As a career musician who has played brass and wind instruments for most of his life, Joseph al-Hajj, 80, was particularly anxious to protect his most precious asset – his lungs – when the coronavirus swept into Lebanon last year.
Hunkered down in his modest home in the mountains for months on end, Hajj said he pinned his hopes on the global race to develop a vaccine against the respiratory disease.
For more coronavirus news, visit our dedicated page.
So last month, when he saw lawmakers younger than himself jumping the vaccination queue, he felt impelled to fight for his right to be vaccinated -- filing suit against the health ministry with help from his son, a lawyer.
For all the latest headlines follow our Google News channel online or via the app.
In a nation where corruption and state mismanagement are widely blamed for causing a socioeconomic crisis, Hajj said his patience snapped when he read about the MPs’ vaccinations, which violated the terms of the national immunization plan that prioritized the over-75s.
“I’m not going to lie, I’m very upset,” Hajj said, sitting in his sunny garden in Mtein, which lies about 30 km (18 miles) northeast of the capital, Beirut.
“I’ve been waiting, waiting to go out again and play at parties and bring people together,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation, saying he decided to go to the courts because “we had no confidence in the state anymore and I want my rights.”
But in what Hajj’s son, Fadi, called a “small victory for accountability”, a judge ordered the ministry last week to vaccinate him within 48 hours, saying it had violated his right to life and health as well as the principle of equal access.
“When politicians protect the perpetrators and are this shameless, there is only one authority where you can seek refuge: the judiciary,” said Fadi al-Hajj.
Caretaker Health Minister Hamad Hasan has defended the early vaccination of the lawmakers as a “sovereign decision” and the ministry has filed an appeal against the court ruling.
It said it “does not discriminate between citizens, rather, it gives them all equal opportunities to access the vaccine,” according to a court filing seen by the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
The ministry, which said after the ruling that Hajj would be vaccinated “sooner or later”, did not respond to a request for comment.
‘We want to play music’
While he remains steadfast in his claims against the ministry, Hajj said he preferred harmony to confrontation.
The walls of the house he shares with his wife are adorned with portraits of him with various musical instruments, alone and with his father, also a musician who began his career before Lebanon gained independence from France in 1943.
One picture shows Hajj posing next to Betty Ford, the wife of late US President Gerald Ford, during a 1975 trip to the United States to perform Lebanese folk music.
In Lebanon, he played for Pope John Paul II during the first papal visit to the country in 1997, and later for late French President Jacques Chirac, for whom he played the La Marseillaise national anthem, taught to him by his father.
“I perform my duties as a musician to any party or person and everything else is the least of my concerns,” he said, adding that he had only filed suit because he believed accessing the vaccine quickly could save his life.
For now, his wait continues.
“I hope they give it to me soon,” he said. “In the spring, the flowers here bloom and we want to play music and have a drink.”
Lebanon judge orders COVID-19 vaccine for elderly man after lawmakers jump queue
Lebanon health ministry rejects court order to vaccinate elderly man against COVID-19
Protests and roadblocks persist in Lebanon despite president's call
In coronavirus-hit Lebanon, seamstresses stitch body bags for COVID-19 victimsIn a Lebanon textile workshop, Umm Omar recalled making school uniforms and holiday garments – before surging coronavirus cases forced her into the ... Coronavirus
Coronavirus deaths among Palestinian refugees in Lebanon much higher than othersPalestinian refugees in Lebanon are three times more likely to die with COVID-19 than the population as a whole, according to UN figures that ... Coronavirus
Lebanon: Violent clashes amid angry public protests over coronavirus economic falloutClashes broke out Sunday in the impoverished Lebanese city of Tripoli, the latest violence between security forces and protesters furious at the ... Coronavirus
Coronavirus: Multiple daily COVID-19 deaths at Lebanon hospitals becomes new normalDeath stalks the corridors of Beirut’s Rafik Hariri University Hospital, where losing multiple patients in one day to COVID-19 has become the new ... Coronavirus
Coronavirus: Lebanon finalizes deal for 2.1 mln doses of Pfizer COVID-19 vaccineLebanon’s caretaker health minister signed a final deal on Sunday to secure 2.1 million doses of Pfizer-BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine as the country ... Coronavirus