At the virus tipping point, Lebanon imposes a curfew all day

Beirut (AP) – The choice between a spiraling virus outbreak in a country that has been stagnant and weakening economically over the past year and restarting a dying economy was the choice. Lebanese officials chose the latter.

Now, virus patients wait outside hospitals in a conflict of breath – hoping for a bed or an open chair. Ordinary people share contact lists of oxygen suppliers on social media as critical gas becomes scarce, and the sound of an ambulance picks up a sick echo through Beirut. About 50,000 of Lebanon’s 1,000,000 doctors have left the crisis-stricken country in recent months, putting more strain on existing hospital staff, according to physicians.

On Thursday, Lebanese officials took a different tack: they began enforcing an 11-day nationwide shutdown and round-the-clock curfew, hoping to curb the spread of coronavirus out of control after the holiday period.

Lebanon has taken a drastic step since the onset of the epidemic.

Previous shutdowns had lax rules and were poorly enforced. Now, residents cannot leave their home, except for a set set of reasons, including going to the bakery, pharmacy, doctor’s office fees, hospital or airport – and they must first request permission before doing these things. Even supermarkets can only open for delivery.

While Lebanon still somehow managed to hold an average of less than 100 cases per day until August Gust, it now leads the Arab world in the number of cases per million people. Today, the daily death toll from COVID-19 is higher than the 13 milliliters in July. On January 9, more than 5,400 infections were reported, a record for a small country.

As its neighbors begin to vaccinate their populations – including Israel whose campaign promises to be at the fastest pace in the world – Lebanon has yet to secure its first bench shot. Once a leader in the health sector in the Middle East, Lebanon’s efforts to get vaccinated through repeated bureaucratic delays have had a temporary effect, as it is overseen by the government.

Parliament is expected to meet on Friday to vote on a draft law allowing the import of the Pfizer-Bioentech vaccine, with the first delivery expected next month.

“This is the result of deliberate decisions made by irresponsible and unethical politicians,” said Sammy Hanna, a 426-year-old businessman. Blood pressure medication for their elderly parents.

“Now we spend our days begging like this,” he said, adding that his next mission was to find bread, which was out of stock due to panic-buying before the curfew was lifted. ”

The rise in coronavirus cases began in late August, destroying parts of the capital, including several hospitals with virus patients, just weeks after a major explosion at the port of Beirut.

The explosion was caused by a fire that had been exploding weakly stored ammonium nitrate in the port warehouse for years – a kind of mismanagement characteristic of a corrupt political class that fails to provide basic services to its people. .

The virus grew in the chaos of sunken hospitals, funerals and subsequent protests.

Complicating further efforts to curb the virus, politicians have been unable to agree on a new government since the old man resigned in the wake of the port explosion, which effectively ensures the country’s resolution.

But in December, as most of the world’s governments tightened lockdowns, Lebanon went the other way, allowing restaurants and nightclubs to reopen with hardly any restrictions. An estimated 20,000,000 passengers flocked across the country to celebrate Christmas and New Year with loved ones – many of them Lebanese who stopped visiting in the summer due to the devastation caused by the blast.

“The holiday season should be a time of lockdown. Crowding, shopping and party season, ”said Hanna Azar, owner of the money transfer and telephone shop. “They opened it for the approval of dollars in the country and now they want to close it. Especially in this economic crisis people do not have money to eat. ”

Many hospitals have now reached maximum capacity for coronavirus patients. Some have run out of beds, oxygen tanks and ventilators. Others have opted for alternative surgeries.

Last week, Lebanon imposed a 25-day nationwide lockdown and night curfew to limit the spread of the virus, but many areas were exempted and enforced as in the past. Many businesses, including hair salons, welcome customers behind shutter storefronts. In some areas of northern and southern Lebanon, it does business as usual.

With hospitals on the brink of collapse, the government ordered an 11-day nationwide curfew starting Thursday, in which a three-day mayhem began as crowds of shopkeepers emptied shelves in supermarkets and bakeries.

On Thursday, police set up checkpoints across the country, checking motorists for permission to come on the road.

Political analyst Halim Shebaya said the government did not yet have a clear strategy and warned that it would be difficult to bring numbers into this late game.

“The main issue now is the lack of trust in the government and officials and the presence of public trust in the steps taken by the authorities to manage the epidemic.”

However, Rabih Torbe, head of Project Hope, an international global health and humanitarian organization, said time was of the essence and urged officials to take steps to help control the infection.

He said, “Every day the road of the country is moving forward in the abyss.


Associated Press reporters Fadi Tawil and Bilal Hussain contributed to the report.