Coronavirus: Lebanon goes into lockdown to contain outbreak

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Hind Al Soulia - Riyadh - Lebanon’s private and public institutions will be shut and non-necessary social movements will be banned for two weeks from March 15 to limit the spread of the coronavirus, the government announced on Sunday evening.

Beirut’s international airport will be closed from next Wednesday until March 29.

Except for situations of “extreme necessity”, citizens may not leave their homes or gather in public and private places, Manal Abdel Samad, the Information Minister, said after a four-hour emergency government meeting.

In a short speech, Prime Minister Hassan Diab said the government was taking “the maximum measures to protect the Lebanese".

Key public institutions including the state-run national utility company, banks and security forces, and public and private medical centres will stay open, as will shops selling food.

Customs fees and VAT will be lifted for two months on medical equipment imports necessary to treat patients infected with Covid-19.

Lebanese citizens, their relatives and diplomats will be allowed to enter Lebanon until Beirut’s international airport shuts on Wednesday if they carry a health certificate proving they are not infected, Ms Abdel Samad said.

People arriving from countries and regions that had been earlier banned will not be allowed to enter Lebanon.

They are France, Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Germany, Spain, the UK, Italy, Iran, China, Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan, and South Korea.

Three people have died of the coronavirus in the country of about 4 to 5 million people, and at least 100 people are infected.

Measures taken since late February include the closure of schools, universities and restaurants, and limiting religious celebrations.

People walking on Beirut’s corniche, one of the city’s rare public spaces, were told to leave by police on Sunday afternoon.

As the sense of urgency mounted, several MPs tweeted that they would donate a portion or all of their salary to public hospitals treating patients infected with the coronavirus.

On Sunday evening, Health Minister Hamad Hassan launched a national fund to fight coronavirus, donating his March salary to it and pledging to be transparent about donations.

Patients lie in bed at a temporary emergency structure set up outside the accident and emergency department, where any new arrivals presenting suspect new coronavirus symptoms will be tested, at the Brescia hospital, Lombardy, on March 13, 2020. / AFP / Miguel MEDINA

Syrian boys pose for a picture during an awareness workshop on Coronavirus held by Doctor Ali Ghazal at a camp for displaced people in Atme town in Syria's northwestern Idlib province, near the border with Turkey. AFP

Australia's Prime Minister Scott Morrison speaks during a press conference in Sydney, Australia, 15 March 2020. EPA

US President Donald looks at US President Mike Pence while answering a question during a news conference in the briefing room of the White House. Bloomberg

Tourists taking photos in front of a cruise liner docked at Station Pier as Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison on March 15 announces all cruise ships will be banned entirely from docking in Australia. AFP

US Vice President Mike Pence takes a question during a news conference in the briefing room of the White House. Bloomberg

A man wearing a protective mask with a LinkNYC box displaying Coronavirus Prevention Tips in New York City. AFP

A LinkNYC box displays Coronavirus Prevention Tips in New York City. AFP

People visit an almost empty Times Square in New York City, New York, U.S. Reuters

A sign indicates that the National Gallery of Art has been closed to the public due to the coronavirus threat in Washington, US. Reuters

Expatriates wait for mandatory coronavirus testing in a makeshift testing centre in Mishref, Kuwait. Reuters

People applaud Spanish health workers in Madrid, Spain. Getty Images

A worker in a protective suit disinfects the Fatih Mosque in Istanbul, Turkey. Reuters

Members of the Hellenic Red Cross check the temperature of Greek soldiers who wait to enter the Kastanies border crossing area with Turkey's Pazarkule, Greece. Reuters

A Chinese woman wears a protective mask as she has her temperature checked by a security guard before entering a shopping area in Beijing, China. Getty Images

Health personnel take the temperature to people who enter the National Palace in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. EPA

People wearing face masks walk along a rapeseed farm where canola oil is taken in Jiujiang, China’s central Jiangxi province. AFP

Staff members accompanying South African citizens who have been repatriated from Wuhan, China, where they were working when the COVID-19 novel coronavirus erupted, wave to bystanders as they drive in a police escorted convoy on a bus en route to The Protea Hotel Ranch Resort in Polokwane, where they will be quarantined. AFP

Indian doctors screen patients as a precautionary measure for Coronavirus in Nehru Homoeopathic Medical College and Hospital in New Delhi, India. EPA

A man wears a mask while cycling around Mexico City. EPA

Players of Tigres warm up in an empty stadium prior to the 10th round match between Tigres UANL and FC Juarez as part of the Torneo Clausura 2020 Liga MX at Universitario Stadium in Monterrey, Mexico. Getty Images

A face mask used to protect from the coronavirus disease is seen on the ground near Trump Tower in New York City, New York, U.S. Reuters

Shortly before the government meeting on Sunday afternoon, President Michel Aoun said that the country was in a state of “medical emergency".

He chaired a meeting of the higher defence council, which recommended that the government issue the decrees necessary for a “general mobilisation”.

In Lebanese law, that allows the government to draft in armed forces “to reduce the exposure of the population and vital installations to danger", the state-run National News Agency reported.

The government may take control over energy sources and industrial production, monitor transport and communications and confiscate private funds.

This would be a first in recent history, retired general Khalil Helou said.

“They could draft in retired soldiers as well as army medical staff,” Mr Helou told The National.

“Everything would be centralised under one state authority, like in China."

He was referring to the origin of the coronavirus in Wuhan, where Maj Gen Chen Wei led efforts to contain the coronavirus.

But the decrees must first be voted on by the government, and this could take several days, Mr Helou said.

The government will also be taking steps to control media reporting of the coronavirus, Ms Abdel Samad said.

There will be co-ordination “with all media outlets” about how to report on the pandemic, and a government website with information on Covid-19 will be launched.

“It is important to give the right news about the coronavirus to not create panic,” Ms Abdel Samad said.

Updated: March 16, 2020 03:37 AM

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