Lebanese authorities tightened a nationwide lockdown Monday, including an 11-day, 24-hour curfew, amid a dramatic surge in coronavirus infections and growing criticism of uncoordinated policies many blame for the spread of the virus.
AP: News of the restrictions to be implemented starting Thursday morning sparked panicked grocery buying as people lined up outside of supermarkets to stock up, raising fears the crowds could further spread the virus.
Lebanon had only just announced a nationwide lockdown last week. But many, including the health minister and officials on a government committee, considered it to be too lenient because it exempted many sectors, such as florists, plant nurseries and factories. Hospitals, meanwhile, were running out of beds amid rapidly multiplying Covid-19 cases.
Critics have said uncoordinated and hesitant policies wavering between relaxing restrictions and shutting down were behind the failure to contain the virus.
For instance, despite a rise in infections, the government relaxed restrictions ahead of Christmas and New Year’s celebrations, hoping to boost a crumbling local economy as thousands of Lebanese expats arrived in the country. Bars and nightclubs, which had been ordered shut for months, were allowed to open.
Daily infection rates have since hovered above 3,000, hitting an all-time high of over 5,000 last week. Doctors and experts say the extent of the spread has yet to be felt, predicting numbers will skyrocket in the coming days, overwhelming health facilities in the country of nearly 6 million.
The spike in cases has exhausted the health care sector, prompting lawmakers and officials to call on the government to consider a 24-hour lockdown without exemptions, and to shut down the airport.
The government declared a “state of health emergency” from 14-25 January that includes a round-the-clock curfew. Lebanon’s caretaker prime minister said earlier that the country has entered a “very critical zone” in the battle against the coronavirus.
As of Sunday, the World Health Organization said 81.7% of Lebanon’s hospital beds were occupied and the intensive-care-unit bed occupancy had reached 91.4%, with the highest in Beirut. Some 2,295 health care workers had been infected by Jan. 10, up from 2,015 last week.