As Lebanon entered its first day of a two-week lockdown on Saturday in an attempt to rein in the surge in coronavirus cases, local residents expressed mixed reactions over the government’s decision.
While many agreed that a lockdown was necessary, they recognized that the country’s worsening economic situation imposed a difficult reality on some.
A national lockdown was looming for Lebanon after the spike in coronavirus cases placed more pressure on the country’s ailing healthcare system. Officials hope that the lockdown, which extends until the end of November, will allow hospitals to better cope with what have become dwindling resources.
“I guess we are ready for a lockdown in order to ease the pressure on the country’s healthcare sector,” 28-year-old Nour Rizk told Al Arabiya English.
“But economically speaking, after what happened, it is true that it might not be the best [decision],” Rizk said, alluding to the catastrophic Aug. 4 explosions at the Port of Beirut. The blast destroyed half of the city and was a devastating blow to the country’s dire economic situation.
Rizk’s clothing shop in Mar Mikhael was one of the businesses affected by the explosion, but still, she said she was ready to commit to the lockdown for the greater good.
“Luckily, we can afford to shut the business for two weeks, but others cannot,” she said.
Rizk’s mother, Ghada, said the lockdown was expected and noted that the government was right to take such a decision, but hoped that people would abide to achieve the desired results.
“As citizens, we are definitely tired. We were tired because of the economic situation, then we were hit by the explosion and now this lockdown. But it was inevitable,” the 57-year-old citizen told Al Arabiya English. “This lockdown [was needed] because of the surge in cases.”
Lebanon crossed the 100,000 mark of positive cases on Thursday.
On Saturday, the Health Ministry announced a total of 104,267 coronavirus cases since February 21 and 806 deaths.
Early Saturday, driving around Beirut’s streets, traffic was minimal, and several businesses had shut their doors in compliance with the government’s decision.
Internal Security Forces members were deployed to the streets to ensure adherence to a decision that cars with specific license plate numbers were allowed on the road. An odd and even-number plan has been implemented to determine who can drive on which days, in an effort to reduce traffic.
During the lockdown, a curfew will also be imposed on citizens from 5 pm until 5 am.
For Garabed Roussyalian, a lockdown is not an easy thing.
Roussyalian, who owns a gallery that was destroyed by the Beirut blast, said that he understood the government’s decision, but “people are hungry and they need to live as well.”
“I am responsible for my family’s livelihood,” 70-year-old Roussyalian said. “I need every LL1,000. Whatever decision they make, I have to open my shop; I cannot stay home.”
The Lebanese pound has depreciated by almost 80 percent since the nationwide anti-government protests, which broke out on Oct. 17, 2019. The currency had been pegged to the US dollar since 1997, at 1,507.5. Today, there are multiple black market rates as locals struggle to find access to the greenback.
However, Lara, who asked to remain anonymous, sees that the underlying reasons behind Lebanon’s worsening economic situation stretches beyond the two-week lockdown.
“There are [deep-rooted] economic issues within this country that are not solely related to the lockdown,” she said. Speaking from the empty Sassine Square - usually bustling with traffic and pedestrians in Ashrafieh - she told Al Arabiya English: “We have to have this lockdown.”