In a country experiencing unprecedented economic crisis, the outbreak of the COVID-19, as below has “exacerbated the problems and suffering of the Lebanese people, threatening their livelihoods and limiting their ability to secure necessities.
Months before the threat of COVID-19 became apparent, the World Bank had predicted that the portion of Lebanon’s population living below the poverty line would rise from 30 per cent to 50 per cent in 2020, which spells real disaster for many of the underprivileged.
In response to the Coronavirus pandemic, the government urged people on March 15 to stay at home in a lockdown that lasted at least until April 26. As a result, millions of Lebanon’s residents are at risk of going hungry; the crisis has exacerbated an already-existent economic crisis and exposed the inadequacies of Lebanon’s social protection system.
This brief documents Lebanon’s responses and measures to confront the Coronavirus pandemic. ARDD also analyses the measures Lebanon took to protect vulnerable groups, namely, the poor, the elderly, children, refugees, immigrants and people with special needs.
Since February 21, the day when Lebanon recorded its first case of Coronavirus, the government has taken several preventive measures, including isolation, prohibiting Lebanese citizens from travelling to infected areas and authorizing the Ministry of Health to transform a private hospital into public in each governorate and designate a public hospital in each governorate to treat patients infected with the virus a public hospital in each governorate, in addition to closing schools.
Those measures were not scrupulously observed at first; it was only in March that the government started to demand strict compliance with the measures, under the pressure of the crowds taking advantage of the lax procedures at borders and the increase in the numbers of infected people.
] Human Rights Watch has warned that “millions of Lebanon’s residents are at risk of going hungry due to the Coronavirus lockdown measures. The country is home to 4.5 million people; it also hosts around 1.5 million Syrians and 174,000 Palestinian refugees.
To face the Coronavirus challenges, the government formed a “social emergency committee” to help families in need and those on whom the pandemic will have the greatest impact, by contributing LBP400 to them. At the same time, the government called upon the international community to support Lebanon financially to help it overcome its financial and economic crises which were aggravated by the poutbreak of the pandemic.
The conditions of day labourers differ from those of the Lebanese who are covered by the social security net. They now live in very bad conditions, being the poorest and most vulnerable. They also need hospitalization and direct financial aid to pay for other expenses. Consequently, if the government does not come up with measures to address their needs and alleviate their suffering, it might have to deal with social unrest and more street protests.
In a different context, at least 21 Lebanese municipalities introduced discriminatory restrictions on Syrian refugees as part of their efforts to combat COVID-19, thus weakening the country’s public health response.
Syrian refugees have also raised concerns about their ability to get health care and about lack of information on how to protect themselves against infection. Restrictions on rights, including freedom of movement and the right to health care, cannot be imposed on a discriminatory basis, including by nationality. This fundamental principle applies even during emergencies.
In this context, and to respond to the humanitarian needs created by the Coronavirus outbreak, “Qatar Charity” and UNHCR signed a $1.5 million agreement to provide emergency cash assistance for Syrian refugees throughout Lebanon.
About 10 children aged 10 and below are infected with Coronavirus in Lebanon, according to Ministry of Public Health figures that indicate that 1.39% of cases belong to this age group, while the proportion of those between the ages of 10 and 19 affected by the virus is 7.79%; i.e.. it is estimated that about 57 children are infected. These figures are due to the absence in Lebanon of measures to protect children, who are considered to be the a weak link, in addition to significantly marginalizing them.
Meanwhile, people with special needs in Lebanon, estimated at 5% of the population, face difficulties doing day to day chores, such as shopping, getting medicine or seeking urgent medical attention or treatment. Moreover, since most of them are day labourers do have no fixed jobs and regular salaries, they lost their source of income
Furthermore, domestic abuse and violence against women, in particular, soared in Lebanon amid the spread of Coronavirus and the application of stricter confinement measures, as a result of hardships due to work stoppage. The number reported cases of violence against women has increased 60% over previous months.
Moreover, 1,046 prisoners in 25 prisons located in various regions live in a state of anxiety and fear of infection. They have been calling for a general amnesty and for reducing crowdedness in prisons to avoid the spread of the virus.
Community and youth efforts, and civil society initiatives to provide humanitarian aid to alleviate the threat to public health and quarantine restrictions imposed to combat the Coronavirus outbreak have been rapidly growing. The aid included includes medicines for chronic diseases, cash, foodstuff and supplies of bread, fruit and sanitizers.
In view of all this, the World Bank approved on March 12 the re-allocation of $40 million, under the current Health Resilience Project, to strengthen the Ministry of Public Health’s capacity to respond to the crisis by equipping government hospitals and increasing their ability to test and treat suspected cases.
A large number of Lebanese lives in poverty and suffers from difficult living conditions. The Coronavirus pandemic has added to their burdens, as a large number of them lost their jobs and many others were unable to withdraw their money from banks amid shortages in foreign currency, in addition to banks setting a ceiling on local currency deposit withdrawals.
Today, the Lebanese government is called upon to activate the social protection system for the less privileged groups in cooperation with the private sector and civil organizations and, provide them with the assistance necessary to face the current hardships.