Lebanon announces 'state of emergency,' as citizens continue to grapple with multiheaded crisis


Published: 2021-01-12 13:49

Last Updated: 2021-05-14 16:21

Editor: Priyanka Navani

Photo: Arab News
Photo: Arab News

Lebanon Monday declared a 'state of health emergency,' amid an already-imposed total lockdown that has done little to curb the rising spread of the coronavirus.

The new emergency measures will include the closing of all companies, banks, and places of worship. While pharmacies and bakeries will remain open for a new hours a day, supermarkets will only operate by delivery service, triggering a panic in the country Monday that left grocery stores overcrowded and shelves bare.

Except in cases of emergency, cars will not be allowed on the road.

The total lockdown that was imposed Jan. 7 was far more relaxed, with most businesses allowed to operate outside the 6pm-5am curfew. Cars with even/odd-numbered license plates were allowed to drive on alternate days.

The World Health Organization said Sunday that just over 80 percent of Lebanon's hospital beds are filled, with that number ten percent higher in Beirut. But according to locals, all hospitals in Beirut, by far Lebanon's largest population center, are completely full. Sources reported needing to wait at least 24 hour hours to gain entry to mountain hospitals outside Beirut.

Many on social media blame Lebanon's leaders and botched strategy for the mishandling of the coronavirus situation in the country.

Others say individuals have simply not complied.

Nightclubs, for example, were allowed to reopen in late December, amid the expectation that thousands of Lebanese expats would return home for the holidays, bringing in much-needed 'fresh money' to the country.

Lebanese did return home, but they also helped bring Lebanon new coronavirus records. Jan. 8, Lebanon recorded 5,440 new cases, despite averaging in near 2000 throughout December.

For others, pointing the fingers at leaders- or eachother- does little to resolve the complexity of the multi headed Lebanese crisis, wherein health is only one exacerbating factor.

“How do you blame people- many of us traumatized by the last year- for not listening to government decisions? What good has ever come of that?,” asked one Beirut resident.

In October 2019, mass anti-corruption protests commenced in the country, leading the Lebanese lira to spiral to its lowest rate since Lebanon's 1975-1990 civil war. Political turmoil also ensued with the election of a technocratic government that did little to go away with Lebanon's secretariat system, but nonetheless forged somewhat new divisions of power.

The technocratic government, led by now-Caretaker PM Hassan Diab, resigned in the days following the deadly Beirut Port blast, which left over 200 dead as a result of ammonium nitrate stored carelessly at the Port for years. Five months later, PM-designates have been unable to form a new government, leaving paramount decisions- such as those about coronavirus closures- in the hands of leaders that the public has long lost faith in.

Since October 2019, over thirty percent of the Lebanese population has been pushed into poverty, mostly due to the steep devaluation of the lira. The currency, which had been pegged to the dollar at the rate of 1.5 for the last 30 years, now stands at the rate of 8.5 on the black market. The average citizen, who used to make the equivalent of 800 USD, now makes just over 100.

While salaries have remained the same, the price of most imports have inflated dramatically, leaving many unable to pay for basic necessities.

“Look at what is being asked of people. I should be concerned that there are no hospital beds, but who can even afford it if there was?"