BEIRUT (AP) It was a choice between the content of a spiral virus outbreak and the resurgence of a dying economy in a country that has been in a stable financial and economic collapse over the past year. Authorities in Lebanon elected the latter.
Now, patients with the virus trying to breathe are waiting outside hospitals hoping for a bed or even a chair to open up. Ordinary people share oxygen supplier contact lists on social media as critical gas becomes scarce, and the sound of ambulances transporting the sick echoes through Beirut. About 500 of Lebanon’s 14,000 doctors have left the crisis site in recent months, according to the Doctors’ Order, further burdening the hospital’s existing staff.
On Thursday, Lebanese authorities turned to the other side: They began implementing an 11-day nationwide closure and 24-hour curfew, in hopes of dampening the spread of coronavirus infections that were spiraling out of control after the holiday period.
READ MORE: England to start blocking new viruses by mid-February
The siege is the strictest measure Lebanon has taken since the beginning of the pandemic.
Previous closures had softer rules and were poorly enforced. Now, residents can not leave their homes, except for a set of reasons, including going to the bakery, pharmacy, doctor’s office, hospital or airport, and for the first time they must apply for a permit before do these things. Even supermarkets can only be opened for distribution.
While Lebanon still somehow managed to keep cases at an average of less than 100 a day by 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 that it was in July. On January 9, over 5,400 infections were reported, a record for the small country.
In all, Lebanon has recorded nearly 232,000 cases and 1,740 deaths, according to the Ministry of Health.
As its neighbors begin vaccinating their populations, including Israel, whose campaign promises to be among Lebanon’s fastest in the world, it has yet to secure a first series of shootings. Once a leader in the health sector among Middle Eastern countries, Lebanon has been stifled in its attempt to get vaccines from repeated bureaucratic delays in part due to the fact that it has an interim government.
Parliament is expected to meet on Friday to vote on a bill to allow the import 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 Hanna, a 42-year-old businessman who was waiting his turn to enter a pharmacy earlier this week, seeking pain relievers. , anti-depressant and blood pressure medication for his elderly parents.
That’s the way we spend our days now, begging, he said, adding that his next mission was to look for bread, which was out of stock due to buying panic before setting the day ban. Tooosht too little late.
READ MORE: Allegations of Beirut port bombing spark controversy in Lebanon
The rise in coronavirus cases began in late August, weeks after a massive explosion in the port of Beirut devastated parts of the capital, including several hospitals with virus patients.
The explosion was caused by a fire that exploded nearly three tons of poorly stored ammonium nitrate, which had been sitting in a port depot for years, the kind of mismanagement that is typical of a corrupt political class that fails to provide even basic services for its people.
The virus grew in the chaos of flooded hospitals, funerals and protests that followed.
Further complicating efforts to curb the virus, politicians have been unable to agree on a new government since the old one resigned after the port exploded, effectively ensuring the country’s continued whitewashing.
But in December, as most governments around the world tightened blockades, Lebanon went the other way, allowing restaurants and nightclubs to reopen with almost no restrictions imposed. About 80,000 migrants went to the country to celebrate Christmas and New Year with their loved ones, many of them Lebanese who skipped summer visits because of the devastation caused by the blast.
The holiday season should have been a busy time. Crowd, shopping and party season, said Hanna Azar, owner of a money and phone transfer shop. They opened it to allow dollars in place and now they want to close. Especially in this economic crisis, people have no money to eat.
Many hospitals have now reached maximum capacity for coronavirus patients. Some have run out of beds, oxygen tanks and fans. Others have stopped elective operations.
Last week, Lebanon imposed a 25-day nationwide blockade and a night curfew to limit the spread of the virus, but many sectors were excluded and implementation was weak, as in the past. Many businesses, including hair salons, welcomed customers behind storefronts. In some areas of northern and southern Lebanon, it was business as usual.
With hospitals on the verge of collapse, the government then ordered an 11-day back ban across the country starting Thursday, causing three days of mutilation as crowds of shoppers emptied shelves in supermarkets and bakeries.
On Thursday, police raided checkpoints across the country, checking drivers’ permission to be on the road.
Halim Shebaya, a political analyst, said the government still does not have a clear strategy and warned that it would be difficult to lower the numbers this late in the game.
The key issue now is the lack of trust in government and authorities, and managing a pandemic requires the presence of public confidence in the measures taken by the authorities, he said.
Still, Rabih Torbay, who heads Project HOPE, a global health and humanitarian organization, said time is essential and urged authorities to take every step that can help curb infections.
Every day that passes the country is slipping further into the abyss, he said.
Associated Press reporters Fadi Tawil and Bilal Hussein contributed to the report.
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