Lebanon begins all-day curfew as virus spins out of control


BEIRUT (AP) – Lebanese authorities on Thursday began imposing an 11-day nationwide closure and 24-hour curfew, hoping to limit the spread of coronavirus infections spiraling out of control after the holiday period .

For the first time, residents had to apply for a one-hour permit to be allowed to leave the house for “emergencies”, including going to the bakery, pharmacist, doctor, hospital or hospital. ‘airport.

Authorities have come under pressure to take a more stringent approach after hospitals across the country run out of beds with daily infections reaching a record 5,440 cases last week in the country of nearly 6 million people.

The dramatic surge in infections began in late December. As most governments around the world tighten lockdowns, Lebanon eased holiday health measures, allowing restaurants and nightclubs to reopen with virtually no restrictions. An estimated 80,000 expats have returned to the country to celebrate Christmas and New Years with their loved ones, including many expats who skipped visits this summer due to the devastating August 4 explosion in the Beirut port.

“The holiday season should have been the time for foreclosure. The season for crowds, shopping and parties, ”said Hanna Azar, owner of a money transfer and phone shop. “They opened it up to allow dollars to enter the country and now they want to close, especially in this economic crisis. People have no money to eat.

Even before the coronavirus, Lebanon was going through an unprecedented economic and financial crisis that saw its national currency and banking sector collapse and exclude depositors from savings. Hospitals, long considered among the best in the Middle East, struggled to pay staff, operate equipment, and obtain needed medical supplies when dollars were scarce.

Amid the outbreak, many hospitals have now reached their maximum capacity for patients with coronavirus. Some have stopped elective surgeries because they lacked beds, oxygen tanks and ventilators.

Moreover, the country has been without a government since the former resigned following the catastrophic August 4 explosion in the port of Beirut, which put additional pressure on hospitals, flooding them with wounded. At least three hospitals have been destroyed.

The massive explosion caused by the detonation of an improperly stored ammonium nitrate stockpile devastated the city, killing more than 200 people and injuring thousands.

Police held checkpoints across the country on Thursday, checking motorist permits to be on the road and creating traffic jams in some cases. The curfew has been the strictest since the start of the pandemic. For the first time, even supermarkets were asked to close their doors and open only for delivery. The move sparked three days of chaotic panic shopping as concerned citizens cleared supermarket and grocery store shelves.

Lebanon had just announced a nationwide lockdown last week. But many, including the health minister and officials on a government committee, found it too lenient because it exempted many sectors. In parts of the country, business went as usual, leading to more calls for a complete shutdown and a curfew.

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