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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 27 January 2021

CORONAVIRUS

Coronavirus: Lebanon's health system faces 'catastrophe' as intensive care beds fill up

Experts warned a new lockdown could do little in the short term to muffle the rise in cases expected after Christmas and New Year

Public health officials in Lebanon have warned that the country’s healthcare system is on the brink of “catastrophe”, as it braces for a new surge in coronavirus cases.

One administrator told The National that intensive care units were already 95 per cent full nation-wide, with some hospitals forced to turn coronavirus patients away.

The number of cases has risen steadily in recent weeks. On Saturday the Ministry of Health reported 2,520 new cases of the virus.

On New Year’s Eve, the country registered a record 3,507 cases.

Those numbers are widely predicted to surge further over the coming fortnight, as the country deals with the after-effects of New Year and Christmas celebrations.

Petra Khoury, a public health adviser to caretaker Prime Minister Hassan Diab, said the number of cases would “exceed our expectations”.

Ms Khoury said that January and February were likely to be “quite difficult”.

Parliament’s health committee called for a new lockdown for three weeks, including an overnight curfew, amid claims that the government had “lost control” of Covid-19.

Assem Araji, who leads the committee, said the current death toll of 1,489 – almost a third of those in the past month – “necessitates imposing a three-week full closure across the country as soon as possible, because the health sector is also in danger and heading towards disaster”.

Firas Abiad, chief executive of Rafik Hariri University Hospital, said evidence pointed to a deteriorating Covid-19 situation in the country because of holiday celebrations.

“Everything points in the direction that this increase is going to get worse in the coming one or two weeks, especially after all the activities we all witnessed during the festivities,” Mr Abiad said.

"Obviously even before the spike, a lot of the hospitals were almost full."

He warned that a lockdown could do little in the short term to alleviate the rise in cases.

“I was just on the phone to the American University," Mr Abiad said. "They are swamped with cases.

"The situation over at Hariri is the same. We really have a problem.

"The lockdown, if and when it comes into place, won't help us in the coming two weeks because those cases are already infected.

“Here we are talking about increasing the number of beds, which is not something you can do very quickly, and a more efficient use of beds. This would be the question.

“You need to have very good co-ordination. You have to have everybody speaking in one voice. I’m not sure all of these prerequisites are available.”

Despite pleas from officials to stay at home, there were large gatherings for New Year's Eve in Beirut, with little evidence of social distancing or people wearing masks.

The coronavirus incubation period means any infections from New Year's Eve would be yet to appear in partygoers.

Updated: January 4, 2021 10:55 AM

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