Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 22 October 2020

CORONAVIRUS

Lebanon MP warns country has ‘lost control’ of Covid-19

Assem Araji, the head of parliament’s health committee, said on Wednesday that another lockdown is not currently being considered

A doctor tests a woman at a hospital in the southern Lebanese city of Nabatieh on April 4, 2020. AFP
A doctor tests a woman at a hospital in the southern Lebanese city of Nabatieh on April 4, 2020. AFP

The head of the Lebanese parliament’s health committee, Assem Araji said Lebanon has “lost control” of coronavirus and is “heading towards herd immunity” but that another lockdown is not currently being considered in the crisis-hit country.

Lebanon’s recorded coronavirus cases have more than quadrupled since explosions in Beirut’s port devastated swathes of the capital on August 4. September has seen daily infections rise to record levels and pass 1,000 new cases for the first time on Monday.

“There is no co-ordination between the concerned ministries about the preventive guidelines,” Mr Araji told local TV channel Al Jadeed on Wednesday.

On Sunday, Health Minister Hamad Hasan called for Lebanon to enter a two-week lockdown in an attempt to flatten the curve. Rather than reimposing the lockdown, Mr Araji told local newspaper Al Anbaa, the committee tasked with combating the pandemic, is “heading toward increasing control measures on institutions in order to implement safety standards”.

Dr Firass Abiad, the director of Rafik Hariri University Hospital, the country’s main coronavirus facility, told The National that there are lessons to be learnt before heading back into another lockdown.

“We all know that lockdowns work but the problem is the baggage that comes with lockdowns,” he said.

“You go into lockdown – two weeks – you get some measure of control but then you have to open up again. If you open up and you go back to where you were before, the same behaviour, the same contact, the same compliance, you’ve really not done anything.”

The hospitals have hovered at near-full capacity for a few months now, but have yet to be overwhelmed, which Dr Abiad says disproves Mr Araji’s claim that Lebanon has lost control of the virus.

“It’s not going as well as we hoped and we are definitely facing mounting challenges, but I don’t think we have reached the stage where we can say we have lost control of the virus – our hospitals are not overwhelmed,” he said.

The total number of coronavirus cases passed 30,000 on Wednesday in a country of about five million.

This figure, Dr Abiad said, raises questions over how Lebanon could be heading towards “herd immunity”, as Mr Araji suggests.

“If we have 30,000 cases in a population of five million, that’s around 0.6 per cent of the country. If we’re talking about 50 per cent of the population contracting coronavirus, it will probably take us years to reach that point,” he said.

“To be honest, I’m not sure what people mean by the phrase ‘we’re heading towards herd immunity’, it’s a phrase people use alongside ‘the virus is getting out of control.’ From a public health perspective it could be considered a bit irresponsible.”

Mr Araji told Al Jadeed the country is “heading towards so-called ‘herd immunity’ because nobody is complying with the guidelines”.

“The resistance to the lockdown was led by the business sectors, already suffering from the effects of the financial meltdown,” Dr Abiad tweeted. However, the economy versus health debate is the wrong argument as it is not an either/or situation, he told The National.

“If you have a rampant virus, your economy will not do well. People will not feel safe to eat in restaurants,” he said.

“I don’t think anyone has a solution right now, but if we can introduce and reinforce some measures, we can, to a degree, retain some control.”

Updated: September 24, 2020 02:54 PM

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