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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 28 February 2021

UN warns of 'disturbing' period for Lebanon despite Covid vaccine distribution gathering speed

World Health Organisation has distributed over six million vaccines across the Middle East

An elderly woman receives a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine against Covid-19 during a nationwide vaccination campaign, at Dar Al Ajaza Al Islamia Hospital (House of Muslim elderly) in Beirut, Lebanon. EPA
An elderly woman receives a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine against Covid-19 during a nationwide vaccination campaign, at Dar Al Ajaza Al Islamia Hospital (House of Muslim elderly) in Beirut, Lebanon. EPA

A senior UN official has warned authorities that Lebanon is facing one of the most disturbing periods in its history, with a health care system on the verge of collapse.

The warning came barely 24 hours after a brief spell of good news, during which the country administered its first coronavirus vaccine.

It also came as the World Health Organisation announced it had distributed more than six million doses of Covid-19 vaccines in a dozen countries across the Middle East.

On Monday, Dr Najat Rochdi, the UN’s deputy special co-ordinator for Lebanon, said despite a rumbling political crisis that has seen the country without a permanent government for more than six months, the UN was working strategically with officials.

“We are witnessing one of the most disturbing periods in Lebanon’s history. There are growing fears it may get out of control, which would force people to pay a high price," Dr Rochdi said.

“At a time when all sectors are suffering from the ongoing repercussions of these overlapping crises, the health sector in Lebanon suffers in particular due to being saturated and overwhelmed. Hospitals may collapse further threatening public health.”

Dr Ahmed Al Mandhari, the organisation’s regional director for the Eastern Mediterranean, said 6.3 million doses of Covid-19 vaccine have been administered to people in 12 countries across the Middle East, with the vaccine’s arrival in two further countries imminent.

“We are pleased that the first wave of vaccines provided via the Covax facility will be reaching people in the occupied Palestinian Territory and Tunisia in the coming weeks,” he said during a virtual briefing.

“The remaining 20 countries in our region are expecting an estimated 46 to 56 million doses of AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine doses via Covax facility during the first half of this year.”

Lebanon began inoculating people with the Pfizer-Biotech vaccine on Sunday, just hours after the first batch of 28,500 vaccines arrived in the country. Yet the vaccines, funded by a World Bank scheme, are a long way from meeting the country’s needs for anything resembling herd immunity.

Dr Al Mandhari advised against complacency because of the vaccine distribution, warning the public health measures were still necessary.

“The cornerstone of the response remains our adherence to public health and social measures to suppress transmission, save lives, and prevent already saturated health systems from being overwhelmed.”

Updated: February 15, 2021 09:57 PM

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