War-weary Libyans view virus lockdown as another inconvenience

Tripoli (AFP) –


Already tired of the tribulations of war, Libyans in the capital Tripoli are reluctant to respect intensified lockdown measures introduced on Friday to forestall coronavirus.

The round-the-clock curfew was flagged by the UN-recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) on Wednesday night and will apply for 10 days in areas under its control, although people are allowed to shop on foot between 7am and noon.

An earlier curfew had forbidden only night-time movement. Driving is now banned.

Data from authorities shows 49 people have so far tested positive for coronavirus in the country.

Hassan, a 52-year-old who only gave his first name, ignored the restrictions as he drove to fill water containers, while artillery boomed in the distance.

"I don't have a choice," he said. "With my back pain, I can't carry all this on foot" for 500 metres -- the distance from his house to the well at the neighbourhood mosque.

The capital's water supply has been cut since April 6 by an armed group in a region to the south under the control of Khalifa Haftar, the eastern-based strongman who has been fighting to seize Tripoli, the seat of the GNA, since last April.

- Long queues -

Ahead of the driving ban, long queues formed outside petrol stations on Thursday. And while Tripoli's usual traffic has reduced, there are still cars on the road, particularly in the suburbs where there are few police to enforce the lockdown.

"There is nearly nothing around us, without a car we can't do the shopping, especially to buy cooking gas, milk or water containers... only the bakery is within 500 metres of us," said Abdel Alim al-Abded, who lives with his wife and three children on a family farm on the southeastern outskirts of Tripoli.

With sheep, chickens, and outdoor space, the family has all the meat, eggs and vegetables they need. But most Libyans are not this self-sufficient and many have not received government salaries and pensions for months.

Meanwhile, the curfew has resulted in long queues outside stores, raising transmission risks. In the suburb of Janzour east of the capital, more than 100 men, women and children waited outside the only neighbourhood bakery on Friday.

Baker Jamal al-Nafati struggled to enforce social distancing requirements on his customers.

"We are trying to bake more bread early in the morning," he said. "But because of the health risks four of my employees have quit, leaving me with only three guys to do the work."

He continued: "It's difficult. I hope that opening hours for bakeries will be extended to reduce these queues."

- Fines planned -

While most Libyans consider the lockdown another frustration on top of existing wartime difficulties, for a privileged few it represents a chance to stretch their legs unhindered by traffic.

Hallouma, a retiree who only gave her first name, is finally wearing the trainers she bought years ago but never wore. Accompanied by her son "for more security", she said she was "profiting from the lockdown by going for a walk... it's something rare for us."

Four young women wearing bright clothes said they had the same idea. "I never go out on foot, even to buy something from the corner store," said one.

"But with the curfew, we can be sure we won't be harassed by men in cars," said another.

Acknowledging limited compliance with the lockdown, the GNA health ministry reminded citizens of the rules on Saturday, warning of fines for those who ignored them.