At least 90 peacekeepers stationed with the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) have contracted Covid-19, a spokesperson said yesterday. According to Agence France Presse (AFP), 88 of the infections are among the same UNIFIL national contingent.
These infections are the first to be recorded within UNIFIL, explained spokesperson Andrea Tenenti. He added that the sick troops had been transferred to a secure facility where they can receive treatment.
UNIFIL is hoping to prevent a larger outbreak. “It has undertaken robust contact tracing, and applied a thorough regime of testing and isolation,” Tenenti pointed out.
Lebanon has experienced a spike in coronavirus cases since the massive 4 August explosion devastated Beirut, killing nearly 200 people and injuring thousands more. The health ministry has reported between 400 and 600 new cases per day, at least 22 of which were reported in one of the country’s most overcrowded prisons.
The nationalities of the UNIFIL personnel who have contracted the virus were not specified. However, a spokesperson for the Irish Defence Forces later confirmed that all Irish troops working with UNIFIL are “safe and well”, reported RTE. About 350 Irish troops are currently deployed in southern Lebanon and are not expected home until November, the broadcaster added.
The peacekeeping force was established to oversee the withdrawal of Israeli forces from southern Lebanon after the 1978 invasion. In 2006, UNIFIL’s mandate was extended after a 34-day war fought between Israel and Hezbollah.
There are now more than 9,400 ground troops with UNIFIL as well as over 850 naval personnel in a Maritime Task Force. Troops stationed in southern Lebanon come from 45 states around the world, including India, Nepal, China and Malaysia.
UNIFIL’s mandate is renewed in an annual vote by members of the UN Security Council. As part of last month’s renewal conditions, the force had its troop numbers reduced from 15,000 to 13,000 amid US and Israeli criticism over its efficiency. Diplomats, however, have said that the change is merely symbolic as only 10,500 troops are currently deployed in southern Lebanon.