Lebanon can’t handle next COVID-19 wave, warns hospital chief

A medic assists a patient as others wait in a hallway at the Rafic Hariri University Hospital (RHUH) in Lebanon's capital Beirut on July 23, 2021.(File/AFP)
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Updated 24 July 2021

Lebanon can’t handle next COVID-19 wave, warns hospital chief

  • After dropping over the spring, COVID-19 cases are on the rise again as Lebanese expats flood home for the summer

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s deepening economic crisis has piled pressure on hospitals, leaving them ill-equipped to face any new wave of the coronavirus, a top hospital director has warned.
Already struggling with shortages of medicine and an exodus of staff abroad, the country’s health facilities are now also having to contend with almost round-the-clock power cuts.
“All hospitals... are now less prepared than they were during the wave at the start of the year,” said Firass Abiad, the manager of the largest public hospital in the country battling COVID-19.
“Medical and nursing staff have left, medicine that was once available has run out,” and ever lengthening cuts to the mains power supply have left hospitals under constant threat.
Even the Rafik Hariri University Hospital he runs has been struggling to cope.
“We only get two to three hours of mains electricity, and for the rest of the time it’s up to the generators,” Abiad said.
On top of worrying they could burn out, “we have the huge burden of having to constantly be on the hunt for fuel oil.”
Huge demand for the increasingly scarce commodity has driven up prices by more than 80 percent since June 17.
Even at the prestigious RHUH, some medicines are routinely running out.
“Some days it’s antibiotics, others it’s anaesthetics,” the hospital chief said.
Sometimes “we’re forced to ask the patients’ relatives to go and try to find the medicine from another hospital or a pharmacy.”
After dropping over the spring, COVID-19 cases are on the rise again as Lebanese expats flood home for the summer, and many gather with family and friends.
On Thursday alone, 98 people tested positive for COVID-19 on arrival at Beirut airport, the health ministry said.
“It could be catastrophic if this rise in coronavirus numbers leads to a spike like the one we saw at the start of the year,” Abiad said.
Abiad said the solution was better social distancing and more inoculations in a country where just 15 percent of the population have been fully vaccinated.
On Thursday, private hospitals warned of a looming “catastrophe” as some were only hours away from running out of fuel to power their generators.
The following day, pharmacies said they were going on indefinite strike over persistent shortages of medicines, just weeks after drug importers said the central bank owed millions of dollars to their suppliers abroad.
Pharmacies said importers are refusing to make deliveries as they are unhappy with the new prices for drugs that are no longer subsidised, and cannot get lines of credit for those that still are.
Around 1,300 doctors have emigrated since the economic crisis began in 2019, with the numbers picking up over the past 12 months, the doctors’ syndicate says.
Since February last year, Lebanon has recorded 553,615 cases of COVID-19, 7,890 of them fatal, according to health ministry figures.


East Libya forces say 2 helicopters crashed, killing 2

Updated 26 sec ago

East Libya forces say 2 helicopters crashed, killing 2

  • The self-styled Libyan Arab Armed Forces said the helicopters collided in the air over the village of Msus
  • The crash came as they have been battling Chadian fighters in Libya’s southern areas on the border with Chad
CAIRO: Forces loyal to a powerful Libyan commander said two military planes crashed on Sunday over a village in eastern Libya, killing at least two officers.
The self-styled Libyan Arab Armed Forces, led by Gen. Khalifa Haftar, said the helicopters collided in the air over the village of Msus, 130 kilometers (81 miles) southeast of the city of Benghazi.
A two-officer crew, including Brig. Gen. Bouzied Al-Barrasi, was killed in the crash, while the second helicopter crew survived, the forces said in a brief statement. It did not give the cause of the crash and said the helicopters were on a military mission.
Mohammad Younes Menfi, head of Libya’s Presidential Council, mourned the two officers.
Haftar’s forces control eastern and most of southern Libya. The crash came as they have been battling Chadian fighters in Libya’s southern areas on the border with Chad.
The clashes erupted last week and could further destabilize the wider Sahel region, after Chadian President Idriss Deby Itno was killed in April in battels between his government and Chadian rebels.

Syria’s defense chief meets Jordan’s army commander in Amman

Updated 19 September 2021

Syria’s defense chief meets Jordan’s army commander in Amman

  • Meeting was “to increase coordination in the field of border security”: Hala Akhbar news site
  • Petra said Huneiti and Ayoub discussed border situation in southern Syria and fighting terrorism

AMMAN: Syria’s defense minister met Sunday with Jordan’s army chief in Amman after after Syrian troops captured several rebel-held areas near Jordan’s border, state media reported.
The Hala Akhbar news site, which is linked to Jordan’s military, reported that the meeting between Jordanian Gen. Yousef Huneiti and Syrian Gen. Ali Ayoub was “to increase coordination in the field of border security to serve the interests of the two brotherly countries.”
The recent push by Syrian troops in the country’s south is the biggest since government forces captured wide areas along the border in 2018, including the Nassib border crossing.
The crossing with Jordan was reopened in 2018, months after it fell under Syrian government control. Syrian rebels had seized the site in 2015, severing a lifeline for the government in Damascus and disrupting a major trade route linking Syria, Jordan, Lebanon and the oil-rich Gulf countries.
Ayoub’s visit came nearly two weeks after Syrian forces entered the rebel-held district of the volatile southern city of Daraa as part of a truce negotiated by Russia to end weeks of fighting. In the days that followed, Syrian troops captured rebel-held parts of several villages near Daraa.
The latest push by Syrian troops brings all parts of southern Syria under full government control.
Petra, Jordan’s state news agency, said Huneiti and Ayoub discussed border security, the situation in southern Syria, fighting terrorism and confronting narcotics smuggling.
Syrian state TV said the visit came at the invitation of Jordan’s army commander, adding that Ayoub was accompanied by top army officers. It said the talks focused on “fighting terrorism and border control.”
Jordan is a close Western ally and has long been seen as an island of stability in the turbulent Mideast. The kingdom hosts more than 650,000 Syrian refugees.
Earlier this month, ministers from Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Egypt said after meeting in Amman that Egyptian natural gas should reach Lebanon through Jordan and Syria as soon as next month, after maintenance of pipelines and the review of a deal interrupted 10 years ago.

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TankerTrackers says third tanker carrying fuel to Lebanon underway

Updated 19 September 2021

TankerTrackers says third tanker carrying fuel to Lebanon underway

  • The first tanker ship carried the fuel to Syria and from there it was taken into Lebanon on tanker trucks on Thursday
  • Mikati said on Friday the Iranian fuel shipments constitute a breach of Lebanon’s sovereignty

DUBAI: A third tanker has sailed from Iran carrying Iranian fuel for distribution in Lebanon, TankerTrackers.com reported on Twitter on Sunday.
Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati said on Friday the Iranian fuel shipments, imported by the Hezbollah movement, constitute a breach of Lebanon’s sovereignty.
The Iran-aligned group says the shipments should ease a crippling energy crisis in Lebanon.
The first tanker ship carried the fuel to Syria and from there it was taken into Lebanon on tanker trucks on Thursday.
Both Syria and Iran are under US sanctions.


Iran museums reopen after year-long COVID-19 break

Updated 19 September 2021

Iran museums reopen after year-long COVID-19 break

  • A country with a millennia-long history, Iran has an abundance of 746 museums
  • Iran’s museums attracted more than 21 million visitors in the year before the outbreak of COVID-19

TEHRAN: Iran reopened museums in Tehran and other cities Sunday after a more than year-long closure because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Museums in Tehran and other large cities that are no longer red-coded, meaning the risk of contracting the virus was very high, reopened on Sunday,” the director of Iran’s museums, Mohammad-Reza Kargar, said.
“Tourists and visitors are welcome to return while observing (sanitary) measures.”
A country with a millennia-long history, Iran has an abundance of 746 museums, including 170 in the capital.
“We are absolutely delighted, and we think the people are too because they were fed up with staying home, and visiting museums improves their mood,” Kargar said in his tourism and heritage ministry office.
“We have safety protocols in place of course, and the number of visitors will be dependent on the space at our sites so the public stays safe and healthy.”
Kargar said only students, researchers and staff were allowed into museums during the past 14 months.
Iran’s museums attracted more than 21 million visitors in the year before the outbreak of COVID-19 that forced museums to close in May 2020.
On Sunday, the National Museum of Iran with its magnificent collection of treasures dating back to the Bronze and Iron ages was still deserted.
“We have to wait for the news to spread and schools to reopen for people to come back,” explained Firouzeh Sepidnameh, head of the museum’s pre-Islamic collections.
Iran, the worst-hit country in the Middle East, has confirmed more than 5.4 million cases of coronavirus, including 117,000 deaths, according to figures issued Sunday by the health ministry.
Out of a population of 83 million, 29 million Iranians have received a first dose of vaccination and almost 14 million have been fully vaccinated against the virus.


Former Algerian president Bouteflika given state funeral

Updated 19 September 2021

Former Algerian president Bouteflika given state funeral

  • Bouteflika passed away on Friday aged 84, having lived as a recluse since he was forced from power
  • State television announced that Bouteflika would be laid to rest at El-Alia cemetery, east of Algiers

ALGIERS: Former Algerian president Abdelaziz Bouteflika, ousted in 2019 after mass protests, was given a state funeral on Sunday attended by senior officials but received little of the attention given to such occasions in the past.
Bouteflika died on Friday, aged 84. An armoured vehicle decked with flowers pulled his coffin, covered with the national flag, on a gun carriage from his home in Zeralda, west of the capital, to the Al-Alia cemetery in Algiers where five of his predecessors are buried.
Bouteflika was first elected in 1999, and is widely credited with a national reconciliation policy that restored peace after a war with armed Islamists in the 1990s killed an estimated 200,000 people.
But many Algerians blame him for the economic stagnation of his latter years in power, when he was rarely seen in public after suffering a stroke, and widespread corruption led to the looting of tens of billions of dollars from a state that depends heavily on its large gas and oil reserves.
He stepped down in April 2019 after mass demonstrations to reject his plan to seek a fifth term, and demand political and economic reforms.
As well as Bouteflika's family, President Abdelmadjid Tebboune, who laid a wreath of flowers on the tomb, and many ministers of the current government and military officers, including army chief of staff Lieutenant-General Said Chenegriha, were among the mourners.


Attendees also included foreign diplomats in Algiers.
The French presidency on Sunday described Bouteflika as "a major figure in the contemporary history of Algeria", adding that he embodied the foreign policy of Algeria.
"The President of the Republic sends his condolences to the Algerian people and remains committed to developing close relations of esteem and friendship between the French people and Algerian people," the French presidency said in a statement.
But state media gave little attention to the funeral, and state television did not broadcast live pictures of the burial ceremony, as it has the funerals of past presidents. It later showed recorded footage.
Until 2014, Bouteflika was able to use the export earnings from high energy prices to pay off foreign debt and keep spending on subsidies at high levels to avoid social unrest.
"The years of Bouteflika's rule were a good period. He accomplished major projects, rid the country of foreign debt and brought back peace," said schoolteacher Mohamed Hachi.
But his stroke, and a decline in energy prices, ushered in a more difficult time.
"Bouteflika's period witnessed a terrible spread of corruption that the public couldn't see until after he was forced out of power," said state bank employee Djamel Harchi.
Several former senior officials, including prime ministers, ministers and army generals, have been jailed for corruption since Bouteflika resigned in April 2019 under pressure from a protest movement known as Hirak.
Thousands of members of the leaderless movement continued to take to the streets every week until authorities banned rallies because of the coronavirus pandemic in March 2020.
Bouteflika was a fighter in the 1954-1962 war that ended French colonial rule.
He became Algeria's first foreign minister and one of the forces behind the Non-Aligned Movement, which gave a global voice to many of the countries of Africa, Asia and Latin America.