'We’re still in danger': health experts warn of another Covid-19 surge in Lebanon

Rising cases paired with a slow vaccine roll-out and eased lockdown measures are recipe for disaster, experts say

FILE PHOTO: Lebanon's caretaker health minister Hamad Hasan administers a dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) to a woman, at Rafik Hariri University Hospital, in Beirut, Lebanon February 14, 2021. REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir/File Photo
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Lebanon is on the brink of another Covid-19 wave, according to health experts.

The country is witnessing a sharp rise in Coronavirus cases, with almost 4,000 patients recorded on Tuesday, March 9, the highest number registered since January, when Lebanon witnessed a spike in numbers following Christmas and New Year celebrations.

After briefly slowing down the spread of the virus with a nationwide lockdown that took effect on January 7, easing measures and a slow vaccine roll-out are now making way for another disaster.

"People think we're safe because the vaccine is here but we're not," Dr Charaf Abu Charaf, head of Lebanon's order of physicians told The National. "We're still in danger and people should be warned before it's too late."

Dr Abu Charaf said that the health sector has yet to be fully vaccinated, with at least 2000 physicians still waiting for their turn.

Lebanon has received four batches of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine so far, with the very first arriving on February 14 and kicking off the country’s vaccination plan. More than 100,000 vaccine shots have arrived in the country out of 2.1 million doses in total.

But experts worry that the small vaccine amounts arriving into the country are slowing down the vaccination drive.

“We’re still way behind in terms of vaccinations compared to other countries,” said Dr Firas Abiad, manager of Beirut’s public Rafik Hariri university hospital.

"We're vaccinating 4,000 people on a daily basis, and we haven't even reached 1 per cent of the population," Dr Abiad told The National.

Lebanon’s caretaker health minister had announced that the target is to vaccinate 80 per cent of the population by the end of the year, a reality “far from true” at this current vaccination rate, said experts.

Aside from the slow vaccine roll-out, a decision to reopen schools, restaurants, casinos, gyms, and other venues on March 22 as per the government’s plan is raising concerns.

“We’re opening the country as cases are rising, it should be the opposite,” Dr. Abiad said, warning that the health sector did not get a chance to unwind from Lebanon’s reeling crises.

The coronavirus outbreak after the holidays brought the health sector to its knees as it ran short on staff, critical beds, and ventilators.

Thirty five doctors have died from Covid-19 so far, explained Dr Abu Charaf, with numbers increasing in the past two weeks.

“There’s not a day that goes by in which we don’t hear about a doctor dying,” he said. “It’s devastating.”

A spike in deaths is expected on a national level as virus numbers continue to increase.

In the span of one week, RHUH witnessed a sharp increase in the number of patients in the intensive care unit (from 886 to 936) and those on respirators (273 to 301).

“These numbers are worrying, and will lead to a surge in deaths in coming weeks,” said Dr Abiad.

The Covid-19 death rate is referred to as a “lagging indicator”, meaning it takes at least 3 weeks for infected patients to fall ill and pass away.

Additionally, at the current vaccination rate, Lebanon needs at least two to three months for the results of the vaccination drive to show, Dr Abiad said.

He added that the success of the overall campaign in curbing the spread of the virus depends on receiving the doses in needed amounts, organising logistics, and encouraging people to register for the vaccine.

As of Thursday night, 88,762 vaccines were administered in Lebanon, 12,958 of which got both doses, according to IMPACT, the interministerial platform. 912,385 individuals are registered.