Lebanon coronavirus lockdown extended as hospitals fill up

All intensive care beds in Beirut were full on Wednesday

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Lebanon will extend its lockdown for a further two weeks as it battles to keep its health system from collapsing in the face of record coronavirus deaths.

The lockdown, which includes a general 24-hour curfew, and the closure of all shops other than for deliveries, was introduced last Thursday for an initial 11-day period. It will now last until February 8.

Though Beirut's Rafik Hariri International airport remains open, it has reduced flights by 80 per cent as part of the measures.

The country has repeatedly registered record coronavirus deaths in the past two weeks.  On Wednesday, 64 people died of the virus, while 4,332 cases were registered.

Firass Abiad, director of the Rafik Hariri University Hospital, the largest public hospital in Beirut, took to Twitter to warn that not extending the lockdown could result in calamity.

“Lifting or easing the lockdown at this time will surely lead to a collapse of the health system and result in more deaths,” he tweeted.

All intensive care beds in the capital were full on Wednesday, and the national occupancy of ICU units sat at 84 per cent. Experts expect a further increase in serious cases as the country continues to feel the effects of relaxing measures of the Christmas and New Year period.

The surging numbers have left Lebanon with one of the steepest rates of infection increases in the world.

The lockdown extension came as the World Bank announced it will divert $34 million to fund vaccines for more than two million people in Lebanon.

Funds re-allocated from the Lebanon Health Resilience Project will be used to purchase vaccines which it is expected will begin to arrive by early February, the institution said.

This is the first instance of the World Bank financing the procurement of Covid-19 vaccines.

The World Bank added that the vaccines would target "priority groups". It defined these as: high risk health workers, those aged over 65, epidemiological and surveillance staff and people aged between 55-64 with co-morbidities.

Unilateral efforts to buy the vaccine were stifled by the country’s morass of bureaucracy, though the government announced last month that it had succeeded in procuring more than two million doses of the Pfizer vaccines.

Yet questions remained about how Lebanon, which is convulsing under its worst economic crisis since the end of the civil war in 1990, would pay for those vaccines.