Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 27 September 2020

CORONAVIRUS

Lebanon’s health minister hesitant to reopen airport after returnees infect locals

Cabinet will decide on reopening but 'there is no date until now', says adviser

Lebanese Health Minister Hamad Hassan, centre, speaks to journalists outside Rafik Hariri Airport in Beirut on April 5, 2020, during the arrival of Lebanese who were stuck abroad because of the coronavirus outbreak. AP Photo
Lebanese Health Minister Hamad Hassan, centre, speaks to journalists outside Rafik Hariri Airport in Beirut on April 5, 2020, during the arrival of Lebanese who were stuck abroad because of the coronavirus outbreak. AP Photo

Lebanon’s health minister warned on Thursday that the country’s airport would only be reopened when returnees stick to quarantine measures, highlighting the case of a woman who infected 42 people with Covid 19 after arriving recently.

“When people and expatriates sit at home … then we can talk about reopening the airport, especially that a woman returnee who was carrying the virus transmitted it to 42 people in [the southern town of] Barja,” said Hamad Hassan after a Cabinet session, quoted by the state-run National News Agency.

The pandemic’s outbreak in Lebanon has been relatively contained so far but officials fear that the cash-strapped country will not be able to handle a major outbreak.

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Coronavirus in the Middle East

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According to the Health Ministry’s latest figures, the novel coronavirus has infected 1,306 people in Lebanon and killed 28.

The government shut Beirut’s international airport on March 18 to contain the spread of the pandemic, but thousands of Lebanese stranded abroad have been able to re-enter the country via a special repatriation programme.

The airport's reopening was announced for June 8 but has been repeatedly pushed back. Media adviser to Mr Hassan, Reda Al Moussawi, told The National that the Cabinet, which will convene on Friday, would decide when the airport would reopen and that “there is no date until now”. He said the Health Ministry was awaiting the results of PCR tests on a recent batch of returnees.

Mr Hassan said that the Cabinet would decide on whether Lebanese returning from abroad should undergo a compulsory quarantine or whether positive cases should be transferred to government hospitals.

The Health Ministry said on Wednesday that it had conducted 88,000 PCR tests across Lebanon so far and continued distributing free masks in co-operation with municipalities.

“The results showed that there is no local outbreak of the epidemic so far,” the ministry said.

The ministry announced last Monday that it would distribute one million masks across the country. In parallel, the Internal Security Forces started fining anyone not wearing a mask 50,000 Lebanese pounds, or roughly $16.

Updated: June 4, 2020 07:18 PM

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