BEIRUT: Lebanon declared Sunday a state of "public health emergency" and announced "full mobilization" to better combat the coronavirus outbreak in the wake of a dramatic increase in cases over the weekend.
Lebanon's airport will be shut down from March 18 until March 29, barring diplomats and UNIFIL personnel, Information Minister Manal Abdel Samad said. All other maritime and land crossings will also be closed.
The policy was announced after a meeting between Lebanon's top officials in response to the outbreak which has infected over 100 people and killed three.
"This outbreak concerns all Lebanese, who must now unite to confront this grave danger," President Michel Aoun said.
It will allow authorities to confine people, limit their movement, shut down factories and ration food. The majority of the public and private sectors will also be on lockdown in a bid to contain the spread of the virus.
Banks' operations will be restricted to "the bare minimum," Samad said, with the Central Bank exempted from the public closure. In a statement, the Association of Banks announced that all branches would be closed during this period, in line with the government's "measures to confront the outbreak."
Schools have already shut down across the country, with movie theatres, gyms, cafes and restaurants also ordered to seize operations.
Bakeries, supermarkets and pharmacies will continue operations.
“All the necessary measures were taken at an optimal pace to confront the threats of this pandemic and limit its spread,” Aoun added.
Lebanon's government approved these measures following at the end of its session Sunday, noting that “the current state requires a health emergency and general mobilization.”
Spain ordered a similar lockdown after its number of cases jumped to the second-highest in Europe only behind Italy.
The current Spanish tally stands at 6,100 up by about 2,000 cases from Friday and seven times as much as Monday. About 190 people have died.
Hospitals have scrambled to better equip themselves for a spike in cases, with the American University of Beirut Medical Center leading the charge.
It has transformed its Children’s Cancer Center of Lebanon into a makeshift coronavirus ward, cutting it off from the rest of the hospital. Other hospitals, including Saint Georges, Hotel Dieu and Rizk are undertaking similar initiatives in anticipation of a drastic increase in infections.
“Lebanon has a total of 12,555 beds, including 2,026 beds in Intensive Care Units (ICUs)," Health Minister Hamad Hassan said Thursday.
China, where the virus is believed to have originated, also sent a team of experts along with medical and screening equipment to the cash-strapped Medeterean country.
Despite the government's pleas calling for self-isolation, a number of Lebanese continued to heed its warnings while going about their day to day lives.
In response, municipal police on Sunday cleared the landmark seaside corniche in Beirut’s Ain el-Mreisseh and Manara areas after hundreds of people flocked the area for leisure purposes.
They were seen strolling, jogging, swimming and fishing before ordered to dismantle.
Patrols will continue around the clock in the capital, a statement by the municipality said.
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