Coronavirus: Lebanon declares state of emergency, orders two-week lockdown

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Lebanon declared on Sunday a state of health emergency and ordered a two-week lockdown as part of the country’s efforts to combat the spread of the coronavirus.

The announced measures include closing Beirut airport, as well as sea and land ports, effective Wednesday, March 18, until March 29, with the exception of UNIFIL, diplomatic missions and cargo aircraft. Residents were ordered to stay home except for urgent trips, but no curfew was announced.

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Private commercial businesses were ordered to close, with the exception of those related to food supplies. Banks were also exempted from the closure order but were told to operate to the “minimum extent necessary to secure the workflow.”

The measures also include banning "gatherings in public and private places" and closing public institutions, including schools, except for those performing vital functions, including health institutions and Electricite du Liban, the state power utility.

Prime Minister Hassan Diab and Minister of Information Manal Abdel Samad Najd announced the measures after meetings of the Supreme Defense Council and the Cabinet Sunday afternoon. Representatives of the health sector also attended the Cabinet meeting.

President Michel Aoun had called for solidarity and putting aside political differences in a speech ahead of the Cabinet meeting.

“In the face of the health of every citizen, all narrow political considerations fall,” he said. “It is absolutely not the time to score points and exchange accusations, nor is it time for political exploitation of whichever nature, because this epidemic does not distinguish between loyalist and opposition.”

While some have criticized the government as being too slow to act in the face of the health threat, and particularly for failing to quickly stop flights from countries experiencing major outbreaks, including Iran, Aoun defended the government’s performance.

“All the necessary measures have been taken, with exemplary speed, in order to counter this epidemic and prevent its spread in our country and among our nationals,” he said. “The measures that were taken and the speed with which they were executed at both public and private levels, amid very complicated economic and financial circumstances, earned the appreciation of international bodies.”

Prior to the announcement of the airport closure, officials had restricted flights from a number of coronavirus-affected countries. Last Wednesday, a ban on flights to and from Iran, Italy, China and South Korea was announced, while Lebanese citizens and their families in France, Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Germany, Spain and the United Kingdom were given four days to return before travel would also be halted to and from those countries.

As of Sunday, Lebanon’s Ministry of Health said Lebanon had 99 confirmed cases of the coronavirus and urged citizens to remain at home “unless absolutely necessary.” Three patients are confirmed to have died from the virus in Lebanon.

Ahead of the announcement, police began clearing crowds from Beirut’s seaside Corniche, one of the few remaining public gathering spaces as Beirut’s few public parks had already been closed. Videos from the Corniche afternoon showed masses of people walking and running, despite appeals to the public to stay home.

Meanwhile activists launched a campaign calling for Lebanon’s leaders to give up their salaries and put them in an emergency fund to support medical supplies and expenditures. A handful of members of Parliament have pledged to do so.

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