The Lebanese government on Thursday announced limited opening times for shops and institutions in an effort to stop the spread of the coronavirus, which has killed six people up to now.
Speaking after a Cabinet meeting, Information Minister Manal Abdel Samad said that a “general closure between 7pm and 5am, with some exceptions,” had been decided. She did not specify the exceptions.
Mrs Abdel Samad also announced a treasury advance of 75 billion Lebanese Pounds ($50 million) to the Higher Relief Council, an institution that deals with public emergencies.
In effect, most shops have been closed since March 15, with only supermarkets and pharmacies open. Public institutions have limited their working hours.
In the past week, the Lebanese police have fined people for jogging along Beirut’s corniche as well as cars transporting more than three passengers.
The state of “general mobilisation”, which was announced on March 15, would be extended to April 12, said Mrs Abdel Samad, quoted by the state-run National News Agency.
“General mobilisation”, which allows for the army’s increased involvement in managing the health crisis but remains ambiguous, allowing politicians to manoeuvre without declaring a full state of emergency, said Khalil Helou, a retired general.
“This is not a general mobilisation in the strict military sense,” he said. Though the army has been charged with warning people that they should not congregate, it cannot arrest or fine them for being outside, he said.
“A state of emergency would need much more mobilisation. For example, the army would announce every morning how long people could stay outside or use their car,” said Mr Helou.
The last time Lebanon declared a state of emergency was in 1973 after clashes between the Lebanese Army and Palestinian factions, he said. Two years later, a 15-year long civil war began.
President Michel Aoun “reiterated the necessity for citizens to adhere to the measures taken to limit the spread of the coronavirus, especially adhering to home quarantine and restricting movement until the severity of the epidemic lessens,” said Mrs Abdel Samad on Thursday.
She highlighted that Prime Minister Hassan Diab warned of severe “economic challenges” and appealed for “Lebanese residents and the diaspora to participate in helping the State to support needy families.”
On Wednesday, the government announced that it would distribute 100,000 food and hygiene packages worth 18 billion Lebanese Pounds (Dh 44 million) to the country’s poorest.
Months before Lebanon was hit by the coronavirus, it was already struggling with its worst economic crisis in history. Hundreds of thousands of people have recently lost their jobs.