Lebanese medical experts urge nationwide lockdown amid surge in COVID-19 cases; economic entities oppose it

Lebanese medical experts and officials urged local authorities to impose complete lockdown in Lebanon in hope to limit the spread of COVID-19 cases, a suggestion that was opposed by economic entities given the dire economic situation in the country.

The total number of COVID-19 cases climbed to 87,097 on Wednesday in Lebanon while the death toll stands at 676.

“A complete lockdown in the country would reduce the burden on the medical sector while allowing private hospitals to gain some time to open COVID-19 departments in their establishments as requested by the government for a better fight against the virus,” Head of the Parliamentary Health Committee Assem Araji told Xinhua.

Araji noted that a complete lockdown can be accompanied with an incentive package by offering financial support to individuals, which would encourage them to stay home for one month during lockdown.

“We can either do this or adopt partial lockdown with a more serious control by the government to make sure that people and businesses are committing to proper measures including wearing masks, social distancing and hosting a small number of people in restaurants,” Araji said.

The latest measures adopted by Lebanon was the latest announcement by caretaker Interior Minister Mohammad Fahmi on Sunday, ordering complete shut-down and lockdown measures in 115 villages and towns in the country along with a nationwide curfew from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. every day due to the increase in COVID-19 cases in these areas.

However, caretaker Health Minister Hamad Hassan said that partial closure in Lebanon has proved to be inefficient while voicing his preference for a complete nationwide shutdown.

This has sparked criticism by representatives of the various economic sectors who noted that economic sectors can no longer take any losses.

“If authorities want to impose a general lockdown, we prefer that this takes place in November and not in December because we are counting on the festive season of Christmas and New Year to make up for our previous losses,” said Tony Ramy, president of the Syndicate of Owners of Restaurants in Lebanon.

Pierre Ashkar, president of the Syndicate of Hotel Owners in Lebanon, said that a well-planned mechanism must be adopted by the government to compensate businesses for their losses similar to other Arab countries.

For his part, Nicolas Chammas, head of Beirut Traders’ Association, said that the trade sector in Lebanon has seen a drop in activity by 80 percent.

Private hospitals have, since the outbreak of COVID-19 in Lebanon, refrained from receiving COVID-19 patients as they are suffering from a severe financial crisis and shortage in medical equipment and materials.

Lebanese Health Minister Hassan promised to solve private hospitals’ financial issues by inciting the Finance Ministry to pay hospitals’ dues and enable them to buy their needed materials, while warning that the government will punish private hospitals that do not take part in the fight against the virus.

Caretaker Prime Minister’s Advisor Petra Khoury told Xinhua that the fastest way to contain the virus would be to impose a complete nationwide lockdown along with an incentive program for individuals and businesses.

However, if authorities decide to adopt a partial lockdown, private hospitals must be given great support to enable them to receive COVID-19 patients, she added.

“Most importantly we want commitment by all stakeholders for any measures that will be adopted in the country,” Khoury said.

Lebanon has been witnessing its worst economic and financial crisis with thousands of businesses shutting their doors due to nationwide protests, shortage in U.S. dollars, and COVID-19 outbreak. It led to the layoff of thousands of employees, pushing the unemployment rate up to 55 percent, according to World Bank.