The Lebanese authorities will enforce a three-day total lockdown from May 1 to prevent the spread of Covid-19 during Orthodox Easter, the country's Disaster Risk Management Unit announced on Wednesday.
The lockdown is the latest in a series of nationwide preventive measures aimed at avoiding large gatherings and superspreader events.
A 24-hour curfew will be in place from 5am on Saturday until 5am on Tuesday, May 4. People who have a permit to go to places like supermarkets, pharmacies, bakeries and hospitals will be exempt.
Places of worship will be open at 30 per cent capacity and restaurants and cafes will be closed, but delivery services will remain operational.
The measures mimic those imposed for Catholic Easter in early April and will likely resemble those to be implemented for Eid Al Fitr as announced by officials on March 26.
Covid-19 measures during Ramadan have been slightly more lenient, with restaurants and malls operating at limited capacity. A curfew between 9.30pm and 5.00am has been enforced and group iftars and Ramadan tents are banned.
The Lebanese authorities are working with religious organisations to encourage adherence to safety measures as the country experiences a slight improvement in Covid-19 numbers.
“Covid indicators in Lebanon are improving: daily number of new cases, test positivity rate, hospitalisations and deaths,” tweeted Dr Firas Abiad, chief executive of Beirut’s public Rafik Hariri University Hospital.
He attributed the improvement to a number of factors including Covid-19 restrictions implemented earlier this year, which enforced a strict nationwide lockdown following a surge in cases after Christmas and New Year celebrations.
The virus outbreak left the already-struggling healthcare sector in crisis, leading to a spike in numbers and placing Lebanon among the countries with the highest recorded Covid-19 deaths and cases worldwide.
Now, more than two months after launching the national vaccination campaign, Lebanon’s Covid-19 figures are dropping.
Cumulative cases fell by 26 per cent while deaths dropped by 21 per cent compared to last week's figures, leaving the country at half a million cases and more than 7,000 deaths.
To slow the spread further, Lebanon needs to speed up its vaccine drive, which has been stymied by shortages and vaccine hesitancy. In a population of six million, only 3.2 per cent of the population is fully vaccinated thus far and nearly 6 per cent have taken one vaccine jab.
The Ministry of Health vowed to vaccinate nearly 80 per cent of the population by the end of the year to achieve herd immunity, but the likelihood of achieving this at the current vaccination rate is slim, experts say.
"Herd immunity is not realistic at all at this point," Dr Jade Khalife, a physician specialised in health systems and epidemiology, told The National. "But if we vaccinate a high number of people and respect safety measures, we can keep Covid-19 under control."
Both Lebanon’s private and public sectors are working on importing vaccines to inoculate as many people as possible to return to a semblance of normal life.
The Lebanese government secured 2.85 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine and 4.23 million doses of AstraZeneca. These are arriving gradually.
It has also received 90,000 doses of Sinopharm as a gift from the Chinese state, allocated to the Lebanese army and public sector.
The private sector was able to secure a million doses of the Sputnik-V vaccine, and is working on importing more.
“The decrease in Covid-19 cases is a good indication,” tweeted Dr Assem Araji, head of Lebanon’s parliamentary health committee.
“We must continue to encourage people to adhere to safety measures and we’re hoping to see a higher vaccination rate in coming months.”