (+190 per cent).

Beirut’s Rafic Hariri International Airport has been excluded from the general lockdown. However, Lebanon’s flag carrier Middle East Airlines (MEA) released a list of conditions yesterday that all passengers must meet in order to enter Lebanon during this period.

The number of travellers will also be reduced by up to 20 per cent over the average under normal conditions.

On the eve of the country’s general lockdown, the COVID-19-related death toll continued to rise with about 30 deaths every day in hospitals, not counting the “silent deaths” in private homes.

As the number of cases rose, it seemed clear to everyone that this trend had to be slowed down to allow hospitals, health workers and physicians to withstand the shock wave, and for patients in intensive care, more than forty in one of the capital’s main hospitals, to receive timely life-saving treatment.

Faced with a worrying rise of cases and the prospect of a general lockdown, people went on a buying spree, storming supermarkets and pharmacies and emptying their shelves. Buyers also sought oxygen tanks, now sold out. Such devices are essential for infected people who must be treated at home.

In such a gloomy context, there is some hope and a ray of light. Lebanon’s parliament is set to meet tomorrow, Friday 15 January, to vote on a law that paves the way for the importation of anti-COVID vaccines and guarantees immunity to laboratories called to administer them, in case of side effects related to immunisation.

The vaccination campaign, set in quarterly phases, is expected to start in mid-February with 2.1 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine. The president of the Order of Physicians has urged the authorities to quickly approve the importation of vaccines for those working in the private sector.

The minister also paid tribute yesterday to the medical profession, on the same day that the Health Minister Hamad Hassan was placed in quarantine after three members of his cabinet tested positive.

Will the lockdown bear fruit? Everything will depend on how serious and rigorous it will be implemented, taking also into account the many poor for whom food security takes precedence over health considerations.

The pandemic has in fact come on top of two pre-existing crises: the free fall of the country’s currency, which has plunged more than half of the population below the poverty line, and the consequences of the devastating double explosion on 4 August at the port of Beirut.

In any case, the Catholic Churches of Lebanon, even without announcing it explicitly, will agree with the Vatican's opinion that Christians have a “moral duty” to be vaccinated.

A Church source authorised to speak to the press confirmed this to AsiaNews, noting that it is in this spirit that the patriarch and Maronite bishops are preparing for the arrival of vaccines in Lebanon next month.

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