Lebanese doctors demonstrate outside the hospital in Beirut after they were dismissed from their jobs. AFP
Lebanon's health minister says the financially troubled Mediterranean country, which has so far managed to contain the coronavirus, is sliding toward a critical stage with a new surge in infections after lockdown restrictions were lifted and the airport reopened.
The recently recorded double and triple digits of new infections were coupled with an increase in untraceable cases, raising concerns that a dangerous spread in the community could follow, Minister of Health Hamad Hassan told the media.
Lebanon’s early lockdown and strict measures to contain the virus were praised for slowing down the initial spread of the pandemic. Authorities have also aggressively tested, carried out random tests, and swiftly isolated infected areas.
Lebanese Health Minister Hamad Hassan speaks during an interview in Beirut, Lebanon, on Monday. AP
But Lebanon’s crippling economic and financial crisis has proven more difficult to manage. In late April, the authorities began gradually easing weeks-long restrictions that threw tens of thousands out of work; Lebanon's only airport reopened on July 1.
Today, the government doesn't appear ready to again tighten restrictions or impose another full lockdown.
So far, Lebanon has recorded more than 2,900 infections and 41 deaths, including one front-line doctor who died Monday at a hospital in the south, two weeks after contracting COVID-19. Hassan said the late diagnosis is to blame for the death of the 32-year-old physician. Some 150 medical staff have been infected, only a few of them becoming sick.
The reopening of the Beirut airport and the subsequent failure of Lebanese returning from abroad and their relatives to adhere to strict isolation measures caused a spike in infections, Hassan said. Many returning expats visited relatives and attended social gatherings, which helped spread the virus. New cases peaked last week with as high as 170 in one day, from an average of less than 20 a day in previous months.
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Fuelled by the fast-spreading Omicron variant, infections exploded during the past four weeks, with around two million cases recorded.
Thick fog continued to form for the second day in a row across various parts in the country on Thursday. The fog lasted for 12 hours and a half in several areas of the country on Thursday, as it started at exactly 10 pm and continued until 10:30am, because of the country being affected by surface high-pressure systems, accompanied with a ridge of upper air high pressure, according to the National Centre for Meteorology (NCM).