Lebanon back in lockdown over virus uptick

Beirut (AFP) –

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Lebanon's caretaker prime minister Tuesday announced a fresh two-week lockdown to stem the spread of coronavirus despite a grinding economic crisis that has already battered businesses.

"We've reached a stage of critical danger as private and public hospitals don't have the capacity to receive severe cases," Hassan Diab said in a televised address.

He said the lockdown, with limited exemptions, would go into force from Saturday until November 30.

The outgoing premier, who stepped down in the wake of a devastating August 4 explosion at Beirut's port, said some industries will be excluded from restrictions.

The health sector and other vital industries would also be allowed to operate, he said, without providing details.

The airport too will remain open, Lebanese media cited the Higher Defence Council as saying.

Lebanon, a country of six million people has recorded more than 95,000 Covid-19 cases, including 732 deaths since February.

The number of new cases soared last week with the daily virus tally hitting unprecedented highs several days in a row.

A first country-wide lockdown imposed in March was effective in stemming the spread of the virus, and restrictions were gradually lifted as summer beckoned people outdoors.

But Diab on Tuesday said the blast at Beirut's port had led Lebanon to "lose control" over its Covid-19 outbreak.

The explosion killed more than 200 people, wounded at least 6,500 others and overwhelmed hospitals in Beirut.

The World Health Organization said at the end of October that 88 percent of Lebanon's 306 intensive care beds were occupied.

But with poverty having risen to more than half the population amid Lebanon's worst economic downturn since the 1975-1990 civil war, many are fearful of the country grinding to a halt for a second time this year.

Human Rights Watch has warned that any stay-at-home order should be accompanied by food and cash aid.

"If Lebanon wants to avert a humanitarian disaster, it should ensure people can comply with public health measures without worrying about their next meal," the New York-based rights group said.