Lebanon enters two-week Covid-19 lockdown amid political, economic crises

Cases of coronavirus top 100,000 as police patrol streets to ensure compliance

Lebanon had contained the spread of coronavirus from March to July, but cases began to soar in August after the port blast. Photograph: Hasan Shaaban/Bloomberg

Lebanon had contained the spread of coronavirus from March to July, but cases began to soar in August after the port blast. Photograph: Hasan Shaaban/Bloomberg

 

Lebanon has entered a two-week lockdown as the country faces its worst ever political and economic crises, and Covid-19 cases have topped 100,000 with more than 800 deaths.

A curfew has been imposed from sunset to sunrise, the circulation of vehicles reduce, and travel between districts banned. Police are patrolling streets and highways to ensure compliance, eliciting protests from shop, cafe and restaurant owners that closure will bankrupt them.

As hospitals became overwhelmed with coronavirus cases, interim prime minister Hassan Diab said the lockdown was “aimed at avoiding the collapse of the health system”.

“Despite all its disadvantages, a short lockdown can help slow the spread of the virus,” tweeted Firass Abiad, head of Rafik Hariri Hospital, which is in charge of the campaign to contain the virus. “A little discomfort now can save much sorrow later.”

Politicians who continued to squabble over ministries in a rescue government under premier-designate Saad Hariri have come under fire from the country’s Christian prelates. Maronite Catholic patriarch Cardinal Beshara Rai accused them of being motivated by “selfishness and personal interests” and plotting “to topple the state of greater Lebanon” in order to “seize control of what remains”. He called for the creation of a government composed “in full” of independent figures.

Greek Orthodox metropolitan Elias Audi urged the ruling class to “understand that you are driving Lebanon to the bottom of a chasm” from which it may not recover.

Their intervention followed the failure of French envoy Patrick Durel to press home Paris’s demand for a “government of independents and specialists who do not belong to parties and who enjoy competency and integrity”.

Rapid meltdown

This demand was put forward by French president Emmanuel Macron during a visit to Beirut in August following an explosion that devastated the port and neighbouring residential areas, killed 200 and rendered 300,000 homeless.

Mr Macron reiterated the demand during a second trip in September, when he warned that $21 billion (€17.7 billion) in loans and grants from foreign donors and the International Monetary Fund would not be forthcoming until and unless such a cabinet was constituted and the corrupt political class is no longer in charge.

Over the last year Lebanon has suffered rapid financial and economic meltdown, its currency has lost 80 per cent of its value, unemployment has soared and more than half the population has sunk into poverty.

The country contained the spread of coronavirus from March to July, but cases began to soar in August after the port blast. Mr Diab resigned to make way for the proposed cabinet of experts but remains in office in a caretaker capacity.