Lebanon has announced a total lockdown between April 3 and April 6 for Easter to prevent gatherings and avoid super spreader events. The same strategy will be implemented for Eid Al Fitr, as the country struggles to curb coronavirus spread.
This comes as part of the country’s updated national lockdown measures amid worrying Covid-19 numbers.
President Michel Aoun met caretaker prime minister Hassan Diab and the country's Higher Defence Council on Friday to discuss an updated Covid-19 strategy.
They agreed on extending the country's general mobilisation period, in which Covid measures like lockdowns may apply, for an additional six months. It was set to end on March 31.
Mr Diab warned that while Covid-19 numbers are rising, a large percentage of citizens are not adhering to measures.
“We’re on the verge of a third wave, not just in Lebanon, but in the world, and it may be more dangerous than before,” he said.
“I support the extension of the general mobilisation period till the end of September,” he added.
Another approved measure is the extension of opening hours for restaurants, cafes and shops from 7pm to 9pm.
Health experts warned against relaxing Covid-19 measures at a time when Lebanon "is not yet out of the woods".
The head of Lebanon’s parliamentary health committee, Dr Assem Araji, explained that indications point to a Covid-19 surge in coming weeks. “This will exhaust an already exhausted health sector”, he warned.
“Commitment and adherence to measures is the way to protecting our loved ones. Don’t turn our holidays into sorrow,” he said in a tweet.
Reeling from the devastating effects of the Beirut port explosion, economic crisis, and pandemic, Lebanon’s health sector is overwhelmed and under-resourced.
Health experts are raising the alarm on the fragility of the sector as Lebanon faces another Covid-19 upsurge.
On March 22 the country witnessed the highest number of admissions to intensive care units since the beginning of the pandemic. Over 11,000 new cases and 205 new deaths have been recorded since Monday.
Head of Rafic Hariri University Hospital, Dr Firas Abiad, warned “the situation will get worse” as Covid and non-Covid emergency departments become severely congested at the public hospital.
“Can an overstretched healthcare system respond to ever increasing demands? Could hospitals break down? Let us hope we will never find out,” he tweeted.
Dr Joelle Abi-Rached, associate researcher at Sciences Po, warned that an overloaded healthcare system is correlated with higher mortality rates, especially as Covid-19 variants become more widespread.
"Given the slow pace of vaccination, easing restrictions can only lead to a disastrous outcome," she told The National.
As of Friday, Lebanon had administered 177,342 vaccines.
This accounts for less than 3 per cent of Lebanon’s 6 million population, including refugees.
The Ministry of Health had vowed to vaccinate up to 80 per cent of the people by year end, but Dr Jade Khalife, a physician specialising in health systems and epidemiology, believes the country will be “nowhere near that number” due to a short vaccine supply, slow vaccine rollout, and high vaccine hesitancy.
"The current proportion of the population being vaccinated is a drop in the ocean, it's not nearly enough to stop the ongoing surge," he told The National.
To boost the vaccine distribution, the Lebanese government has facilitated vaccine imports by the private sector.
Pharmaceutical company Pharmaline was able to secure 1 million doses of the Sputnik-V vaccine and 50,000 doses are due to arrive as a first shipment.
Caretaker health minister Hamad Hassan said a second private company had also secured a batch of the Sputnik-V vaccine to help the resume vaccinations.
Lebanon also received 33,600 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine through the UN’s Covax scheme on March 24. A total of 4.23 million AstraZeneca vaccines are due to arrive gradually.
The government was also able to secure an additional 750,000 Pfizer-BioNTech doses, aside from the 2.1 million shots already agreed upon.
The state is also in the talks with Russia and China over possibly securing a deal to import their designated vaccines.