For crises-ridden Lebanese, dark times ahead - GulfToday

For crises-ridden Lebanese, dark times ahead


Photo has been used for illustrative purposes.

It’s been a nasty, beleaguered year for Lebanon. The nation has been hit by a meltdown, mass protests, financial disaster, and a cataclysmic explosion that virtually wiped out its main port.

And, yes, don’t forget the coronavirus outbreak, which seems to be going from bad to worse, to add to the travails of the Lebanese.

On Friday, authorities ordered the lockdown of more than 100 towns and villages across the country after hundreds of people tested positive for the coronavirus in recent days and amid a shortage of hospital beds.

Outgoing Interior Minister Mohammed Fahmi said in a statement the complete lockdown of 111 towns and villages would go into effect from Sunday morning and last until Oct.12.

Lebanon has witnessed a sharp spurt in cases in recent weeks with more than 40,000 cases registered since February in the small country, which has a population of just 5 million. The country has registered 386 deaths so far.

On Friday, a new daily record was registered with 1,291 new cases over 24 hours, including 12 deaths. The total registered cases now stand at 42,159.

The World Health Organisation reported this week that the occupancy rate of beds in intensive care units dedicated to coronavirus cases has reached 84%, while the occupancy rate for regular beds reached 63%.

All social events and gatherings will be cancelled and the ministry will coordinate with local religious officials over the closure of places of worship and religious events.

The minister said a nationwide curfew that starts an hour after midnight until sunrise remains in force.

Lebanon was among the most successful countries in containing the virus in its early months.

Cases began increasing after the country’s only international airport reopened in early July and a lockdown was eased.

The figures shot up dramatically following a massive explosion in Beirut on Aug. 4 that killed and wounded hundreds of people. Officials had issued a warning on the dangers of crowding at hospitals in the aftermath of the explosion, at funerals, or as people searched through the rubble.

This has put a strain on the fragile health sector, especially after some hospitals near the port were damaged in the explosion.

However, the virus is not the only burden the country has to bear. There are darker days ahead, in other areas too.

The country’s foreign reserves are drying up, the local currency is expected to spiral further downward. Lebanese – half of whom are in poverty – soon face yet another leap in basic food prices. Incidents of armed clashes between rival groups are escalating.

Bickering politicians have been unable to form a government, putting an international bailout out of reach. Last week, a French initiative to form a rescue government of specialists fell apart when the political factions split along familiar fault lines, deepened by the US-Iran rivalry.

The converging political and economic breakdowns could spell violent social upheaval.

French President Emmanuel Macron’s plan was widely seen as a last opportunity to charter a way out of Lebanon’s gravest crisis since the 1975-90 civil war. It included a six-month timeline for a small government made up of non-partisan experts to deliver reforms. Mistrustful of Lebanon’s famously corrupt leaders, the West has made billions of dollars in aid contingent on those reforms.

The country’s politicians initially committed to the plan and named a new prime minister-designate, Moustapha Adib, who promised to deliver a Cabinet within two weeks. To avert the usual horse-trading among factions over ministries, Adib tried to pick his own names to form the government.

But the two main parties, Hezbollah and Amal, accused him of acting on behalf of their local political rivals. They insisted on naming members of the Cabinet and on keeping the Finance Ministry for their sect. Adib refused and stepped down.

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