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Lebanon: Banks donate $6m to government hospitals to fight coronavirus, despite insolvency

Chairman of the Association of Banks in Lebanon (ABL) Salim Sfeir announced plans to donate $6 million to government hospitals battling coronavirus, in a press conference yesterday.

The money from the ABL will be used to purchase 120 respirators for treatment of coronavirus patients across Lebanon, according to a statement from Sfeir’s office.

During a meeting between Sfeir and Lebanon’s Prime Minister Hassan Diab on Tuesday, ABL’s chairman handed the government a cheque for the $6 million and said that “today Lebanon is enduring a great national trial. Such trials can only be faced with solidarity and subsidiarity between the state and all the active forces in our society.”

Sfeir added that “the only way we will defeat this epidemic is to increase immunity, and we can only relieve the plight by national immunity Lebanon has required over time” and stressed that the banks will continue to be on the front line in the fight against coronavirus.

The ABL chairman’s announcement sparked anger among Lebanese, who have been subject to strict capital controls, which have restricted weekly withdrawals to as little as $100, since October.

One Twitter user wrote in response to the news: “One payment or $100 each week?”

While others noted that the figure was in dollars, despite a severe shortage of the American currency in Lebanon, and after several banks cut access to dollars for depositors when Diab declared a coronavirus lockdown on 15 March.

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Several prominent Lebanese politicians and former MPs have also pledged dollar donations to the country’s hospitals and Red Cross in recent days, including Druze leader Walid Jumblatt.

Jumblatt pledged $500,000 to the Rafik Hariri Hospital in Beirut – the leading treatment centre in the country, and the only hospital offering free testing for coronavirus – and $100,000 to the Lebanese Red Cross.

In an appearance on a local TV channel, Jumblatt said: “With the outbreak of the epidemic, new measures must be taken, including a national fund to look after hundreds of thousands who have lost their jobs.”

The nationwide coronavirus lockdown has left many Lebanese workers without jobs, and subject to police fines and legal action if they chose to try and work.

One taxi driver set his car alight on the main road leading to Beirut’s airport on Tuesday after being fined by police for not complying with measures intended to combat the spread of the virus.

A video of the incident circulated on social media which showed a white Renault vehicle engulfed in flames while Lebanese army soldiers tried to spray water on the car in an attempt to put out the fire.

Lebanese army soldiers and Internal Security Forces members have been on the streets since the weekend, when Diab ordered the military organisations to enforce the lockdown which several residents had flouted.

The total number of coronavirus cases has risen to 333, a 10 per cent growth on yesterday’s tally, the Lebanese Health Ministry announced on Wednesday. Four people have died from the virus so far.

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