Lebanon MP warns country has ‘lost control’ of Covid-19

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Hind Al Soulia - Riyadh - The head of the Lebanese parliament’s health committee, Assem Araji said Lebanon has “lost control” of coronavirus and is “heading towards herd immunity” but that another lockdown is not currently being considered in the crisis-hit country.

Lebanon’s recorded coronavirus cases have more than quadrupled since explosions in Beirut’s port devastated swathes of the capital on August 4. September has seen daily infections rise to record levels and pass 1,000 new cases for the first time on Monday.

“There is no co-ordination between the concerned ministries about the preventive guidelines,” Mr Araji told local TV channel Al Jadeed on Wednesday.

On Sunday, Health Minister Hamad Hasan called for Lebanon to enter a two-week lockdown in an attempt to flatten the curve. Rather than reimposing the lockdown, Mr Araji told local newspaper Al Anbaa, the committee tasked with combating the pandemic, is “heading toward increasing control measures on institutions in order to implement safety standards”.

Dr Firass Abiad, the director of Rafik Hariri University Hospital, the country’s main coronavirus facility, told The National that there are lessons to be learnt before heading back into another lockdown.

A Lebanese policeman fines a motorist for violating strict measures that allow vehicles with even or odd plate numbers to drive for three days a week each and Sundays will be banned for driving, as part of a plan to help stem the spread of the coronavirus, in Beirut, Lebanon. AP Photo

Customers wearing face masks and gloves queue outside a supermarket, during a lockdown to prevent the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Beirut, Lebanon. REUTERS

Abu-Hattab rides his horse on a deserted street after security forces began implementing strict measures that allow vehicles with even or odd plate numbers to drive for three days a week each and Sundays will be banned for all driving, as part of a plan to help stem the spread of the coronavirus, in Beirut, Lebanon. AP Photo

A Lebanese woman sits at her home's entrance during confinement due to the COVID-19 pandemic, in the historic part of the southern coastal city of Saida. Lebanon's President called on international donors to provide financial assistance to the crisis-hit country as it grapples with a severe economic downturn compounded by the novel coronavirus pandemic. AFP

A Lebanese man sitting by a fresh produce stall checks his phone in the market of the historic part of the southern coastal city of Saida. Lebanon's President called on international donors to provide financial assistance to the crisis-hit country as it grapples with a severe economic downturn compounded by the novel coronavirus pandemic. AFP

Lebanese security forces stop vehicles at a highway checkpoint in Nahr al-Kalb, north of the Lebanese capital Beirut, as authorities implemented further measures restricting the movement of cars, trucks and motorcycles to three assigned days per week. AFP

A driver argues with Lebanese policemen after he received a fine for violating strict measures that allow vehicles with even or odd plate numbers to drive for three days a week each and Sundays will be banned for driving, as part of a plan to help stem the spread of the coronavirus, in Beirut, Lebanon. AP Photo

A Lebanese man stands by his pigeon pen on the roof of his house in the historic part of the southern coastal city of Saida. Lebanon's President called on international donors to provide financial assistance to the crisis-hit country as it grapples with a severe economic downturn compounded by the novel coronavirus pandemic. AFP

“We all know that lockdowns work but the problem is the baggage that comes with lockdowns,” he said.

“You go into lockdown – two weeks – you get some measure of control but then you have to open up again. If you open up and you go back to where you were before, the same behaviour, the same contact, the same compliance, you’ve really not done anything.”

The hospitals have hovered at near-full capacity for a few months now, but have yet to be overwhelmed, which Dr Abiad says disproves Mr Araji’s claim that Lebanon has lost control of the virus.

“It’s not going as well as we hoped and we are definitely facing mounting challenges, but I don’t think we have reached the stage where we can say we have lost control of the virus – our hospitals are not overwhelmed,” he said.

The total number of coronavirus cases passed 30,000 on Wednesday in a country of about five million.

This figure, Dr Abiad said, raises questions over how Lebanon could be heading towards “herd immunity”, as Mr Araji suggests.

“If we have 30,000 cases in a population of five million, that’s around 0.6 per cent of the country. If we’re talking about 50 per cent of the population contracting coronavirus, it will probably take us years to reach that point,” he said.

“To be honest, I’m not sure what people mean by the phrase ‘we’re heading towards herd immunity’, it’s a phrase people use alongside ‘the virus is getting out of control.’ From a public health perspective it could be considered a bit irresponsible.”

Mr Araji told Al Jadeed the country is “heading towards so-called ‘herd immunity’ because nobody is complying with the guidelines”.

“The resistance to the lockdown was led by the business sectors, already suffering from the effects of the financial meltdown,” Dr Abiad tweeted. However, the economy versus health debate is the wrong argument as it is not an either/or situation, he told The National.

“If you have a rampant virus, your economy will not do well. People will not feel safe to eat in restaurants,” he said.

“I don’t think anyone has a solution right now, but if we can introduce and reinforce some measures, we can, to a degree, retain some control.”

Updated: September 24, 2020 02:54 PM

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