Lebanese applaud virus-battling health workers from balconies

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Health workers of government-run Rafik Hariri University Hospital, where most of the Lebanese coronavirus cases are treated, are saluted by Lebanese policemen in Beirut, Lebanon, Sunday, March 29, 2020. (AP)
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Health workers who are treating coronavirus patients at government-run Rafik Hariri University Hospital, where most of the Lebanese coronavirus cases are treated, watch Lebanese policemen salute their colleagues in support of Lebanese National Health Service workers who are treating coronavirus victims, as part of a nationwide salute to the doctors, nurses and staff in Beirut, Lebanon, Sunday, March 29, 2020. (AP)
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Lebanese policemen salute government-run Rafik Hariri University Hospital workers, where most of the Lebanese coronavirus cases are treated, in support of Lebanese National Health Service workers who are treating coronavirus victims, as part of a nationwide salute to the doctors, nurses and staff in Beirut, Lebanon, Sunday, March 29, 2020. (AP)
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Health workers who are treating coronavirus patients at government-run Rafik Hariri University Hospital, where most of the Lebanese coronavirus cases are treated, flash the victory sign while Lebanese policemen salute them in support of Lebanese National Health Service workers who are treating coronavirus victims, as part of a nationwide salute to the doctors, nurses and staff in Beirut, Lebanon, Sunday, March 29, 2020. (AP)
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Updated 29 March 2020

Lebanese applaud virus-battling health workers from balconies

  • The initiative was spread online with the Arabic hashtag "a cheer for the heroes"

BEIRUT: Cheering erupted from balconies and windows in Lebanon on Sunday evening, as the country's citizens celebrated their "heroic" medical workers battling the coronavirus pandemic.
The initiative spread online with the Arabic hashtag "a cheer for the heroes", shared by public figures including journalists, actors and the Arab pop star Ragheb Alama.
In one Beirut neighbourhood, a woman draped in a Lebanese flag sang the national anthem as her neighbours drummed on pots and pans, an AFP journalist said.


Elsewhere, Lebanese played drums and blew vuvuzelas, sharing videos of the street performances online.
Similar initiatives have gained attention from Italy to France but they have remained rare in the Arab world.
Lebanon has reported 438 COVID-19 cases to date, with 10 deaths.
To try to contain the spread of the virus, Lebanon has imposed isolation measures on its population until April 12, with a nighttime curfew in effect. Schools, universities, restaurants and bars are closed.
Many fear the country's healthcare system could be overwhelmed by cases.

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Syrian pound plummets as new US sanctions loom

Updated 18 min 17 sec ago

Syrian pound plummets as new US sanctions loom

  • Syria is in the thick of an economic crisis compounded by a coronavirus lockdown and a dollar liquidity crunch in neighboring Lebanon
  • The UN food agency said any further depreciation risked increasing the cost of imported basic food items

BEIRUT: Syria’s pound hit record lows on the black market Saturday trading at over 2,300 to the dollar, less than a third of its official value, traders said, ahead of new US sanctions.
Three traders in Damascus told AFP by phone that the dollar bought more than 2,300 Syrian pounds for the first time, though the official exchange rate remained fixed at around 700 pounds to the greenback.
After nine years of war, Syria is in the thick of an economic crisis compounded by a coronavirus lockdown and a dollar liquidity crunch in neighboring Lebanon.
Last month, the central bank warned it would clamp down on currency “manipulators.”
Analysts said concerns over the June 17 implementation of the US Caesar Act, which aims to sanction foreign persons who assist the Syrian government or help in post-war reconstruction, also contributed to the de fact devaluation.
Zaki Mehchy, a senior consulting fellow at Chatham House, said foreign companies — including from regime ally Russia — were already opting not to take any risks.
With money transactions requiring two to three weeks to implement, “today’s transactions will be paid after June 17,” he said.
Heiko Wimmen, Syria project director at the conflict tracker Crisis Group, said that with the act coming into force, “doing business with Syria will become even more difficult and risky.”
Both analysts said the fall from grace of top business tycoon Rami Makhlouf despite being a cousin of the president was also affecting confidence.
“The Makhlouf saga is spooking the rich,” Wimmen said.
After the Damascus government froze assets of the head of the country’s largest mobile phone operator and slapped a travel ban on him, the wealthy feel “nobody is safe,” he said.
They are thinking “you better get your assets and perhaps yourself out preparing for further shakedowns,” he said.
Mehchy said the impact of the pound’s decline and ensuing price hikes on Syrians would be “catastrophic.”
Most of Syria’s population lives in poverty, according to the United Nations, and food prices have doubled over the past year.
The UN food agency’s Jessica Lawson said any further depreciation risked increasing the cost of imported basic food items such as rice, pasta and lentils.
“These price increases risk pushing even more people into hunger, poverty and food insecurity as Syrians’ purchasing power continues to erode,” the World Food Programme spokeswoman said.
“Families may be forced to cut the quality and quantity of food they buy.”