Lebanon considers tighter lockdown amid coronavirus surge

Lebanon’s caretaker prime minister says the country has entered a “very critical zone” in the battle against coronavirus as his government mulls tightening the nationwide lockdown announced last week

BEIRUT — Lebanon’s caretaker prime minister said Monday the country has entered a “very critical zone” in the battle against coronavirus as his government mulls tightening nationwide lockdown announced last week.

Following a new post-holiday surge in infections, the Lebanese government imposed a nationwide lockdown and a nighttime curfew. But many were critical of the measures, calling them lax for exempting many sectors, such as factories, plant nurseries and exchange bureaus.

Lebanon’s handling of the coronavirus surge amid a deepening economic crisis has been under scrutiny, with many saying hesitant policies have failed to contain the virus.

Despite a rise in infections, the government relaxed restrictions ahead of Christmas and New Year’s celebrations, hoping to boost a crumbling local economy. Bars and nightclubs, which had been ordered shut for months, were allowed to open.

Penalties against big holiday gatherings and parties were not evenly and strictly imposed. On Sunday, a soccer match was allowed to take place in the northern Tripoli province with an audience.

Lawmakers and officials have called on the government to consider a 24-hour lockdown without exemptions. There have been calls for the Beirut airport to be shut. Some 80,000 Lebanese expats had returned to the country during the holidays, but doctors say the transmission remains mainly among non-expats.

Ahead of a ministerial meeting to consider new measures, Caretaker Prime Minister Hassan Diab blamed careless behavior for the spread, saying many Lebanese still consider the virus a hoax and are not taking it seriously.

“We have entered a very critical zone in terms of the coronavirus spread or at a minimum, we are at the gates of that zone,” Diab said.

Since February, Lebanon has recorded more than 219,000 infections and 1,606 deaths.