Lebanon Begins 5th Lockdown to Contain Coronavirus
By Staff, Agencies
Lebanon began its fifth nationwide lockdown in less than a year Thursday, imposing restrictions and a night curfew to contain a record surge of COVID-19 infections that is on the brink of overwhelming the country's health sector.
The 25-day lockdown closes all recreational institutions, eating in restaurants and cafes while imposing sharp cut on the capacity of government departments and other vital institutions, including banks and limits the number of travelers entering the country.
A daily 6 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew also went into effect as well as limiting the number of cars that can drive during the day. A 24-hour curfew is also imposed every Sunday during the lockdown that ends on Feb. 1.
All travelers arriving at Beirut's international airport from Thursday will undergo PCR tests and the number of passengers will be cut to 20% of that of January 2020 as of Monday. Crossings into the country through the land border will also be dramatically limited and only allowed on two days per week.
All ministries, government departments and other essential service providers like electricity and telecommunications will work at a maximum 25% capacity. The Central Bank and commercial lenders can work at 20 percent capacity.
The government also ordered all private hospitals to increase the number of ICUs.
Excluded from the curbs are pharmacies, medical workers and journalists. Supermarkets, bakeries, grocery stores, and butchers and restaurant deliveries can operate from 5 a.m. till 5 p.m. Wholesale vegetable and meat markets can open from 5 a.m. till noon.
The lockdown comes as the number of COVID-19 cases approach 200,000 with over 1,500 deaths.
Lebanon registered Wednesday 4,166 new coronavirus cases, a new record of infections for the second day in a row, as well as 21 more deaths.
The latest lockdown comes before Lebanon begins receiving shipments of Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine. Health Minister Hamad Hasan is to sign a contract with Pfizer this week to import around 2.1 million doses of the vaccine, with the first batch of some 60,000 doses set to arrive by mid-February. The ministry is also looking into importing a second vaccine.
Experts say the vaccination campaign would be slow and is unlikely to be completed before autumn.
On the eve of the lockdown, many ordinary Lebanese said they would abide by the restrictions but called on the authorities to compensate businesses and blamed the government for the surge of virus cases.
The Internal Security Force warned in a statement that violators of the restrictions could be fined up to LL600,000 and could face a three-month jail sentence.
The previous lockdown in the second half of November did reduce the number of daily infections for a brief while but gains were reversed as the holiday season approached.