Lebanon, nation torn apart by virus, infighting - GulfToday

Lebanon, nation torn apart by virus, infighting

Lebanon Covid-19

Customers wearing face masks and gloves queue outside a supermarket, during a lockdown to prevent the spread of coronavirus disease in Beirut, Lebanon. File/Reuters

Lebanon is gasping for breath. That appears to be the feeling among many residents in the country. However, the ruling regime appears to be keen on rectifying its sullied image, dogged by reports on maladministration and malversation.

Lebanese authorities tightened a nationwide lockdown on Monday, including an 11-day, 24-hour curfew, amid a dramatic spiral in virus infections and growing criticism of uncoordinated policies many blame for the spread of the virus.

News of the curbs sparked panic buying in corner shops and supermarkets. People formed huge lines outside supermarkets to stock up on essential provisions, stoking fears the crowds could further spread the virus.

Lebanon had only just announced a nationwide lockdown last week. But many, including the health minister and officials on a government committee, considered it to be too lenient because it exempted many sectors, such as florists, plant nurseries and factories. Hospitals, meanwhile, were running out of beds amid rapidly multiplying COVID-19 cases.

Critics have said uncoordinated and hesitant policies wavering between relaxing restrictions and shutting down were behind the failure to contain the virus.

For instance, despite a rise in infections, the government relaxed restrictions ahead of Christmas and New Year’s celebrations. This was to provide some relief and boost to a crumbling economy which needed large revenue injections.

Thousands of Lebanese expats arrived in the country. Nightclubs, which had been ordered shut for months, were allowed to open.

Daily infection rates have since hovered above 3,000, hitting an all-time high of over 5,000 last week. Doctors and experts say the extent of the spread has yet to be felt, predicting numbers will definitely go northwards in the coming days, overwhelming health facilities in the country of nearly 6 million.

Despite the nationwide lockdown announced last week, a soccer match was allowed to take place in the northern Tripoli province on Sunday with an audience and was aired on TV.

This certainly seems to throw healthcare caution to the wind.

The spike in cases has exhausted healthcare professionals, prompting lawmakers and officials to call on the government to consider a 24-hour lockdown without exemptions, and to shut down the airport.

Since February, Lebanon has recorded more than 219,000 infections and 1,606 deaths. Hospitals have appealed to the government to turn all healthcare facilities into locations for treating coronavirus patients, saying all 15,000 hospital beds are needed to meet the new surge.

At the largest public hospital in Beirut, Rafik Hariri University hospital, doctors and nurses were overwhelmed with new patients and all 40 ICU beds were occupied.

Lebanon, a country of more than six million, is grappling with its worst economic downturn since the 1975-1990 war. A spiralling coronavirus outbreak has compounded the crisis, forcing businesses shut and denying daily wage earners an income in a country where more than half the population lives in poverty.

The fresh curbs mean non-essential workers will not be allowed out of the house and supermarkets will only operate delivery services.

This has triggered fears of food shortages as such services are not readily available in impoverished and remote regions.

Lebanon, which simply loves all things that constitute good living, has to reckon with very austere steps that crimp its trendy styles.

Truly the Lebanese have found themselves up a terrible gum tree. There seems to be no end in sight to their woes. Their financial condition is very ropy, their healthcare conditions are pitiable, and the people are at their wit’s end trying to find a solution.

If there is no remedy found soon, the simmering discontent could just reach a tipping point.

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