03/16/2020, 14.22
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Coronavirus: Nationwide state of emergency and borders closed

by Pierre Balanian

Fines of up to 5 million lire (about 2500 US dollars) for restaurants, cafes or bars that welcome customers seated. Banks, pharmacies, food shops, public offices will remain open and citizens are obliged to self-isolate in the home for 14 days, with extenuating exceptions. Beirut airport could also close. Hassan Nasrallah: Christians and Muslims, stay home. God wants your health, not common prayer. The rediscovery of prayer in the family.

Beirut (AsiaNews) – As of yesterday evening Lebanon has declared a "nationwide health state of emergency." It was declared by the President of the Republic Michel Aoun to counter the rapidly expanding coronavirus.

Taken initially lightly, in one week cases of contagion rose from three to over 100, with one recorded death. Accustomed to the instinct for survival after years of war, economic crisis and deprivation, the Lebanese have not waited for the government's decisions to respond to what they now consider "a new invasion by an invisible enemy".

Many people have already been wearing masks for days, while the municipalities had ordered a ban on welcoming customers sitting in restaurants, cafes or bars, with a penalty of 5 million lire (about 2500 US dollars) for each infringement.

As a result, two days ago all the shops and jewelers voluntarily closed their doors. This has resulted in the emptying of streets, while all vendors of basic necessities are wearing gloves.

Four days ago, Prime Minister Hassan Diyab declared that travelers from China, Iran, Italy, Egypt, France, Spain and Syria were banned from entering Lebanon, although no cases of infection have been recorded in that country so far.

Lebanese citizens had a four-day deadline to return from Syria; as of today, all of Lebanon's land borders are officially and totally closed. Banks, pharmacies, food shops, public offices will remain open and citizens are obliged to stay home for 14 days and leave only in cases of necessity.

Unconfirmed news obtained by AsiaNews, speak of the possibility of closing Beirut airport (the only one in the country) at the end of the month.

The population is used to surviving on lockdown in their homes given the many protracted wars of the past and has already been equipped for days with dry foods and goods and water.

Two days ago in a televised speech, Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah called on all Lebanese to consider Coronavirus "a new form of resistance" that like all battles needs a strategy. In this case, he said, "the leaders of the resistance are the government, the ministry of health and doctors"; the volunteer fighters "must be university medical students". Nasrallah called on the Lebanese banks: "They who got rich during the peace ensured by the fighters must play a role in contributing financially to the fight against coronavirus".

Finally, he made an appeal to all believers, Christians and Muslims, not to "gather for prayers" since the Creator is above all concerned with the protection of our life, rather than collective prayer ". The same concept was expressed simultaneously by Patriarch Al Rai and all Christian patriarchs in Lebanon.

Yesterday, Beirut’s famous Corniche promenade was closed to the public: the municipal police cleared all those who wanted to walk or bathe.

The Lebanese believe that the Land of the Cedars is a holy land that has seen the passage of prophets and saints, and where the first miracle of Christ took place, in Cana in southern Lebanon. They believe that with divine grace, the country will be able to save itself from the pandemic.

Tekla Yazdgi, a Maronite lady, used to going to mass every day, finds consolation in praying with her children and her husband at home. She tells AsiaNews: “I am happy to pray again at home, together with the whole family, as we used to do a long time ago”.

In yesterday's speech, Aoun said "that the time is not for political controversy and that the virus makes no distinction between confessions". In an emergency meeting last night, the Council of Ministers decreed the public mobilization required by law, giving the Armed Forces the order to intervene to enforce the state of emergency. This is the "highest alert level," said Premier Hassan Diyab.

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