Lebanese Health Minister says coronavirus outbreak under control but "risky"

Human Rights Watch criticize extra restrictions being imposed on Syrian refugees
Thursday 02/04/2020
A man passes in front of a billboard displays tips to help people know how to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, in Beirut, Lebanon, Wednesday, April 1, 2020. (AP)
A man passes in front of a billboard displays tips to help people know how to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, in Beirut, Lebanon, Wednesday, April 1, 2020. (AP)

LONDON – Lebanese Health Minister Hamad Hasan on Wednesday said that Beirut remained on top of the COVID-19 outbreak in the country but warned against complacency. 

“Our statistics until today are good but I have always said that the situation remains risky,” Hasan said at a press conference, adding that “community spread is still weak, but this does not mean that anyone should exploit this issue.” 

According to the latest figures, Lebanon has 479 confirmed coronavirus cases, with a death toll of just 14. 

“Despite some flaws in society’s discipline, the numbers of cases started decreasing over the past two weeks and this is a good thing,” Hasan said.

Beirut has faced major criticism for its failure to repatriate Lebanese trapped abroad under lockdown, with new action to return expatriates starting this weekend. “A new stage and a new challenge will begin on Sunday,” Hasan acknowledged. 

“We must abide by the plan laid out by Cabinet and all ministries must shoulder their responsibilities,” he urged.

Speaking about the death toll, he said: “The death rate in Lebanon has reached 3% and this number is acceptable… We can win the battle through our modest capabilities, strong resolve and limitless determination.”

Despite Health Minister Hasan’s optimistic outlook towards the coronavirus outbreak, Lebanon has come under criticism for the “discriminatory restrictions” being placed on Syrian refugees during the current crisis. 

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has warned that extra curfews being imposed on Syrian refugees which do not apply to the rest of the population may actually have a negative effect. 

"There is no evidence that extra curfews for Syrian refugees will help limit the spread of COVID-19," said HRW refugee rights researcher Nadia Hardman.

The curfew, which is being imposed on a municipality by municipality basis, severely restricts the movement of Syrian refugees. A curfew in the Brital municipality in Baalbek, for example, only permits Syrians’ movement between 9 am and 1 pm and only for “necessary” tasks, according to HRW. 

“The coronavirus does not discriminate and limiting the spread and impact of COVID-19 in Lebanon requires ensuring that everyone is able to access testing and treatment centres,” she added. 

Lebanese authorities have threatened the approximately 2 million Syrian refugees it hosts with legal action if they violate the curfew. "Such measures risk the virus spreading if Syrians are too scared to seek medical help after 1 pm," HRW said.