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Lebanon’s power blackouts halt COVID-19 vaccine drive

The Electricite du Liban company building in Beirut. Lebanon was plunged into darkness as the country faces power shortage and economic crisis. (AFP/File)
The Electricite du Liban company building in Beirut. Lebanon was plunged into darkness as the country faces power shortage and economic crisis. (AFP/File)
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11 Jul 2021 11:07:00 GMT9
11 Jul 2021 11:07:00 GMT9
  • Protesters complain about lack of food, water and fuel in the country

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s power cuts have stopped the country’s vaccination campaign and also led to health warnings about a spike in food poisoning.

The country suffered a total blackout for the second consecutive day after all electricity plants stopped operating due to a lack of fuel. 

Electricite du Liban said it would put the Zahrani plant back in service from Sunday morning after having unloaded a fuel shipment in the plant’s tanks.

The deteriorating situation led to a number of doctors warning of an increase in food poisoning cases at hospitals because of the “collapse of food safety control, fraud, and poor food preservation in storage, sales centers, restaurants, and even houses during long hours of electricity outage.”

On Saturday the Ministry of Health suspended its COVID-19 vaccination campaign because of the electricity and internet outage. But Rafik Hariri University Hospital denied that the refrigeration of stored vaccines had stopped.

“The hospital, and other governmental and nongovernmental hospitals, have suffered from extreme electricity outages of more than 21 hours per day, which necessitated using seven generators available at the hospital,” it said. “Upon instructions by the Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri the hospital was supplied with quantities of diesel that could help it continue operating for a whole week without having to close some of its departments.”

Dire living conditions have pushed people out onto the streets to protest, blocking the Corniche Mazraa road.

“Nobody is responding to us or to our shouts,” one woman told Arab News. “We are hungry. There is no electricity, water, food, nor diesel. Officials are evading their responsibilities and they do not hear us.”

The owner of an electrical tools store said poverty was increasing and services were collapsing and “officials put the blame on us if we protest.” 

On Friday, protesters stormed a restaurant where former minister May Chidiac was dining. They verbally attacked her for dining in a restaurant “while people are starving outside.”

The price of a bundle of bread increased to LBP4,250 ($3 according to the official exchange rate) on Saturday. 

The Ministry of Economy explained that this rise was due to the increase in the US dollar exchange rate, prices of fuel oil, and transport expenses, in addition to the increase of wheat prices on the international market.

A delegation of the Association of Lebanese Industrialists said the governor of the Central Bank, Riad Salameh, had told them they should prepare “for the upcoming phase and search for other sources to finance the import of raw material, as the Central Bank is heading toward stopping all sorts of subsidies.”

Salameh said the credits allocated by the Central Bank during the first six months of 2021 to buy fuel oil was “equal to the consumption during 2020 and 2019, and that the same applies to medicines and other subsidized items.”

Salameh explained the increase in demand for gasoline and diesel “either to citizens who are storing them or smuggling them and that, in both cases, this led to huge damage to the Lebanese economy.”

In an attempt to show a different image of Lebanon, the executive committee of the Baalbeck International Festival organized a concert but without an audience. “Shine on Lebanon” was dedicated to young talent and was shown on TV and social media.

The concert was filmed across the historical sites of Ain Hircha in Rachaiya, Niha Bekaa in Qasarnaba, and Majdal Anjar.

Young participants criticized the authorities during the show for the country’s current crisis.

The songs reflected the suffering of the Lebanese people, especially since the deadly Beirut explosion last August.

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