BEIRUT/SIDON: Public and private institutions shut down across Lebanon Monday, as measures were implemented across the country to curb the spread of coronavirus following the government’s announcement of a “state of medical emergency.”
Beirut’s usually bustling streets were almost empty of people and cars as storefronts, cafes, bars and restaurants were shuttered.
The state of medical emergency means that all private and public institutions must remain closed, except for hospitals, bakeries, pharmacies, supermarkets and grocery stores. Among measures approved by the Cabinet is the closure of the Rafik Hariri International Airport, land borders and seaports from March 18 until March 29.
Footfall on Beirut’s Corniche was also minimal, a stark contrast to the large crowds that had gathered there Sunday but were quickly cleared by Internal Security Forces in an attempt to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Cities across the country implemented the measures.
In the south, usual daily movement was also much slower in Sidon after the closure of public and private institutions. At an intersection in the southern city, Internal Security Forces were deployed to help navigate traffic and enforce laws.
“The instructions are clear ... there is no room for recklessness,” a member of the ISF at the intersection said.
However, some citizens were seen to be in violation of the quarantine measures and gathered on Sidon’s Corniche and swimming in the sea. Security forces carrying out patrols asked them to disperse.
Video footage from local media also showed empty streets and dozens of closed storefronts in Jeita. An open pharmacy had installed a protective glass barrier to separate employees and customers. “We have to protect ourselves, especially if we are staying open,” an employee said during a televised interview.
The Batroun Municipality sterilized the streets of the city. The villages and towns West Bekaa also followed suit by sterilizing the municipality building, streets, shops and schools, the state-run National News agency reported.
During a news conference Monday Health Minister Hamad Hasan warned that the next two weeks would be the most dangerous for the spread of the coronavirus and stressed the need for cooperation.
“The next two weeks are the most dangerous,” Hasan said, adding that “the weather may help ease the spread of the epidemic.”
Hasan highlighted that the spread of COVID-19 can be made more severe by taking public transport, stressing that “60 to 70 percent of those who carry coronavirus have no symptoms.”
“If we do not cooperate, the situation will be more difficult than what we are in,” he said, adding that “recommendations we will make are to protect the poorest class, because those who use public transport are mostly from the poor class.”
This comes shortly after Monday's announcement that Lebanon's total number of infections rose to 109. The epidemic so far has killed three people.