As post-holiday infections surge, Lebanon gears for lockdown

Lebanese officials are vowing to take strict measures amid calls for an immediate nationwide lockdown in the wake of a surge in coronavirus infections following the holiday season

First responders say they have been transporting nearly 100 patients a day while hospitals report near-full occupancy in beds and ICUs.

Nurses say they are overwhelmed, and private hospitals have been roped into the national response despite complaints that the cash-strapped government owes them large sums of outstanding debt.

“We are facing a very critical phase and we need exceptional and firm measures as well as strict implementation,” caretaker Prime Minister Hassan Diab said at the start of a government meeting to discuss how to deal with the spreading virus.

A meeting of the highest security committee is to follow later in the day before new measures are announced. Armenian Orthodox Christmas is celebrated in Lebanon this week.

The numbers began increasing this summer, following a massive explosion in Beirut’s port that shook the city and its heath sector, killing over 200 people and injuring 6,000. The infections following the August explosion increased by over 300% from the month before and have been climbing since.

Despite a two-week lockdown in November, the numbers kept increasing — only worsening with the holiday seasons and the return of nearly 80,000 expats to celebrate at home.

The holidays have also seen increased testing but reports suggested many of those were carried out to allow celebrations, only driving up infections. Lockdowns of towns and villages failed to contain new infections and fines for violators did not stop large New Year Eve’s gatherings. At one, a hotel hosted a famous Lebanese singer in an indoor party that included hundreds of people, raising criticism of lax penalty implementation.

Lebanon is already struggling with an unprecedented economic crisis that has caused it to default on debt, and has sent its local currency plunging and losing 80% of its value to the dollar. That has severely curbed imports in the import-dependent countries, including of medicine and medical supplies. It has also driven inflation and unemployment up.

Ahead of the holidays, Lebanese authorities relaxed restrictions, hoping to give the flailing economy a boost, particularly with thousands of expats in town. This sparked a debate over whether it is the government’s wavering policies or social laxness in implementing social distancing and others measures that is behind the surge.