By Zina Karim, The Associated Press
BEIRUT (AP) – It was a choice between an outbreak of a zealous virus and reviving a dying economy in a country that has been in a constant financial and economic downturn over the past year. Lebanese officials chose the latter.
Now, patients with the virus – struggling to breathe outside hospitals – are hoping to open a bed or a chair. Ordinary people share contact lists of oxygen suppliers on social media as vital gas becomes scarce, and the sound of ambulances dispelling sick echoes through Beirut. Around 500 of Lebanon’s 14,000 doctors have left the troubled country in recent months, putting another pressure on existing hospital staff, according to physicians’ orders.
On Thursday, Lebanese authorities adopted a second approach: They began enforcing an 11-day nationwide shutdown and roundtable curfew that was expected to blunt the spread of out-of-control coronovirus infections after the holiday period.
Lebanon’s curfew is the most drastic measure since the onset of the epidemic.
Previous shutdowns had laxative rules and were poorly implemented. Now, residents cannot leave their homes, except to visit a bakery, pharmacy, doctor’s office, hospital or airport for a set set of reasons – and for the first time they must request a permit before doing these things . Even supermarkets can only open for delivery.
While Lebanon still managed to keep fewer than 100 cases on average every day until August, it now leads the number of people per million in the Arab world. Today, the number of daily COVID-19 deaths was more than 13 times in July. On 9 January, more than 5,400 infections were reported, a record for the small country.
According to the Ministry of Health, on Thursday, Lebanon recorded a new daily record of 41 deaths, with approximately 237,200 and 1,781 reported cases.
While its neighbors begin vaccinating its population – including Israel, whose campaign promises to be among the world’s fastest – Lebanon has yet to secure the first batch of shots. Once a leader in the health sector among Middle Eastern countries, Lebanon has been repeatedly imposed in its attempt to obtain vaccines due to repeated bureaucratic delays, partly due to the fact that it has a reckless government.
Parliament expects them to meet on Friday to vote on a draft law to allow importation of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, with the first deliveries coming next month.
“This is the result of deliberate decisions made by irresponsible and immoral politicians,” Sami Hanna, a 42-year-old businessman who was waiting for her turn to enter the pharmacy earlier this week as a painkiller, depression. Antidepressants and blood pressure medication for their elderly parents.
“Now we’re spending our days begging,” he said, adding that his next mission was to look for bread, which was out of stock due to panic before it was set in curfew. “It’s too late.”
The surge in coronovirus cases began in late August, following a massive explosion at the port of Beirut that destroyed parts of the capital, including many hospitals with virus patients.
The explosion was caused by a fire that had been sitting in a port warehouse for nearly three tons of poorly stored ammonium nitrate – a kind of mismanagement typical of a corrupt political class that failed to even provide basic services to its people. . .
The virus increased the chaos of hospitals, funerals and protests.
To further complicate efforts to rein in the virus, politicians have not been able to agree on the new government as the old has resigned in the wake of the port explosion, ensuring the country’s continued progress.
But in December, as most governments around the world tightened the lockdown, Lebanon went the other way, reopening restaurants and nightclubs with no restrictions in place. Estimated to celebrate 50,000 people left for the country to celebrate Christmas and New Year with their loved ones – many of them Lebanese who left to travel in summer due to the devastation caused by the explosion.
“The holiday season should have been a time of lockout. A season of crowds, shopping and parties, ”said Hannah Azar, owner of a money transfer and telephone shop. “They opened it to allow dollars in the country and now they want to close. Especially in this economic crisis, people do not have money to eat. “
Many hospitals have now reached maximum capacity for coronovirus patients. Some are outfitted with beds, oxygen tanks and ventilators. Others have stopped voluntary surgery.
Last week, Lebanon imposed a 25-day nationwide lockdown and one-night curfew to limit the spread of the virus, but many areas were exempted and lax in enforcement like in the past. Many businesses, including a hair salon, welcomed customers behind the closed storefront. In some areas of North and South Lebanon, it was business as usual.
With hospitals on the verge of collapse, the government then ordered an 11-day nationwide curfew from Thursday, which continued to wreak havoc for three days as the crowd of shopkeepers in supermarkets and bakeries emptied.
On Thursday, police targeted checkpoints across the country, and checked motorists’ permission on the road.
A political analyst, Halim Shabaya, said the government still had no clear strategy and warned that it would be difficult to bring down the numbers late in the game.
“The main issue now is the absence of trust in the government and the authorities and the management of an epidemic requires the presence of public confidence in the measures taken by the authorities,” he said.
Nevertheless, Rabih Torbe, head of the international global health and humanitarian organization, Project HOPE, said that time is of the essence and urged authorities to take any steps that could help prevent infections.
“Every day that goes by the country, it is moving in the trench,” he said.
Associated Press journalists Fadi Tawil and Bilal Hussain contributed reporting.
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