BEIRUT: Caretaker Prime Minister Hassan Diab said Wednesday Lebanon's total lockdown was starting to slow the spread of COVID-19, urging patience and adherence in the battle against the virus.
"The nationwide lockdown has slowed the spread of the virus: if Lebanese people abide by preventive measures, we can defeat the virus, get our lives back and gradually reopen the countryin a deliberate and systematic manner," Diab said during a meeting with the inter-ministerial committee that finalized the country's coronavirus vaccination plan at the Grand Serail.
“We are one step closer to gradually settling back into our lives not only in Lebanon, but around the world as well,” Diab said of the inoculation campaign that would start by mid-February.
Caretaker Health Minister Hamad Hasan, unveiling the national vaccination strategy, said their aim is to vaccinate around 80 percent of the population by the end of 2021. Hasan announced that the vaccine will be free of charge for all, even at private vaccination centers.
An electronic platform to register to receive the vaccine, originally set to be launched Monday will be live Thursday.
Hasan also revealed that the government has made the decision to accept “any donations of vaccines,” but in line with the national vaccination strategy and adopted standards.
Lebanon has so far signed agreements with different international pharmaceutical companies for around 6 million doses of coronavirus vaccine with the first shipment set to arrive on Feb. 8 which will contain 50,000 jabs of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.
Healthcare workers and the elderly have been identified as the top priority to be vaccinated.
Lebanon for the past month has been witnessing an unprecedented surge in the number of daily coronavirus cases and deaths. A total lockdown was imposed by authorities to relieve the health sector as hospitals reached capacity to treat patients and to curb the dangerous spread of the virus.
The government recently extended the lockdown until Feb. 8, a decision that was met with protests around the country as the people, already suffering from the economic crisis in the country are struggling to make ends meet with many living in hunger.
“We understand and hear the screams of the people,” Diab said during the meeting, addressing the concerns and demands of the people.
He noted that the state is providing LL400,000 cash assistance to the poorest class but acknowledged that it wasn’t a significant amount, “but it contributes to alleviating the burden on them.”
Protesters clashed with the Army in Tripoli, north of Lebanon Tuesday night, which resulted in dozens of injuries. Roadblocks by protesters have also been prevalent.
“The scenes we have witnessed over the past couple of days do not resemble people’s demands, nor do they translate their suffering. This was an attempt to hijack people's demands and use them in political bickering,” Diab said.
As workers and business owners voice their dissatisfaction with the extension of the lockdown, Diab said the government is open to discussion on this matter and that an electronic platform has been launched to examine requests made by institutions from certain sectors that truly need to open.
The classic issue on whether the public health or the economy should be prioritized when taking the decision to put the country under lockdown is being debated in Lebanon once again as the country reels from an economic crisis that preceded the pandemic, with its own set of problems.
Diab made his stance clear on this during the meeting.
“Personally, I cannot stand the tragic scenes at hospital gates. For me, people’s lives are more important than anything else,” he said.
“The economy can be restored; social and living suffering can be borne with some help, but people's lives cannot be recuperated if lost,” he added.
Diab highlighted how the current lockdown has slowed the spread of the virus and that a “national disaster” would be witnessed otherwise.
“The escalating number of deaths is an indication of the extent of the imminent disaster,” he said.
The caretaker prime minister said that the lockdown should be coupled with the people’s adherence to the measures so that a gradual reopening can be introduced, which will be “deliberate” and “systematic.”
The government has come under fire for its lack of coherent policies or well-thought out strategies post-lockdowns that has seen cases rise after measures were lifted.
“But in light of the current situation, and if the Lebanese do not commit to safety measures, the epidemic will spread again at breakneck speed,” he added.