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Coronavirus, work freezes and lockdown violators fuel Lebanon crisis

Arab News logo Arab News 25/03/2020 NAJIA HOUSSARI
a man walking down the street talking on a cell phone © Provided by Arab News
Officers on a street in Beirut to prevent the spread of the infection
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BEIRUT: The Lebanese Ministry of Health declared that the number of people infected by the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) had reached 304 on Tuesday, after recording 37 new cases.

The news came as authorities grappled to help alleviate growing problems as a result of the outbreak, and the subsequent economic turmoil as a result of government sanctions and curbs on labor to help halt the spread, causing chaos across the country.

In one particularly nasty incident, a taxi driver torched his car and tried to burn himself to death, after he was stopped by police and fined for transporting four passengers instead of only one.

A video segment went viral on social media, featuring the taxi driver shouting while setting his car and himself ablaze, before being saved and taken to hospital.

Chadi El-Sayed, deputy head of the Land Transport Association and head of the Drivers Syndicate in North Lebanon, told Arab News: “It is a sad incident to see policemen giving a ticket to a taxi driver who was pushed by poverty and hunger to work while risking contracting COVID-19.”

El-Sayed added: “A taxi driver can sustain hunger but he needs to feed his children. We have already warned of this situation, especially in northern Lebanon where it is much worse, in light of interruption of all activities. There should be alternatives immediately, otherwise they should prepare coffins for people who will die of hunger.”

He called on the Economic and Social Council of Lebanon and the government to “give direct financial subsidies to poorer families to help them overcome these exceptionally hard conditions,” through handouts of 500,000 Lebanese pounds ($330) per month, for a minimum period of 3 months.

The government dedicated part of its session on Tuesday to discussing ways to provide aid for needy families. It decided to form an executive committee, headed by Dr. Ramzi Musharrafieh, minister of Social Affairs and Tourism.

Minister of Interior Mohamed Fahmy called on the Finance Minister Ghazi Wazni to release municipal funds collected from cellphone fee revenues, estimated at “around 168.8 billion Lebanese pounds ($111.63 million),” to provide support to the needy and poor families affected by the lockdown.

In an attempt to raise morale, the President of the Republic Michel Aoun took to video messaging platform Skype to address medical, nursing, and administrative staff at Rafik Hariri University Hospital in Beirut, praising their efforts and sacrifices treating patients with COVID-19.

Aoun also used Skype to address Lebanese Red Cross medics and volunteers. He was briefed on their conditions, concerns, requests, and readiness to combat the pandemic, and saluted their courage and devotion.

George Kettaneh, secretary-general of the Lebanese Red Cross, declared that the volunteers “transported 16 unconfirmed infection cases on Tuesday, added to another 330 cases who were transported previously, and who are still awaiting their test results.”

FASTFACTS

A taxi driver torched his car and tried to burn himself to death, after he was stopped by police and fined for transporting four passengers instead of only one. A video segment went viral on social media, featuring the driver shouting while setting his car and himself ablaze, before being saved and taken to hospital.

Special attention was given to Lebanese prisons in order to prevent a COVID-19 outbreak. Brig. Gen. Dr. Ibrahim Hanna, head of the medical center at Roumieh Prison, said that there were currently no cases.

The Lebanese Order of Medicine visited Roumieh and held a medical security meeting in which it was decided to reduce overcrowding in prisons.

The meeting called on President Aoun to issue a special amnesty for misdemeanors, for those whose sentences did not exceed a one-year sentence, and asked other authorities to issue special amnesties for other convicts, whilst also calling on prison administrations to ban direct visits to prisoners, providing videocalls instead.

Some precaution measures in some regions have aroused political controversy, especially after some municipalities closed down the entrances of towns and villages including, the town of Kfardebian.

Walid Jumblatt, head of the Progressive Socialist Party, warned on Twitter of adopting “self-imposed security, which could lead to many problems.”

Civil defense teams and scouts of the Amal Movement and Hezbollah have set checkpoints on the entrance to villages and towns in Tebnine region, to sterilize cars and check passengers’ temperatures. Municipalities in the south announced the prohibition of renting homes and apartments for people coming out of the region, whether Lebanese or Syrian.

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