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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 20 January 2021

CORONAVIRUS

Lebanese flock to shops before stringent lockdown

Shoppers queue outside stores in preparation for 11 days of 24-hour curfew

Lebanese hit the shops to stock up on essentials before 11 days of round-the-clock curfew began on Thursday.

Covid-19 cases surged in the country after the holiday period.

Authorities declared a state of health emergency on Monday evening, although the nation had already been under a less rigid lockdown last week.

Trust in the government is at an all-time low in Lebanon, where news that the economy ministry had raised the price of bread and rumours that pharmacies and supermarkets will not be exempt from closing, stirred panic among Lebanese.

Shoppers rushed to pharmacies, bakeries and supermarkets, where some aisles were emptied before the daily 5pm curfew.

Twenty-five-year-old Ali, a Beirut resident who lives by himself, filled an entire trolley with foodstuffs on the eve of the curfew.

“I am sure we will have another coronavirus surge because of all the people who went shopping in the past three days,” Ali says.

He told The National he was not worried about food shortages, as shop owners cannot afford to close, but preferred to stock up ahead of the 24-hour curfew.

Pharmacies have been exempted from closure during the curfew while supermarkets are allowed to open for limited hours on a delivery-only basis.

The Syndicate of Supermarket Owners warned that most stores do not have the logistical capacity to operate solely on deliveries.

Mohamed Fakhani, owner of the Fakhani supermarket chain, with seven branches in Beirut told The National there was no need to resort to hoarding.

He spoke as he handed change to the first person in a long line of customers at the cash register.

His small store in the central Mar Elias neighbourhood was busy on Tuesday until late in the afternoon.

The supermarket chain employs a fleet of 30 delivery drivers but Mr Fakhani believes they will come under pressure in the coming days.

“There is no need to worry, we will continue to deliver but clients cannot expect orders to arrive in 5 to 10 minutes as usual. It will take half an hour to an hour,” he said.

Souhail, a 37-year-old pharmacist, said rumours about pharmacies being forced to close further strained a sector already facing high demand and shortages.

Pharmacies had to restrict the number of certain products they are selling, a measure they had already been taking for the past couple of months for certain medications.

“People are asking for more products but we are only selling items by the box to avoid depleting stocks,” Souhail says. “Even for [baby formula], we are giving a maximum of two boxes per family.”

The restrictions have pushed Jamila, a young mother of four, to visit 18 pharmacies in one day to stock up on baby formula ahead of the strict lockdown.

“I am afraid to run out of milk. I can survive with little food, but my one-month-old baby needs milk and pharmacies I called said they will not be doing deliveries,” she says.

Many shoppers said did not trust the government to implement the lockdown rules, despite the new coronavirus surge.

Ghina, 29, and her husband Mohamed, 30, waited in line for 20 minutes to buy chicken at a packed shop in central Beirut. They said they were shopping for their parents, who are worried they may run out of food. The couple said they did not trust the government to look after the economy and public health.

“It’s all a show. The lockdown is going to make the economic situation worse and the number of new cases will not decrease. No one is respecting the rules,” Ghina says pointing at the long line in front of the shop.

The coronavirus pandemic has compounded a severe economic crisis in Lebanon that has pushed more than half of the population below the poverty line.

The recently married couple have a four-months-old baby, but live separately with their parents as they cannot afford to pay rent.

“We hope the country will get better economically and when it comes to the pandemic. All we want is to have our own house and to both live with our daughter.”

Updated: January 19, 2021 01:04 AM

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