Beirut, Lebanon – Lebanon’s cabinet has announced a four-day nationwide lockdown from Thursday after a spike in COVID-19 cases that Prime Minister Hassan Diab said threatened the country’s so-far successful response to the pandemic.
The country last month managed to flatten the number of new cases into the low single digits, and began implementing a five-phased plan to reopen its economy. But steady double-digit numbers over the past few days have raised concerns of a second wave of the coronavirus.
“This government has made an important achievement in facing the challenge of the coronavirus epidemic,” Diab said during a cabinet session on Tuesday. “Unfortunately, due to complacency in some areas, and then neglect and irresponsibility of some citizens, this achievement is threatened with collapse today.”
Lebanon has 870 confirmed cases with 234 patients cured and 26 dead – relatively small figures for a nation of about six million people that recorded its first case almost three months ago.
But more than 100 of those cases were registered in just the past four days. A large number of the new cases are among Lebanese who have been returning to the country on specially organised flights from abroad. Some of those people have gone on to infect locals, who in turn have transferred the virus to other people.
Health Minister Hamad Hasan told local news channel LBCI the lockdown would allow for testing to take place in areas that have seen renewed outbreaks and prevent “slipping into a stage of community outbreak”.
The government will also review its plan to reopen the economy, currently in its third phase, which allows restaurants to open at 50 percent capacity and most small business to operate.
During the four-day lockdown, supermarkets will remain open, and the agricultural and industrial sectors will be allowed to function, Information Minister Manal Abdel Samad said following the cabinet session. People should leave their houses only for “urgent needs”.
The country recorded its first case of COVID-19 on February 21, closed all schools and universities a week later and went into a partial lockdown on March 15, shutting its land and sea borders and closing down the only international airport.
The economic fallout of the lockdown on a nation already hit by its worst-ever economic and financial crisis pushed the government to begin phasing out the lockdown in late April, balancing risk with socioeconomic necessity.
But despite Lebanon’s efforts to increase the capacity of its struggling healthcare system since the outbreak began, even a moderate jump in new cases could quickly overwhelm the fragile sector.