The number of corona infections in Lebanon has been increasing since the explosion in the port of Beirut. Although Lebanon initially seemed to have the epidemic under reasonable control, more than 600 new infections are now occurring every day. Over the past ten days, more than a third of the total number of infections (16,870) have been recorded. Corona killed 156 people.
The Rafik Hariri hospital in Beirut has been on the front line since the beginning of the corona crisis. Testing in this public hospital is free of charge and people are queuing here early in the morning. Director Firas al Abiad is very worried. “In the chaos of the aftermath of the explosion, people didn’t think about keeping a distance, about mouth caps or other measures. It was chaotic and this quickly increased the numbers of people infected.” He says more than ten percent of the tests now being done are positive.
Lebanon has a shaky health system and hyperinflation makes it even more difficult to import crucial medical equipment and materials. Hospitals have almost reached their maximum capacity. “The explosion has also had a major effect on bed capacity. Four hospitals are no longer operational and many hospital beds and IC beds are occupied by people injured by the explosion. As a result, we are less able to take care of corona patients.”
Lockdown was unsuccessful
A lockdown was quickly eased more than a week ago under pressure from the population and hospitality entrepreneurs. Restaurants, gyms, shops and many public places have reopened anyway.
The unprecedented economic crisis increases the need for people to make money and that means that many argue that a lockdown is no longer an option for them. The lack of a social safety net means that for many people corona is by no means their first concern.
It is estimated that half of the Lebanese population lives below the poverty line. “There’s a difficult time ahead here. People now have to choose between a virus or hunger. And they have to deal with the trauma of a massive explosion. They feel the urge to be together, to process it together,” says hospital director Abiad. And for many, staying at home is not an option anyway, with an estimated 300,000 residents of Beirut homeless since the explosion on August 4.
Nohad and her upstairs neighbour Nawal live in Karantina, one of the worst affected neighbourhoods near the harbour. It comes as no surprise to them that the number of corona infections has risen sharply. Daisy Mohr visited them and heard how corona is not a priority for them.
One of the hospitals destroyed by the explosion is Karantina. The Swedish doctor Johan von Schreeb, who was flown in to assist the World Health Organisation (WHO), is taking the damage there. “I think we’re at the beginning of a tsunami. The system is now overloaded. There’s a lot of fear. That’s why international support is so much needed now, to boost morale and capacity,” he says. The corona department, which had just been completed, is also in ruins because of the explosion.
Together with three international teams, von Schreeb is looking at how he can best help. They take their corona experience from their own country with them: “This know-how helps us to better manage the crisis here. Now that there are more and more infections, it’s becoming an ever greater challenge for the health system”
Von Schreeb and his team run daily tests in various hospitals. “We are there at half past seven for the morning round, we follow them in their work, we listen to their problems and we see where we can help. A large part of the doctors and nurses are exhausted. By being here and assisting them in the hospitals, we give them a moral boost so that they can get on with their work in these difficult times”