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Lebanon banks to open, defying government coronavirus lockdown

The Central Bank of Lebanon [Karan Jain/Flickr]
The Central Bank of Lebanon [Karan Jain/Flickr]

The Association of Banks in Lebanon (ABL) and Minister of Finance Ghazi Wazni have today agreed to open some bank branches from tomorrow, after the ABL attempted to close all banks until 29 March over coronavirus fears.

The decision was made during talks between Head of the ABL Salim Sfeir and Wazni.

The ABL is set to organise working hours and provide banking services to meet the needs of the people, despite the state of national emergency.

The association had said today that it would close all banks in the country until 29 March, in lieu of government regulations to combat the spread of the disease.

The government ordered a two-week lockdown, closure of air, land and sea borders, and has banned "gathering in public and private places" effective from 18 March.

Yet despite the closure of private commercial businesses and public institutions, including schools and universities, Diab exempted food suppliers and banks, instructing them to remain open and operate to the "minimum extent necessary to secure the workflow".

READ: Lebanon's leading coronavirus hospital goes on strike

However, the Syndicate of Bank employees had called for "the [ABL to] oblige its entire staff in all branches to stay in their homes until the general conditions return to the way they were before the outbreak of the 'coronavirus' pandemic".

Adding that ATMs could remain open and customers without cards would be able to "simply contact the 'Call Centre' and they will be provided with a cash withdrawal service".

Wazni rejected the move and called on the Public Prosecution to revoke the decision.

The state-run National News Agency (NNA) quoted Wazni as saying the decision was made in "haste" and did not take into consideration the best interests of citizens, stressing that "the banking sector is a vital and essential sector in people's daily life".

Lebanese banks have enforced informal capital controls, as a result of a deepening dollar crisis, since anti-government protests began in October, which have restricted withdrawals to as little as $200 per week.

The country is in the midst of its worst economic crisis since the end of the civil war in 1990, and on 9 March, defaulted on its $1.2 billion Eurobond debt.

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