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Lebanon parliament goes online as PM warns state struggling to contain coronavirus

Health officials wearing protective suit sprays disinfectant outside of the Lebanese Parliament building as a precaution against the coronavirus in Beirut, Lebanon on 10 March 2020 [Hussam Chbaro/Anadolu Agency]
Health officials wearing protective suit spray disinfectant outside of the Lebanese Parliament building as a precaution against the coronavirus in Beirut, Lebanon on 10 March 2020 [Hussam Chbaro/Anadolu Agency]

Parliamentary Speaker Nabih Berri announced that parliament will start holding legislative meetings online in a statement on Wednesday.

Local media Al-Joumhouria quoted Berri as saying that "the meetings will be held through video conferencing technology and through specialised institutions, which saves time and costs."

The move comes as President Michel Aoun called on citizens to stay inside and abide by home quarantine "in order to ward off the threat of the deadly coronavirus epidemic, so that the life cycle will return to normal soon."

As part of the transition to online meetings, the president held a video conference via Skype with teams from the Rafik Hariri hospital – the country's largest public hospital, and leading coronavirus treatment centre – and the Lebanese Red Cross on Tuesday.

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According to the National News Agency, the president listened to the concerns and demands of the teams and assessed how prepared they were to combat the novel coronavirus.

During the video conference, Aoun said: "Today, you are the source of reassurance for the Lebanese. Your efforts are sacred because you give unconditionally and risk your lives. Today only a few people are subjecting themselves to danger like you are doing."

The move comes as Prime Minister Hassan Diab has warned that the Lebanese state is struggling to keep up with the rise in coronavirus cases, which total 333, during a meeting with the Association of Banks in Lebanon (ABL) on Tuesday.

Diab said that "the whole country is under severe pressure, and no one can bear the burden of these pressures alone."

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Adding that "it is even hard for the state, with its present capabilities, to carry out its full duties to its citizens."

Diab's comments come as Human Rights Watch (HRW) published a report yesterday saying that "the Lebanese government is obligated to ensure everyone's right to health" and raised concerns that the coronavirus outbreak is taking Lebanon's medical supply shortage to breaking point.

According to the HRW report, hospitals are missing essentials "including almost all 'disposables' like gloves, masks and gowns" while importers have been unable to get ventilators or spare parts for faulty equipment since September due to the dollar shortage.

Health Minister Hamad Hasan said that hospitals "will receive cases according to the available capabilities."

The minister called for home quarantine, calling the practice "the first line of defence," adding that "without it all other things will fall apart."

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