As virus cases rise, Lebanon fears Europe-levels

Beirut (AFP) –


Lebanon's caretaker health minister said Monday said he fears increasing coronavirus cases in the country could reach European levels and urged more private hospitals to help prepare for any new deterioration.

The Mediterranean country had kept its numbers relatively low since its first case in February, but the easing up of measures this summer has set infection rates back on the rise.

Covid-19 infections have shot up to 44,482 including 406 deaths since February, and Lebanon on Sunday put 111 villages and towns on lockdown in a bid to stem the pandemic.

"The rate of infections in Lebanon has reached 120 per 100,000 people per week, which is considered to be a peak and brings us closer to the European scenarios," said minister Hamad Hassan.

As a comparison, official French figures show new coronavirus cases stand above 250 per 100,000 people in Paris per week.

Hassan, who has been caretaker minister since the government resigned in the wake of a massive August 4 explosion in Beirut, said Lebanon's death rate stood at 1.2 per 100,000 cases of infection.

He called the localised lockdowns across the country a "last chance".

Residents of those districts should stay at home and public institutions close for eight days until next Monday, the interior ministry has said.

Healthcare facilities, pharmacies and bakeries can however remain open.

Cases have spiked in the aftermath of the port explosion that killed more than 190 people and overwhelmed the capital's health services with thousands of wounded.

Authorities fear the continuous rise of cases could further overwhelm the fragile healthcare sector.

Hassan said the authorities were working on securing an extra 300 intensive care beds for coronavirus patients.

He urged more private hospitals to pitch in with help, saying only 15 were receiving coronavirus patients so far out of 130 hospitals in total nationwide.

"We don't have the luxury of time; there is a need for responsible participation from all hospitals to save the Lebanese," he said.

Lebanon on Saturday notched up a new record of 1,321 new cases in 24 hours.

"Many hospitals have reached full capacity," Firass Abiad, head of a major public hospital battling the virus, warned Sunday on Twitter.

"Some patients have had to stay in the emergency departments, or to be transported long distances to reach an intensive care bed."