Laundry, flowers and tennis: Businesses gradually reopen as Lebanon eases lockdown

Some people worry lack of compliance with the rules could cause cases to surge

FILE PHOTO: A man takes a selfie while carrying a dog in front of the Pigeons Rock, during a countrywide lockdown to combat the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Beirut, Lebanon March 30, 2020. REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir/File Photo
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More businesses are now exempt from a nationwide lockdown in Lebanon as the country enters the second phase of its gradual reopening strategy.

For two weeks from February 22, many businesses will be allowed to reopen.

They include laundrettes, travel agencies, car rental companies and repair shops; flower shops, and those that sell agricultural and pet supplies. Construction sites and outdoor sports facilities can also resume work.

Employees need a permit and personal identification documents to be able to commute to and from work.

Lebanon entered a three-week lockdown on January 7, after a surge in Covid-19 cases and deaths after Christmas and New Year celebrations.

Parties held with no regard to safety measures were blamed for the escalation in cases, which had huge repercussions for an already overwhelmed healthcare system.

Citizens shared fears of a similar outbreak after Valentine’s Day, but the lockdown remained in place with an exception made only for florists.

King Takkouch Flowers, a family-owned business in Beirut, was one of many that were forced to shut down.

“Of course we were hurt by the lockdown,” said shop owner Hassan Takkouch. “Who wasn’t?”

“If we don’t sell our flower arrangements on the same day or the day after, they wilt away and we’re forced to throw them.”

Owing to the current cold snap, Mr Takkouch must import flowers from abroad, and Lebanon’s soaring currency exchange rate has made this more expensive than perviously.

When kept in store and out of the sun for too long, the flowers die, causing the shop to make a loss.

While Lebanon’s lockdown was imperative to ease the burden on health care, it was detrimental to many families who rely on a daily wage to survive and were left with no financial assistance.

This was the main trigger for protests in Tripoli, Lebanon’s poorest and second-largest city.

Hungry citizens took to the streets in January and asked for relief. They said their livelihoods were crushed under the weight of the economic crisis and the pandemic at once.

On Sunday, images of crowds at Lebanon’s snow-topped mountains made the rounds on social media. They invoked anger from many, for travelling on Sundays is allowed only in emergencies and citizens are expected to stick to the 24-hour curfew.

A young Lebanese man who recently lost his father to Covid-19 expressed his frustration with careless fellow citizens.

“My dad was unemployed for three years. He got a small job that would earn him 75,000 Lebanese pounds [about $8] and he went. He caught Covid from them and passed away.”

“I’ve been at home for a month and a half out of respect to the lockdown. Then I see people on the snow and I feel sad that my dad passed for wanting to feed his family, while others are careless and just want to enjoy themselves.”

Rayan Khatoun, HR manager at MMG Holdings, a facilities management company, echoed the young man’s concerns.

Today was her first day back at work since the lockdown. Her employer is operating at a reduced capacity of employees and conducting obligatory swab tests.

"Personally, I feel safe going back to work because we have strict measures in place and we are following the law," Ms Khatoun told The National. "But I'm not so sure about easing measures because I see a lot of people breaking the lockdown rules.

“I hope it doesn’t push us into another crisis and another lockdown.”

Lebanon’s gradual reopening is happening in parallel with the national vaccination drive, which kicked off on Sunday, February 14.

More than 16,500 vaccines have been delivered to date.