Lebanon has recorded its first nine cases of the highly infectious Covid-19 Delta variant.
“The cases were detected among passengers coming from Ethiopia, Iraq, Riyadh and the UAE,” Hamad Hassan, the country's caretaker health minister, said.
“I urge everyone to get the jab because it is the only way to protect ourselves, in addition to taking preventive measures.”
Lebanon’s first cases of the Delta variant were detected on Friday despite a low count of new infections. Doctors worry the new strain may lead to a surge in infections amid a sluggish vaccination campaign and few restrictions.
Lebanon recorded 150 new coronavirus cases on Thursday and three deaths.
The Delta variant first emerged in India and has now spread worldwide. It is more infectious than the regular coronavirus strain, raising concerns of renewed outbreaks.
Dr Firass Abiad, who heads Rafik Hariri University Hospital, Lebanon’s largest public hospital, says the Delta cases are unlikely to be the first in the country.
“This does not mean there were no cases before today,” he told The National. “We were simply not testing patients for the new strain before.”
Dr Abiad said that despite a low number of daily Covid-19 cases in Lebanon, new infections are on the rise and caution was needed.
“The official numbers indicate hospitalisation are starting to increase,” he tweeted on Thursday, pointing out that vaccinations alone are not enough to prevent a new surge.
“Yesterday, the test positivity rate at RHUH was four per cent, the highest it has been in several weeks.”
After a holiday period with little restrictive measures last December, Lebanon recorded thousands of daily cases and a record number of deaths.
The post-holiday wave prompted authorities to impose a strict lockdown for months as a severe economic crisis, continuing since late 2019, weighed on the healthcare sector.
Lebanon’s financial collapse was partially triggered by a lack of foreign currencies, creating shortages of products imported in dollars. This includes basic necessities such as medication, fuel and electricity.
Doctors have said vaccination and precautions are the only way to prevent a new deadly outbreak.
“It is now clear that the Delta variant is a reality in Lebanon. If people are not cautious we may see a new surge in cases,” Dr Abiad said.