Beirut, Lebanon With Lebanon’s economy deteriorating and political wrangling hampering prospects for recovery, Lebanon had little reason to celebrate in 2021.
Around the end of the year, Lebanese expats and tourists flock to the country, giving hungry restaurants, bars, and nightclubs a much-needed injection of cash.
But as hotels, restaurants and nightclubs prepare for raucous New Year’s celebrations, doctors and health care workers fear a public health hangover as COVID-19 cases rise due to the Omicron variable.
Omicron, which was first reported in South Africa last month, has become the dominant alternative in the US, UK, France and other parts of Europe.
Cases across Lebanon are increasing. On Thursday, the Lebanese Ministry of Health reported 4,537 cases, an increase from 3,153 the day before.
Less than 65 percent of Lebanese registered for vaccination while just over a third of the population took both doses.
We still haven’t seen how [Omicron] The Minister of Health, Firas Abyad, told Al Jazeera.
“We have to assume that the rate of hospitalization may increase rapidly and we have to prepare according to that assumption.”
Abyad added that the bed capacity has been increased by 30 percent, especially in public hospitals.
Although some studies have reported that the new alternative is milder than its predecessors, the United Nations has warned that it is too early to be reassured by the existing data.
The head of the World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said on Wednesday that he fears transmission of the Omicron and Delta types of the new coronavirus will put “tremendous pressure” on hospitals.
Lebanon’s health sector is suffering due to the economic crisis – fuel and medicine prices have skyrocketed and the Lebanese pound has lost more than 90% of its value in just over two years.
Public hospitals in particular have relied on international assistance to cover costs to be able to operate.
Weak country, damaged economy
Interior Minister Bassam Mawlawi, Wednesday decree That would restrict capacity in restaurants and nightlife venues and implement other safety measures.
But there are concerns that the Lebanese security services will struggle to implement the new measures – as they did a year ago – which has led to an increase in deaths and a tight closure.
Crowded hospitals have had to treat patients in their cars and on footpaths, even turning stretchers into makeshift beds.
Due to the high demand, there was a shortage of oxygen machines.
The Lebanese Minister of Health said that he and the Lebanese COVID-19 committee met with union leaders, including the Syndicate of Owners of Restaurants, Cafes, Nightclubs and Bakeries.
But while an agreement was reached on the measures, White said it had not been implemented.
“They say the numbers are going down, and that’s the excuse we hear,” White said.
conflict with the government
In a TV interview earlier this week, Tony Ramy, head of the union, said restaurants and nightclubs had done their part but the government had not.
“There is a lack of the culture of wearing masks in Lebanon and we are witnessing overcrowding,” Rami said, denying that the tourism industry had contributed to the increase in cases.
“The cases started increasing two weeks ago, which is before we started our work.”
But Abyad asked residents to be more careful.
“There has never been a day when someone from the health sector hasn’t warned people to take precautions – it was a bit of a scare at times,” he said, adding that “we continue to see pervasive behavior” that cannot be dealt with by the health sector.
“People say we should shut down the country [lockdown] But it’s not just about the decision, it’s about implementing it.”
Dr. Jad Khalifa, a physician specializing in health systems and epidemiology, told Al Jazeera that Lebanon needs to change its COVID-19 strategy which he described as “illogical”.
“Countries like Lebanon rely only on mitigation, and are overly dependent on vaccines and lockdowns,” Khalifa said.
“We need a containment approach where we trace all cases, isolate them and quarantine their direct contacts rather than just focusing on the total number of cases.”
But Lebanon faces a dilemma – not only does the government lack the financial and human resources to strictly implement preventive measures, but it also suffers from what the World Bank describes as one of the worst economic crises in at least a century.
Khalifa said that compromising the public health of the economy will not work in the long term.
“Countries that tried to save the economy but ignored public health ultimately lose both. Countries that prioritize health, save both.”