Lebanon reopened Beirut airport on Wednesday after four months of closure due to the COVID-19 outbreak in the country.
Lebanese Health Minister Hamad Hassan announced during his tour at the airport that exceptional measures were taken by the ministries that are involved in the airport’s reopening, the civil aviation authority and security forces to ensure protection of tourists, expatriates and locals.
“The measures that are taken at the airport aim to select suspect cases and prevent them from getting in touch with other people in the society,” the minister said.
Despite the continuous increase in infections since 10 days until today, hospitals are using a minimal number of ventilators and there exists many empty beds at private and public hospitals, according to the ministry.
“The private and public hospitals are capable of receiving infections that may arise in the coming days,” he said.
Beirut airport restarted its operations with only 10 percent of its capacity a year ago, or about 2,000 passengers a day.
Passengers will be tested for COVID-19 upon arrival and take a second test three days later to prevent any potential spread of the virus. If testing positive, passengers will be sent to hospitals and be forced to quarantine for two weeks.
Director General of the airport Fadi El Hassan told local TV channel OTV that several necessary measures have been taken, including the placement of disinfectants all over the airport, and signs to separate travelers according to social distancing rules.
“We have also placed thermal scanners in different areas of the airport which can detect the fever of passengers. These scanners are used worldwide and they are very accurate,” he said.
Lebanon is expected to receive around 15 flights on Wednesday from Europe and the Gulf countries.
The first aircraft arrived in the morning was from the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Some passengers were satisfied with the measures taken at the airport while others complained about the big number of people which exposes arrivals to risk of COVID-19.
“In my opinion, measures were weak because there were a lot of people who did not respect social distancing rules and did not wear masks,” one pregnant woman told Xinhua.
Another Lebanese citizen arriving to Lebanon from UAE told Xinhua that measures were easier than expected.
“I hope that more Lebanese expats will visit Lebanon this year to support the country’s economy,” he said.
Lebanon has been fighting against COVID-19 since Feb. 21.
The number of infections reached 1,778 on Tuesday with a death toll of 34 in total.
The country has already been suffering from dire economic circumstances, but the outbreak of the virus exacerbated the situation, causing the closure of thousands of businesses and the lay-off of thousands of employees.
Economists have, on many occasions, called for the reopening of the airport in hope to be able to attract tourists willing to visit Lebanon and spend U.S. dollar currency in the country which would activate few sectors of the collapsing economy amid steep shortage in U.S. currency in the country.
With an annual revenue of around 8 billion U.S. dollars from 2015 to 2018, tourism has traditionally been one of Lebanon’s leading economic sectors, providing employment and income for a large segment of the population.