Lebanon yesterday declared a state of emergency and ordered a two-week lockdown over coronavirus fears.
Lebanese Prime Minister Hassan Diab and Minister of Information Manal Abdel Samad Najd announced the new measures after meetings of the Supreme Defence Council and the Cabinet yesterday afternoon.
Diab ordered the closure of air, land and sea borders from Wednesday 18 March until 29 March, but excluded UNIFIL, diplomatic missions and cargo aircraft.
Residents were ordered to stay in their homes except for urgent trips, though no curfew was announced.
Banks and businesses related to food supplies were exempted from closure orders but were told to operate to the “minimum extent necessary to secure the workflow”.
“Gatherings in public and private places” were banned, including the closure of public institutions, including schools and universities, except for those performing vital functions, such as healthcare facilities and Electricite du Liban, the state power utility.
The move comes after the Syndicate of Owners of Restaurants, Cafes, Nightclubs and Pastries announced on Wednesday the voluntary closure of all members for two weeks in attempts to combat the spread of the disease.
Nabila Awad, Lebanese television channel MTV’s anchor previously declared a state of emergency during a live broadcast on 11 March and criticised the government for its slow response.
The government has also faced criticism for allowing planes from Iran, the site of the region’s largest outbreak, to continue to land in Beirut.
Despite criticism, President Michel Aoun said that “all the necessary measures have been taken, with exemplary speed, in order to counter this epidemic and prevent its spread in our country and among our nationals.”.
Adding: “The measures that were taken and the speed with which they were executed at both public and private levels, amid very complicated economic and financial circumstances, earned the appreciation of international bodies.”
Executive Chairman of Lebanese Forces party Samir Geagea, added to the criticism of the government’s measure to combat the spread of the disease, and called for “measures regarding Palestinian refugee camps and the Syrian presence in Lebanon, namely, closing all camps and preventing everyone from entering or leaving them”.
Geagea called for favouritism of Lebanese people “who are supposed to stay alive, but they will, God forbid, die unless necessary measure [are] taken”.
Tayseer Khaled, member of the Executive Committeee of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO), condemned Geagea’s statements, calling “[discrimination] between Lebanese and non-Lebanese people in such humanitarian issue… racist” and “inhumane”.
Prior to yesterday’s emergency meeting, Lebanese officials had restricted flights from major coronavirus hubs.
Last Wednesday, the government officially banned flights from Iran, Italy, China and South Korea, and gave Lebanese citizens and their families in France, Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Germany, Spain and the United Kingdom four days to return before halting travel to and from those countries.
To date, Lebanon’s Ministry of Health has confirmed 99 cases of coronavirus and reported three deaths.