Lebanon records highest number of new Covid-19 cases since April

Fears of a new wave driven by the Delta variant of the coronavirus grow as cases climb

Jounieh, Lebanon. Lebanese Red Cross volunteer paramedics speak to a patient with Coronavirus on a night shift in the Jounieh region. Today Lebanon registered 4176 new Coronavirus cases, and 52 deaths. Tom Nicholson for The National
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Daily Covid-19 cases in Lebanon climbed to more than 1,000 on Tuesday for the first time since April, the Health Ministry said.

It said it recorded 1,502 cases of Covid-19 in the past 24 hours, up from 341 on Sunday, with one further death.

Experts said the increase could indicate a new wave of infections, as the healthcare system continues to suffer from the country’s economic collapse.

Dr Jade Khalife, a specialist in health systems and epidemiology, said the latest data suggested a new trend of increasing infections with the Delta variant.

He said the 18-month economic crisis and worsening power cuts will make it more difficult for hospitals to deal with a possible surge in patient numbers.

“We can be quite confident that this steep increase is mainly due to the Delta variant,” Dr Khalife told The National.

But the lack of a robust monitoring system in the country makes it difficult to build “a good picture of the spread of the new variant”, he said.

Lebanese health officials estimate that as many as 80 per cent of Covid-19 cases in Lebanon are of the Delta variant.

The variant first emerged in India and has now spread around the world and is driving severe outbreaks of the virus in South-East Asia.

Lebanon recorded its first nine cases of the highly infectious variant at the beginning of July.

The relatively low vaccination rate in Lebanon and the lack of border restrictions during the summer – the country’s busiest tourist season – have fuelled rising infections, Dr Khalife said.

Nearly two Lebanese residents in six have received at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine since the launch of an immunisation drive in February, Health Ministry data showed.

“Most of the population is susceptible to the Delta variant because of low vaccination rates,” Dr Khalife said.

Stricter quarantine measures on incoming passengers could halt the spread of the variant, he said.

Living conditions and healthcare quality have sharply deteriorated in Lebanon since the onset of a severe economic crisis in late 2019, which has pushed more than half of the population into poverty.

Beirut was once a medical centre for the region but its hospitals now have only a few hours of electricity per day, medicines are in short supply and medical staff are migrating en masse.

The financial collapse was partially triggered by a lack of foreign currency, creating shortages of products imported in dollars, including medicine and fuel.

“Unless there is another lockdown soon, it is very likely that a new wave is coming,” Dr Khalife said

Updated: July 27, 2021, 6:47 PM