BEIRUT – Lebanese authorities began an 11-day nationwide shutdown and a 24-hour curfew on Thursday in hopes of limiting the spread of coronavirus infections that spiraled out of control after the holiday season.
For the first time, residents had to apply for a one-hour permit to leave the house for “emergencies,” including visiting the bakery, pharmacist, doctor, hospital or airport.
Authorities came under pressure to crack down after the country’s hospitals ran out of beds and daily infections of nearly 6 million people hit an all-time high of 5,440 cases in the country last week.
Even before the coronavirus, Lebanon experienced an unprecedented economic and financial crisis, in which the local currency and the banking sector collapsed, and depositors were excluded from the savings. Hospitals, long considered the best in the Middle East, struggled to pay staff, keep equipment running, and provide necessary medical care as dollars ran out.
Amid the surge, many hospitals have now reached maximum capacity for coronavirus patients. Some have stopped elective surgery because they ran out of beds, oxygen tanks, and ventilators.
In addition, the country has been without a government since the old country resigned after the disastrous August 4 explosion in the port of Beirut, which continued to strain hospitals and flood them with injuries. At least three hospitals were destroyed.
The massive explosion caused by the detonation of a supply of poorly stored ammonium nitrate devastated the city, killing over 200 people and injuring thousands.
On Thursday, police manned checkpoints across the country and checked motorists’ permission to travel. The curfew is the strictest since the pandemic began. For the first time, even supermarkets were instructed to close their doors and open only for delivery.
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Lebanon had just announced a nationwide lockdown last week. But many, including the health minister and officials on a government committee, found it too lenient for excluding many sectors. In some regions of the country, business continued as normal, leading to more calls for a full shutdown and curfew.