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Lebanese government prepares to repatriate citizens 

Lebanese Minister of Interior and Municipalities, Mohamed Fehmi, holds a press conference on coronavirus (Covid-19) in Beirut, Lebanon on 22 March 2020. [Hussam Chbaro - Anadolu Agency]
Lebanese Minister of Interior and Municipalities, Mohamed Fehmi, holds a press conference on coronavirus (Covid-19) in Beirut, Lebanon on 22 March 2020. [Hussam Chbaro - Anadolu Agency]

The government in Lebanon is preparing to fly citizens stranded abroad by the coronavirus pandemic back to Beirut, Minister of Information Manal Abdul Samad said on Thursday. “Those Lebanese abroad who want to return to Lebanon after 12 April must fill in forms and a mechanism will be devised before 30 March to facilitate bank transfers to them,” she explained. “They should communicate with our embassies to report their situation and needs.”

Foreign Minister Nassif Hitti confirmed the news in an interview with local channel MTV, noting that no Lebanese citizen will be allowed to return before they are tested for Covid-19 and it is confirmed that they do not have or carry the disease. “Any infected person can be an unexploded bomb for those returning on the same flight,” he explained. Lebanese students overseas and in financial difficulties will also be eligible to apply for money transfers from the government, added Hitti.

Lebanese banks have been enforcing harsh capital controls on accounts since October, only allowing depositors to withdraw as little as $100 per week as the country faces its worst economic and financial crisis since the end of the civil war in 1990. Hitti noted that students whose families are unable to support them financially because of the current situation will be supported by the government.

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Lebanon has also extended the state of “general mobilisation” until 12 April and added new measures to combat the spread of the coronavirus. These include a general closure between 7pm and 5am, with few exceptions, and citizens ordered to remain inside during these hours. The government said that mills, bakeries, pharmacies and medical facilities are the only institutions exempt from the curfew. The decisions to do this were taken after meetings of the Higher Defence Council and the Cabinet yesterday.

“Prime Minister Hassan Diab noted that we are still in the extreme danger phase,” explained Manal Abdul Samad, “and it is necessary to extend general mobilisation because the containment period of the disease requires five weeks.”

The government declared a nationwide lockdown on 15 March, closing the country’s borders, all non-essential public and private institutions and calling on citizens to self-isolate. Some residents have flouted the lockdown orders, though, with pictures on social media today of hundreds of people attending Friday prayers in the north Lebanese city of Tripoli.

The Health Ministry in Beirut has so far confirmed 368 coronavirus cases, including six deaths. Twenty people are known to have recovered from the virus.

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