Top Lebanese hospitals fight exhausting battle against virus

Hospitals in Lebanon are reaching full capacity amid a dramatic surge in coronavirus cases across the crisis-hit Mediterranean nation even amid strict lockdown. (AP)
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Updated 23 January 2021

Top Lebanese hospitals fight exhausting battle against virus

  • In recent weeks, Lebanon has seen a dramatic increase in virus cases, following the holiday season

BEIRUT: Death stalks the corridors of Beirut’s Rafik Hariri University Hospital, where losing multiple patients in one day to COVID-19 has become the new normal. On Friday, the mood among the staff was even more solemn as a young woman lost the battle with the virus.
There was silence as the woman, barely in her 30s, drew her last breath. Then a brief commotion. The nurses frantically tried to resuscitate her. Finally, exhausted, they silently removed the oxygen mask and the tubes — and covered the body with a brown blanket.
The woman, whose name is being withheld for privacy reasons, is one of 57 victims who died on Friday and more than 2,150 lost to the virus so far in Lebanon, a small country with a population of nearly 6 million that since last year has grappled with the worst economic and financial crisis in its modern history.
In recent weeks, Lebanon has seen a dramatic increase in virus cases, following the holiday season when restrictions were eased and thousand of expatriates flew home for a visit.
Now, hospitals across the country are almost completely out of beds. Oxygen tanks, ventilators and most critically, medical staff, are in extremely short supply. Doctors and nurses say they are exhausted. Facing burnout, many of their colleagues left.
Many others have caught the virus, forcing them to take sick leave and leaving fewer and fewer colleagues to work overtime to carry the burden.
To every bed that frees up after a death, three or four patients are waiting in the emergency room waiting to take their place.
Mohammed Darwish, a nurse at the hospital, said he has been working six days a week to help with surging hospitalizations and barely sees his family.
“It is tiring. It is a health sector that is not good at all nowadays,” Darwish said.
More than 2,300 Lebanese health care workers have been infected since February, and around 500 of Lebanon’s 14,000 doctors have left the crisis-ridden country in recent months, according to the Order of Physicians. The virus is putting an additional burden on a public health system that was already on the brink because of the country’s currency crash and inflation, as well as the consequences of the massive Beirut port explosion last summer that killed almost 200 people, injured thousands, and devastated entire sectors of the city.
“Our sense is that the country is falling apart,” World Bank Regional Director, Saroj Kumar Jha, told reporters in a virtual news conference Friday.
At the Rafik Hariri University Hospital, the main government coronavirus facility, there are currently 40 beds in the ICU — all full. According to the World Health Organization, Beirut hospitals are at 98% capacity.
Across town, at the private American University Medical Center — one of Lebanon’s largest and most prestigious hospitals — space is being cleared to accommodate more patients.
But that’s not enough, according to Dr. Pierre Boukhalil, head of the Pulmonary and Critical Care department. His staff were clearly overwhelmed during a recent visit by The Associated Press, leaping from one patient to another amid the constant beep-beep of life-monitoring machines.
The situation “can only be described as a near disaster or a tsunami in the making,” he said, speaking to the AP in between checking on his patients. “We have been consistently increasing capacity over the past week or so, and we are not even keeping up with demands. This is not letting up.”
Boukhalil’s hospital raised the alarm last week, coming out with a statement saying its health care workers were overwhelmed and unable to find beds for “even the most critical patients.”
Since the start of the holiday season, daily infections have hovered around 5,000 in Lebanon, up from nearly 1,000 in November. The daily death toll hit record-breaking more than 60 fatalities in in the past few days.
Doctors say that with increased testing, the number of cases has also increased — a common trend. Lebanon’s vaccination program is set to begin next month.
The World Bank said Thursday it approved $34 million to help pay for vaccines for Lebanon that will inoculate over 2 million people.
Jha, the World Bank’s regional director, said Lebanon will import 1.5 million doses of Pfizer vaccines for 750,000 people that “we are financing in full.” He added that the World Bank also plans to help finance vaccines other than Pfizer in the Mediterranean nation.
Darwish, the nurse, said many COVID-19 patients admitted to Rafik Hariri and especially in the ICU, are young, with no underlying conditions or chronic diseases.
“They catch corona and they think everything is fine and then suddenly you find the patient deteriorated and it hits them suddenly and unfortunately they die,”
On Thursday night, 65-year-old Sabah Miree was admitted to the hospital with breathing problems. She was put on oxygen to help her breathe. Her two sisters had also caught the virus but their case was mild. Miree, who suffers from a heart problem, had to be hospitalized.
“This disease is not a game,” she said, describing what a struggle it is for her to keep breathing. “I would say to everyone to pay attention and not to take this lightly.”
A nationwide round-the-clock curfew imposed on Jan. 14 was extended on Thursday until Feb. 8 to help the health sector deal with the virus surge.
“I still have nightmares when I see a 30-year-old who passed away,” said Dr. Boukhalil. “The disease could have been prevented.”
“So stick with the lockdown ... it pays off,” he said.


Turkish lawyer held for ‘insulting the president’ with tweet

Updated 48 min 57 sec ago

Turkish lawyer held for ‘insulting the president’ with tweet

  • Police raided Mert Yasar’s house on Tuesday and detained the lawyer after an investigation by the Istanbul chief public prosecutor’s office

ISTANBUL: A Turkish lawyer has been arrested and charged with “insulting the president” over a controversial tweet that included sexist remarks directed at ruling Justice and Development Party MP Ozlem Zengin. 

Police raided Mert Yasar’s house on Tuesday and detained the lawyer after an investigation by the Istanbul chief public prosecutor’s office.  

Zengin sparked widespread anger recently with dismissive comments on alleged human rights violations and strip searches in Turkish prisons, ridiculing the claims of dozens of conservative women who said they had been subjected to intrusive searches in recent years. 

“An honorable woman, a woman with morals, wouldn’t wait a year (before complaining). This is an imaginary narrative,” Zengin said on Feb. 19. 

Amid public debate on the topic, Zengin said that women were falling pregnant on orders from various “illegal” groups seeking to trigger public anger over babies growing up in prisons.

“These people are having babies upon directives so that they can assert ‘there are pregnant women or women with babies in jails’,” she said on Feb. 21.

Yasar responded to this latest statement with a furious tweet, targeting the MP: “If the presidential cabinet is given the right of the first night, will Ozlem Zengin close her mouth?” he tweeted, sparking anger among women’s rights activists from all sides of politics. 

Fahrettin Altun, presidential communications director, immediately issued a statement urging the “independent Turkish judiciary to punish this creature named Mert Yaşar in the severest way possible.”

“What will the opposition do in the face of this dishonor? They will, most probably, hide their heads in the sand. We will follow it up,” he said. 

Yasar was arrested on charges of insulting the president according to Article 299 of the Turkish penal code — which critics say points to the disproportionate use of this clause since his tweet targeted an MP, not the president himself. 

Article 299 stipulates that the person who insults the president shall be punished by imprisonment from one to four years, and if the crime is committed publicly, the punishment will be increased by one to six years.

Between 2014 and 2019, about 128,872 investigations were carried out into alleged insults against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, with prosecutors launching about 27,700 criminal cases.

A total of 9,556 defendants were sentenced by Turkish courts, while about 900 minors aged between 12 and 17 also appeared before the court on the same charge. 

“The politicization of the judiciary continues with unlawful arrest and false accusation,” rights activist Nesibe Kiris said. 

Several female politicians and right activists offered examples of their personal experiences with insults that failed to lead to criminal proceedings, sparking debate about the “politically motivated” implementation of such penal clauses. 

“All kinds of insults, threats, sexist attacks on me and all opposing women are free and even they provide a reason for a decision of non-prosecutions. But when it comes to an AKP politician, it becomes a reason for his arrest. It is a tailor-made judiciary. The people’s scales of conscience will weigh all of you when the day comes,” Canan Kaftancioglu, Istanbul head of the opposition Republican People’s Party tweeted. 

A group of lawyers issued a message in support of Yasar, saying that his arrest “is the continuation of the judicial practice that makes decisions under the pressure of social media and political power.”

The arrest was also attacked as being a warning against any vocal criticisms on social media.

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Egypt pledges commitment to war on terror in call with US Secretary of State

Updated 25 February 2021

Egypt pledges commitment to war on terror in call with US Secretary of State

  • The call from Blinken was the first official contact Egypt had received from the new American administration of President Joe Biden

CAIRO: Egyptian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sameh Shoukry on Wednesday pledged his country’s commitment to the war on terror during a phone conversation with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

The call from Blinken was the first official contact Egypt had received from the new American administration of President Joe Biden.

Shoukry told Blinken that Egypt was keen to build on the progress made over recent decades to develop cooperation between the two countries.

According to an official statement, their talks focused on regional and international issues of joint interest. They also discussed the latest developments in Libya and Palestine, and the need to continue working together to combat terrorism and other challenges and security threats facing the region.

Highlighting the historic partnership between the US and Egypt, the officials agreed to further develop political, economic, and cultural ties while promoting issues related to human rights.

US State Department spokesman, Ned Price, said that Blinken’s call to Shoukry showed the importance that America attached to its strategic partnership with Egypt, especially in the areas of security, combating terrorism, and the exchange of views on regional matters.

However, the statement said that Blinken had raised US concerns over Egypt’s potential procurement of Russian Sukhoi Su-35 fighter aircraft.

During the call, they also discussed support for UN-led Libyan peace negotiations, the Middle East peace process, and cooperation in fighting terrorism in Sinai.


Qatar, Egypt to appoint envoys, resume work of embassies

Updated 25 February 2021

Qatar, Egypt to appoint envoys, resume work of embassies

  • Cairo and Doha thanked Kuwait for hosting the first round of talks between them

CAIRO: Qatar and Egypt have agreed to appointment envoys and reopen their embassies in the wake of the AlUla agreement to mend relations with Doha.

The resolve came after delegations from both countries held talks in Kuwait to plan the normalization of links between the nations.

“The two parties agreed to resume the work of their diplomatic missions … followed by the appointment of an Egyptian ambassador in Doha and a Qatari ambassador in Cairo,” an Egyptian diplomatic source said.

Qatar’s permanent representative to the Arab League, Ibrahim Abdul Aziz Al-Sahlawi, was expected to become Doha’s envoy in Cairo, the source added.

During the meeting in Kuwait, Egypt was said to have set out its conditions for settling relations with Qatar, which included strict demands for Doha not to interfere in Egyptian internal affairs.

The AlUla agreement, signed on Jan. 5 during the Gulf Cooperation Council summit held in the ancient city, saw Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain, and Egypt restore ties with Qatar, ending a dispute which started in 2017.

A statement from the Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said: “The two sides welcomed the measures taken by both countries after signing the AlUla agreement as a step toward building confidence between the two brotherly countries.”

The meeting discussed ways to enhance joint work and bilateral relations in areas including security, stability, and economic development.

Cairo and Doha thanked Kuwait for hosting the first round of talks between them and for its efforts to heal the rift and promote Arab unity.

Egypt’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs recently announced that Cairo and Doha had exchanged two official memoranda agreeing to restore diplomatic relations and on Jan. 18 flights between Egypt and Qatar resumed after having been suspended for more than three years.


Jordan reimposes Friday curfew as virus surges

Updated 24 February 2021

Jordan reimposes Friday curfew as virus surges

  • An existing nightly curfew will begin at 10 p.m. instead of midnight
  • From Sunday a maximum of 30 percent of public-sector employees will be allowed at their workplace

AMMAN: Jordan has reimposed an all-day curfew on Fridays to stem the spread of coronavirus as cases rise, officials said Wednesday.
“Starting this week, the government is imposing a curfew throughout the kingdom from 10 p.m. (2000 GMT) Thursdays until 6 am Saturdays,” Information Minister Ali Al-Ayed said in a statement.
Walking to a mosque for Friday prayers, however, is permitted, he said.
An existing nightly curfew will begin at 10 p.m. instead of midnight, while from Sunday a maximum of 30 percent of public-sector employees will be allowed at their workplace.
The toughening of Covid-19 restrictions returns Jordan to rules imposed in March last year, and which were only eased last month.
“The kingdom has witnessed a rapid spread of Covid in recent weeks. This is why swift and strict measures are needed,” Health Minister Nazir Obeidat said.
Jordan, which began vaccinations last month, has officially recorded more than 376,000 novel coronavirus cases and over 4,600 deaths out of a population of 10.5 million people.

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Turkey and Greece spark new flare-up in the Med

Updated 35 min 48 sec ago

Turkey and Greece spark new flare-up in the Med

  • Greek PM: ‘The best we can hope for is avoiding a military accident’

ANKARA: Fears of a new conflict between Turkey and Greece have soared after Ankara sent a new scientific research vessel into the Aegean Sea.
Turkey claims the TCG Cesme is operating in international waters between the two countries, north of the flashpoint in the eastern Mediterranean that brought the two countries close to conflict last year and provoked the EU into considering sanctions against Ankara.
Nevertheless, there is anger in Athens, and Ankara claimed four Greek F-16 jets harassed the vessel by dropping a flare. Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said Turkey responded with the “necessary retaliation in line with the rules. While we are carrying out scientific work, harassment is not correct. It doesn’t fit in our good neighborly ties.”
Greece’s Air Force was conducting an exercise in the Aegean Sea at the time, but the Defense Ministry said their planes were nowhere near the Turkish vessel, and denied harassing it. The Greek Foreign Ministry said the presence of the Turkish vessel in the area was “an unnecessary move that doesn’t help positive sentiment.”
The incident has again triggered the dispute over maritime zones as both countries continue to search for energy resources.
A second round of exploratory talks is due to be held in Athens before an EU summit on March 25-26, when Brussels will decide on sanctions on Ankara over its energy exploration missions in the eastern Mediterranean.
However, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan dashed hopes of reconciliation by insulting Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and telling him to “know your place”. Mitsotakis “will get to know the crazy Turks well,” Erdogan said.
George Tzogopoulos, a senior fellow at the International Center of European Formation, told Arab News: “It is important that the resumption of exploratory talks between Greece and Turkey does not elicit hopes for a breakthrough.
“The two countries interpret dialogue in different terms and employ relevant political communication strategies. New tensions concerning the research ship Cesme are nothing new in the modern history of bilateral relations, but they further deteriorate an already toxic climate”
Long-term solutions are unlikely, Tzogopoulos said. “For now, the best we can hope for is avoiding a military accident,” he said.
Tzogopoulos said a model of selective engagement with Turkey was being studied in Brussels. “This will continue despite new tensions,” he said. “From a NATO perspective, deconfliction remains a priority and this goal has been met until now.”