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Lebanon set to extend lockdown as infected expats return

April 9, 2020 at 1:06 pm

Security forces set up check points at streets as a state of emergency has been declared due to the coronavirus outbreak in Beirut, Lebanon on 22 March 2020 [Hussam Chbaro/Anadolu Agency]

Lebanon’s cabinet is set to extend the state of “general mobilisation” after a recommendation from the country’s Higher Defence Council today.

The current lockdown was imposed for two weeks on 15 March, extended for a further fortnight on 26 March, and is currently due to end on 12 April.

An extension of the nationwide lockdown would see coronavirus containment measures lifted incrementally from 26 April at the earliest.

Minister of Health Hamad Hasan said the measures cannot be eased at this time because Lebanon is still in “the eye of the storm”.

In recent weeks, concerns have been raised over the lack of testing in the country, amid fears that many more may have the virus than official numbers suggest.

According to the Health Ministry, Lebanon’s hospitals are testing a maximum of 500 people per day.

“In a population of six million, 2500 tests per day would be required. Why aren’t we reaching that capacity?” asked Firass Abiad, CEO of Lebanon’s leading coronavirus treatment centre, the Rafic Hariri University Hospital (RHUH) in Beirut, on Twitter last week.

READ: Syria girl beaten to death by parents in Lebanon

Abiad went on to explain that Lebanon is unable to reach the 2,500-target due to the high demand for testing equipment, particularly in hard-hit Europe.

Even when testing is available, thousands are unable to afford the cost.

The government has capped fees for tests at private hospitals at 150,000 Lira (approximately $50), but several hospitals are charging clinical and administrative fees on top.

Salim Adib, professor in the American University in Beirut’s Epidemiology and Population Health Department, told the Daily Star, “it’s highway robbery. The test when it arrives in Beirut costs $9”.

The lack of, and high price of testing has raised fears that there may be more than the 576 officially reported infections in the country. Concerns which have been amplified as increasing numbers have flouted the lockdown and overnight curfew orders, and returnees from Europe have tested positive for the virus.

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Of the 226 nationals onboard repatriation flights from Paris and Madrid, which touched down in Beirut on Tuesday, 13 have subsequently tested positive.

In response, Lebanese President Michel Aoun said there was need for tighter security measures and coordination between the military and security forces to contain cases of the disease brought to Lebanon by returnees.