In a Lebanon textile workshop, Umm Omar recalled making school uniforms and holiday garments – before surging coronavirus cases forced her into the grim business of body bags.
“We used to sew festive clothes, outfits for pilgrims, and school uniforms. We brought people joy,” said the 53-year-old workshop supervisor in the southern city of Sidon.
“But now, even if we don’t want to, we’ve been obliged... to shift from joy to sadness.”
Around her, seamstresses in face masks were busy at work sewing black body bags as demand rises due to a spike in COVID-19-related deaths.
Leaning over their machines, they placed spools of thread on holders.
A young man measured fabric and used a stub of chalk to mark out patterns, under a wan neon light.
Others folded the finished bags, resembling those used to store tuxedos or gowns, before packaging them in plastic covers.
“Doing this kind of work is upsetting, but we’re forced to do it” because of the high demand, said Umm Omar, her face framed by a floral veil.
Lebanon, a country of more than six million, has recorded 343,584 coronavirus cases including 4,092 deaths since the pandemic reached it last year.
In January, it recorded one of the steepest virus upticks in the world after authorities loosened restrictions over the holiday season.
That has left the country’s fragile healthcare system struggling to cope.
For the Al-Umm textile workshop, this has meant brisk business.
“The deaths have led to a rise in demand,” said Umm Omar, who has worked at the factory for 27 years.
Lebanon’s virus outbreak has also forced her team to produce face masks and medical gowns in recent months.
“Of course, we wish from the bottom of our hearts that we could change all this and go back to normal,” Umm Omar said.
After receiving its first doses of the Pfizer vaccine, Lebanon launched a nationwide campaign on Sunday with the goal of vaccinating more than half of the population before the end of the year.
Umm Omar hopes this will change the tide.
“We wish for coronavirus to disappear and for people to live well and take better care of themselves so we don’t have to keep doing this kind of work,” she said.
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