BEIRUT: Lebanon's coronavirus infections surged Thursday as one death and 50 new cases were confirmed following news that a recently returned national infected several people in Barja after failing to self-quarantine. This comes as Cabinet extended the country’s general mobilization period by another four weeks until July 5.
Of the new infections, 42 cases were detected among the local population and eight among recently repatriated nationals. There has now been a total of 1,306 cases in the country since the illness was first detected on Feb. 21.
There has been a total of 28 deaths due to coronavirus complications and 731 recoveries.
This comes as Cabinet for the sixth time extended until July 5 the general mobilization period that was first adopted on March 15.
Information Minister Manal Abdel-Samad said after the session that security forces would be asked to strengthen measures to prevent containment violations, which currently include a midnight to 5 a.m. curfew, certain driving restrictions and capping restaurants' operating capacity at 50 percent. Despite the extension and spike in infection numbers, Abdel-Samad said the country would continue to relax its lockdown measures in phases, with reopened businesses permitted to operate under certain conditions.
A Health Ministry source earlier Thursday told The Daily Star that a cluster of 42 coronavirus cases was found in the Chouf village of Barja. The transmissions were directly linked to a woman who was recently repatriated from Saudi Arabia and failed to self-quarantine, infecting family members and friends as a result of her negligence.
The Barja results came back from PCR tests conducted two days ago, the Health Ministry said on their dedicated coronavirus website. The ministry said that 113 people who came into contact with infected patients are currently in quarantine. There are also 16 people in quarantine who recently returned from abroad.
This is not the first time a cluster of coronavirus infections has been linked to a recently repatriated national who broke self-quarantine procedures. Public Health experts have previously warned that the repatriation of over 20,000 Lebanese nationals could rapidly overwhelm the country’s health care system if strict quarantining and monitoring procedures are not implemented.
Despite clear evidence over recent weeks that a large portion of Lebanon’s cases have come from patients returning from abroad, Middle East Airlines announced the fourth phase of repatriation flights. Eighteen flights have been scheduled to return between June 11 and June 19.
The airline in a statement said that passengers would be seated side by side on aircraft departing from countries that are able to administer PCR tests and that the price of tickets would be adjusted to reflect this.
Health Minister Hamad Hasan warned Thursday that “quarantine must take place under the supervision of the municipality or at Rafik Hariri Hospital.”
Hasan added that once the fourth phase of expat repatriation ends, a decision would be made to open the airport, allowing flights only from specific countries to enter.