COVID-19 infects Syrians in Lebanon, spreads in refugee camp

Lebanese women wearing protective masks walk outside Beirut’s Rafik Hariri University Hospital as cases of coronavirus soars on Sunday. (AFP/File)
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Updated 13 July 2020

COVID-19 infects Syrians in Lebanon, spreads in refugee camp

  • Health minister: Sunday witnessed ‘an unprecedented peak’; cases will remain high

BEIRUT: The number of coronavirus infections in Lebanon exceeded 2,300 on Sunday after 130 people, mostly Syrians, contracted the disease.
The people work for Ramco, which undertakes waste collection and street sweeping in Mount Lebanon and areas in Beirut. They live in a building in the Metn region that is owned by Ramco and houses 240 workers.
The cases were recorded after a routine temperature check on some workers, a measure undertaken by all Lebanese institutions. Tests recorded 120 Syrians and 11 Lebanese workers as having contracted the virus.
The Lebanese Red Cross said it had transferred 131 people, who were confirmed to have the virus, from Roumieh in Mount Lebanon to a confinement building in Beirut’s Karantina area.
One case was recorded in Nabatieh in southern Lebanon, with the municipality saying that the person had been quarantined and that tests had been carried out on people who had mixed with her.
Three cases were also recorded in Rashidieh Palestinian Camp in southern Lebanon. The Rashidieh people’s committee called on all the camp’s inhabitants to maintain public cleanliness, close down all coffee shops, institutions and internet stores, cancel all summer and recreational activities, keep social distancing, wear masks, use sanitizers, and take extreme precautionary measures inside mosques.
Lebanese Health Minister Hamad Hassan said that the number of infection cases would remain high in the upcoming days and that Sunday witnessed “an unprecedented peak” in the number of infections since Lebanon’s first case was recorded on Feb. 21, 2020.

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120 Syrians and 11 Lebanese workers were found to have contracted the virus.

He added that authorities were able to determine the source of the infections, thereby minimizing the possible spread of the disease.
The number of new cases has increased in the past week as many expatriates who returned to Lebanon failed to abide by the precautionary and preventive measures and did not self-quarantine at home until the results of the airport PCR test had been issued.
The minister said that an expatriate who returned to Lebanon did not stay at home. He went to a swimming pool, then participated in a soccer game in a stadium, went to a wedding, and mixed with people even before his PCR test results were released. “Later it turned out that he had contracted the virus while another expatriate, who was infected with the virus, attended a funeral,” Hassan said.
Two Lebanese University students also contracted the virus. One had the disease transmitted to her from her sister who worked as a nurse in a private hospital. The development led the university’s administration to suspend final exams.
Lebanon has witnessed a state of slackness with regards to wearing masks and abiding by general mobilization measures, as only cinemas and theaters remain closed, and public gatherings are still prohibited.
The Ministry of Health intends to endorse measures that keep the economy running, while imposing quarantine on whole buildings or villages.
Dr. Firas Abiad, head of the board of directors and director general of Rafik Hariri University Hospital, said that coronavirus was not an illusion. “Hundreds of thousands have died because of it, and perhaps more people will lose their lives before a medicine is discovered,” he told Arab News. “In order to avoid infection without resorting to full confinement, people should reduce the risks and wear masks, maintain social distancing and wash their hands.”

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Streets before suits: US envoy vists Beirut’s ‘real’ rescue hub

Updated 8 min 29 sec ago

Streets before suits: US envoy vists Beirut’s ‘real’ rescue hub

  • Hale’s visit to the volunteer hub in the Gemmayzeh district came days after Macron took a tour of the same street last week
  • Students and young professionals have ditched classes and day jobs to save lives and provide emergency support

BEIRUT: Arriving in Lebanon after last week’s deadly Beirut blast, US envoy David Hale bypassed politicians to head straight to a hard-hit neighborhood where young volunteers are helping people abandoned by their state.
At the volunteer hub dubbed the “Base Camp,” there is a “focus on getting things done,” Hale told a press conference after his tour.
He contrasted the hive of activity to the “dysfunctional governance and empty promises” of Lebanon’s political leaders, who face public outrage over the explosion of a vast stock of ammonium nitrate stored for years at Beirut’s port.
Volunteer efforts “could not only be tapped to rebuild Beirut but (also) to undertake necessary reforms that will bring the kind of transformation that is necessary for Lebanon,” Hale said.
In the wake of the August 4 explosion of a the huge chemical store that laid waste to whole Beirut neighborhoods, students and young professionals have ditched classes and day jobs to save lives, provide emergency support and start to rebuild.
Hale’s visit to the volunteer hub in the blast-hit Gemmayzeh district came days after French President Emmanuel Macron took a tour of the same street last Thursday, as well as meeting Lebanese leaders.
But while Macron was welcomed as a savior, it was clear that the heroes of the moment were the volunteers.
“I don’t know why (Hale) would do that second step and go to meet politicians,” said Wassim Bou Malham, 33, who leads a database management team at the Base Camp.
“The aid is happening here, the data collection is happening here, the cleaning is happening here, the reconstruction is happening here,” he told AFP.
Wearing face masks and neon vests, volunteers sounded like international experts as they explained how they were cleaning up their government’s mess.
In fluent English, they described 3D mapping operations, data collection and relief efforts organized since the cataclysmic blast.
Bou Malham, who spoke with Hale during the tour, is not a data expert but picked up useful experience managing client databases for two of Beirut’s biggest nightclubs.
After the blast tore through the city, wounding 6,500 people and displacing 300,000 from their homes, his skills became vital for the aid effort.
The digitised database developed by Bou Malham and his team of volunteers is now critical for sorting and delivering aid to thousands of blast survivors.
“We haven’t seen any government official or representative actually come in here and ask us if we need anything,” he said.
“It’s so funny that David Hale is the first.”
It is not only in the Base Camp that the state has been thin on the ground.
In the first hours after the explosion, civil defense teams were vastly outnumbered by young volunteers flooding the streets to help.
By the next day, the latter had set up a camp where they offered food, medicine, temporary shelter and repair services to thousands of blast victims, in partnership with several non-governmental groups.
Operations have continued to expand since.
A Base Camp relief hotline received more than 200 calls in the first two hours. Volunteers have assessed the damage to around 1,200 homes and installed at least 600 wooden doors.
“The work is going to speak for itself,” said Bushra, a 37-year-old volunteer.
Simmering anger against Lebanon’s leaders has flared since the blast, which appears to have been caused by years of state corruption and negligence.
With 171 people dead, it is widely seen as the most tragic manifestation yet of the rot at the core of the country’s political system.
Western donors too are fed up with Lebanon’s barons, who have for years resisted reforms demanded by the international community.
In a joint statement released after an international donor conference organized by France in the wake of the disaster, world leaders called for aid to be delivered directly to the Lebanese people.
USAID acting administrator, John Barsa, said at the time that American help “is absolutely not going to the government.”
USAID “will increase its financial support to civil society groups in Lebanon by 30 percent to $6.627 million,” Barsa said in a press briefing on Thursday.
At the volunteer camp in Gemmayzeh, it was clear that funding would be put to good use.
Ziad Al-Zein, arrives before volunteers start their shifts at 9:00 am to ensure the camp is clean and secure.
The 33-year-old was among the first groups of volunteers clearing debris in Gemmayzeh.
“We are not speacialists in crisis management or catastophe management. We are learning things as we go,” he said.
“There is no state,” he added. “We will not abandon our fellow Lebanese in these conditions.”