Fury over Lebanon health minister's comments on Covid and port explosion victims

Hamad Hassan put the deaths caused by the Beirut Port explosion down to 'fate' and said coronavirus patients were responsible for getting infected

Lebanese Health Minister Hamad Hassan speaks during a press conference at the ministry in the capital Beirut on February 21, 2020, announce the first case of coronavirus in the country. - The first case of coronavirus in Lebanon was confirmed today, the health minister said, adding that two other suspected cases were being investigated.
The virus was found in a 45-year-old Lebanese woman who had travelled from Qom in Iran. (Photo by JOSEPH EID / AFP)
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Lebanon’s health minister sparked outrage on Monday after saying that victims of the massive explosion that shook Beirut in August could not escape their fate while those dying from Covid-19 were responsible for their own death.

Hamad Hassan made his remarks in a televised interview after the talk show host asked him who bore responsibility for the rising Covid-19 infections and death toll.

Rising infection rates have placed Lebanon’s healthcare sector, which is suffering from shortages in medical supplies, under increasing pressure with 95 per cent of the country’s intensive care units currently full. The government is expected to impose a three-week lockdown later this week.

“We can say that the explosion [at the port] and those killed is [a matter of] fate and destiny whereas those dying of the coronavirus or those being infected are in my opinion responsible, whether they wanted to or not,” Mr Hassan said.

The explosion on August 4, last year, killed more than 200 people and injured 6,000 when tonnes of ammonium nitrate stored at Beirut port for more than six years exploded.

Mr Hassan's comments drew criticism on social media. Lucien Bourjeily, an award-winning Lebanese writer and film director, asked in a tweet, “If our officials are not responsible… why are they still in a position of authority?”

Other Twitter users blamed Mr Hassan and the government for their "failure" to enforce the necessary measures to contain the virus and for their "negligence and corruption" that led to the port explosion.

The investigation into the explosion was suspended last month after two of four indicted senior officials asked the Supreme Court in Beirut to transfer the case to another judge.

The investigation has been marred by controversies and political tension after the judge leading the inquiry indicted caretaker Prime Minister Hassan Diab with criminal negligence.

Mr Diab, who previously said the blast involved the explosion of 2,700 tonnes of ammonium nitrate, cast further doubt over the investigation when he said last week the FBI had found that less than a quarter of the chemicals claimed to have been responsible for the explosion at the port actually exploded.

He later backtracked on his comment saying it was based on unofficial reports.

The political tension clouding the investigation has complicated talks between President Michel Aoun and Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri over the formation of a Cabinet, leaving Lebanon without a fully functioning government since the explosion forced Mr Diab's resignation five months ago.

Mr Hariri has called the indictment an "attack" on the post of premier, a position reserved for Sunni Muslims under Lebanon's power-sharing system.