Despite confinement Lebanon working on economic rescue plan

While diagnosed cases have all been isolated, the country is preparing for Stage Four in its fight against the virus.
Sunday 22/03/2020
Lebanese President Michel Aoun (R) and Prime Minister Hassan Diab attend a cabinet meeting at the presidential palace in Baabda, east of Beirut, March 19. (AP)
Challenged. Lebanese President Michel Aoun (R) and Prime Minister Hassan Diab attend a cabinet meeting at the presidential palace in Baabda, east of Beirut, March 19. (AP)

BEIRUT - With an increasing number of people testing positive for COVID-19, Lebanon tightened confinement measures under state of “sanitary mobilisation” to rein in the outbreak of the virus, which has claimed four lives and infected more than 160.

“Citizens are urged to adhere to the strict measures issued by the official authorities, especially the mandatory home quarantine and the restrictions on movement, except when absolutely necessary,” a Lebanese Health Ministry statement said.

“There are six cases of an unknown origin and the reason is community infections. Security forces are asked to be stricter, to the extent of barring people from leaving their homes,” Lebanese Health Minister Hamad Hasan stated.

While diagnosed cases have all been isolated at the Rafik Hariri University Hospital in Beirut (RHUH), the only public facility treating coronavirus patients, the ministry said it is preparing for Stage Four in its fight against the virus.

Preparations for Stage Four included equipping 12 government hospitals and at least five private facilities across the country with isolation units to receive infected people if the disease spreads and exceeds RHUH’s capacities.

The effect of the coronavirus and falling oil prices may have damaged Lebanon’s chances of securing badly needed aid from foreign countries to deal with its worst financial crisis blamed on the political class corruption and mismanagement.

Lebanon has been unable to pay foreign currency sovereign debt for the first time and its currency lost some 40% of its value while dollar reserves are critically low. Work to draw up economic rescue plans continued despite the shutdown because of the virus, Economy Minister Raoul Nehme said.

Major aspects of the plan, including how the state will cut the deficit and boost revenues, will probably be ready by mid-April, Nehme told Reuters.

While noting that it was too early to gauge the effect of the coronavirus outbreak, Nehme said aid from countries to which Lebanon has been looking for support “can be less significant” if they suffer their own financial problems.

“We will certainly seek the support of our friends in the Arab world but their revenues are going down drastically with the price of oil going down under $30 (per barrel) practically so that puts limitations on their capacity to assist us,” he added.

Fears of spread of coronavirus triggered riots at two overcrowded Lebanese prisons. Inmates demanded to be released, even if temporarily, fearing the virus would spread rapidly in the closed environment.

Police said precautions were being taken to protect the prisons from coronavirus. Only one person from each inmate’s family will be allowed to visit and prisons are regularly disinfected.

The usually jammed streets of Beirut were mostly deserted as shops, restaurants, cafes, malls and businesses observed mandatory closure, which will last until at least March 29.

Police patrols on Beirut’s seaside promenade stopped the few recalcitrant strollers and joggers, forcing them to return to their homes.

The country’s air, land and seaports of entry and all non-essential public and private institutions were closed until the end of March.

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