BEIRUT (AP) – This was a choice between curbing a spiraling outbreak of the virus and reviving a dying economy in a country that has been in stable financial and economic collapse for the past year. The Lebanese authorities have chosen the latter.
Now patients with viruses who are struggling to breathe are waiting outside hospitals – hoping to open a bed or even a chair. Ordinary people share contact lists with oxygen providers on social media as critical gas becomes scarce and the sound of ambulances transporting the sick echoes through Beirut. About 500 of Lebanon̵
On Thursday, Lebanese authorities reversed the way: they began imposing an 11-day stop across the country and a 24-hour curfew, hoping to cover up the spread of coronavirus infections that went out of control after the rest period.
The curfew is the strictest measure Lebanon has taken since the beginning of the pandemic.
Previous exclusions had weaker rules and were poorly enforced. Residents are now unable to leave their homes for a variety of reasons, including going to a bakery, pharmacy, doctor’s office, hospital or airport – and must first seek permission before doing so. Even supermarkets can only be open for delivery.
While Lebanon still manages to somehow maintain cases to an average of less than 100 a day until August, it now leads the Arab world in the number of cases per million people. Today, the number of daily deaths from COVID-19 is more than 13 times higher than in July. More than 5,400 infections were reported on January 9, a record for the small country.
Lebanon set a new daily record of 41 deaths on Thursday, with a total of nearly 237,200 and 1,781 deaths reported, according to the health ministry.
As its neighbors begin vaccinating its population – including Israel, whose campaign promises to be among the fastest in the world – Lebanon has yet to provide the first batch of shots. Once a leader in the Middle East health sector, Lebanon has been stifled in its efforts to obtain vaccines through repeated bureaucratic delays, in part because it has a caretaker government.
Parliament is expected to meet on Friday to vote on a bill to allow imports of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, with the first deliveries expected to arrive next month.
“This is the result of deliberate decisions made by irresponsible and immoral politicians,” said Sami Hannah, a 42-year-old businessman who was waiting his turn to enter a pharmacy earlier this week looking for painkillers, antidepressants and a blood pressure medication for adults. his parents.
“This is how we spend our days begging,” he said, adding that his next mission is to look for bread that has been exhausted by the panicked buyout before curfew. “It’s too late. “
The rise in coronavirus cases began in late August, weeks after a massive explosion at the port of Beirut that destroyed parts of the capital, including several hospitals with viruses.
The blast was caused by a fire that detonated nearly three tonnes of poorly stored ammonium nitrate, which has been sitting in a port warehouse for years – a type of mismanagement typical of a corrupt political class that does not provide even basic services to its people.
The virus has grown into the chaos of flooded hospitals, funerals and subsequent protests.
Further complicating efforts to control the virus, politicians failed to agree on a new government, as the old one resigned following the port explosion, ensuring the country’s effective disintegration.
But in December, as most governments around the world tightened closures, Lebanon took the opposite path, allowing restaurants and nightclubs to reopen with almost no restrictions. About 80,000 immigrants flocked to the country to celebrate Christmas and New Year with loved ones – many of them Lebanese, who missed visits during the summer due to the devastation caused by the blast.
“The holiday season had to be the time to lock up. The season of crowds, shopping and parties, “said Hannah Hazard, owner of a money transfer and phone shop. “They opened it to put dollars in the country and now they want to close it. Especially in this economic crisis, people do not have money to eat. ”
Many hospitals have already reached maximum capacity for coronavirus patients. Some were left without beds, oxygen tanks and fans. Others have stopped eligible operations.
Last week, Lebanon imposed a 25-day blockade across the country and a night curfew to curb the spread of the virus, but many sectors were liberated and enforcement was weak as in the past. Many companies, including hairdressers, welcomed customers behind storefronts. It was common in some parts of northern and southern Lebanon.
Once hospitals were on the verge of collapse, the government then ordered an 11-day curfew, starting Thursday, triggering three days of chaos as crowds of shoppers emptied shelves in supermarkets and bakeries.
On Thursday, police operated checkpoints across the country, checking drivers’ permission to be on the road.
Halim Shebaya, a political analyst, said the government did not yet have a clear strategy and warned that it would be difficult to reduce the numbers so late in the game.
“The main issue now is the lack of trust in the government and the authorities, and the management of a pandemic requires public confidence in the measures taken by the authorities,” he said.
However, Rabih Torbay, who heads Project HOPE, an international global health and humanitarian organization, said time was of the essence and called on authorities to take all possible steps to help curb infections.
“Every day that passes through the country slides deeper into the abyss,” he said.
Associated Press reporters Fadi Tavil and Bilal Hussein contributed.