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Lebanon looks to keep COVID-19 cases down over the holidays

The Ministry of Health is racing to stop the new wave by holding open vaccination campaigns every weekend, or what is known as the “Pfizer marathons.” (AP)
The Ministry of Health is racing to stop the new wave by holding open vaccination campaigns every weekend, or what is known as the “Pfizer marathons.” (AP)
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15 Dec 2021 02:12:49 GMT9
15 Dec 2021 02:12:49 GMT9

Najia Houssari

BEIRUT: The Lebanese Ministry of Health fears a surge in COVID-19 cases in the coming weeks, which would force Lebanon to face a repeat of last year’s scenario.

Health Minister Dr. Firass Abiad said Tuesday: “Cases are on the rise. More patients are being admitted to hospitals every day.

“We have been working to ensure hospitals are ready to receive patients; the occupancy rate has risen to 76 percent, which is a cause for concern,” Abiad added.

The Ministry of Health is racing to stop the new wave by holding open vaccination campaigns every weekend, or what is known as the “Pfizer marathons.”

On Monday, the ministry reported 787 new COVID-19 cases and 12 deaths.

Abiad said that three cases with the omicron variant had been registered in Lebanon. “Omicron cases are expected to rise in Lebanon, like in other countries.”

So far, 40 percent of those registered on the vaccination platform, or about 2.2 million people, have received the first vaccine shot, 34 percent (nearly 1.9 million) have received the second one, while only 11 percent have had the booster shot.

MP Assem Araji, a cardiologist who heads Parliament’s health committee, stated that “after last year’s holidays, we had between 1,600 and 1,900 daily cases.

“We do not want the same scenario this year. People are not adhering to precautionary measures, so we asked the Minister of Health and all concerned ministries, namely the ministries of tourism and interior, to be strict in applying preventive measures. We have a sufficient number of vaccines and the number of vaccinated people has reached 150,000 last week. This is a good number and we have to stay on this path because there is no excuse for not being vaccinated. We do not want history to repeat itself because we cannot face another outbreak and vaccines are available for everyone,” Araji said.

The committee that follows up on COVID-19 preventative measures issued a decision to “impose a limit of 50 percent capacity at any venue.” There are no indications of a lockdown yet.

Araji urged people to “abide by the precautionary measures during the holidays,” pointing out that about 2,000 nurses have left the country, which means Lebanon is facing a severe shortage of medical staff.

Doctors fear that last year’s scenario will be repeated more tragically amid the shortages in the medical sector.

The Syndicate of Owners of Restaurants, Cafes and Nightclubs in Lebanon announced that it is “aware of the recent increase in COVID-19 cases and the search for the best preventive methods is underway, especially during the upcoming holidays.”

Although many Lebanese expats are returning home for the holidays, Pierre Al-Ashkar, the head of the Syndicate of Hotel Owners in Lebanon, described the atmosphere as “gloomy and not quite festive.”

He said: “The tourism sector is in freefall. The main problem is that the Ministry of Health focuses on monitoring restaurants and hotels without monitoring homes, chalets, and private parties.

“If we tell customers that we cannot exceed a certain number of attendees, they will automatically resort to holding a New Year’s party, for example, at a chalet they rent. Yes, overcrowding in homes and chalets exists and is many times greater, and it’s even less expensive than going out.”

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