BEIRUT (AP) – Lebanese authorities began imposing an 11-day suspension across the country and a 24-hour curfew on Thursday, hoping to curb the spread of coronavirus infections that spiraled out of control after the rest period.
For the first time, residents had to apply for a one-hour permit to leave the house for “emergencies,” including going to a bakery, pharmacist, doctor, hospital, or airport.
Authorities have come under pressure to take a tougher approach as hospitals in the country have been left without beds with daily infections, reaching a record 5,440 cases last week in the country of nearly 6 million people.
The dramatic influx of infections began in late December. As most governments around the world tightened the blockades, Lebanon relaxed health measures during the holidays, allowing restaurants and nightclubs to open with almost no restrictions. About 80,000 immigrants are returning to the country to celebrate Christmas and New Year with loved ones, many of them expats who missed summer visits due to the devastating explosion at the port of Beirut on August 4th.
“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, especially in this economic crisis. People don̵
Even before the coronavirus, Lebanon experienced an unprecedented economic and financial crisis, in which the national currency and the banking sector collapsed and locked depositors from savings. Hospitals, long considered among the best in the Middle East, have struggled to pay staff, keep their equipment working and provide the necessary medical supplies as dollars dwindled.
Against the backdrop of the wave, many hospitals have already reached maximum capacity for coronavirus patients. Some have stopped elective operations as they are left without beds, oxygen tanks and fans.
In addition, the country has been without a government since the old one resigned following the catastrophic explosion on August 4 in the port of Beirut, which further burdened hospitals, burying them with the wounded. At least three hospitals have been destroyed.
The massive explosion, caused by the detonation of a stockpile of poorly stored ammonium nitrate, devastated the city, killing more than 200 people and injuring thousands.
On Thursday, police operated checkpoints across the country, checked driver’s licenses to be on the road and, in some cases, created traffic jams. The curfew is the strictest since the beginning of the pandemic. For the first time, even supermarkets were told to close their doors and open only for delivery. The decision sparked a three-day chaotic purchase of panic as worried citizens emptied shelves in supermarkets and grocery stores.
Lebanon just announced a nationwide blockade last week. But many, including the health minister and government committee officials, find it too lenient as it frees up many sectors. It was common in some parts of the country, leading to more calls for a complete stop and curfew.