Only a few hours had passed since the announcement of the first case of coronavirus in Lebanon until masks disappeared from pharmacies and appeared on the black market, with some information indicating that they were exported to China.
This led to the Minister of Economy issuing a decision prohibiting the export of medical equipment, tools and personal protection items against contagious diseases, including gloves, face masks and ventilators.
One pharmacist reported that he sold more than 300 face masks within an hour of the first case being announced. He also claimed that “an atmosphere of insanity took over. People rushed to buy masks with most of them not even needing them”.
He indicated that “a face mask did not cost more than 250 Lebanese Pounds (a few US cents) the morning the first case was announced, reaching four dollars in the evening, other than advertising special face masks the price of which jumped from 3 to 30 dollars”.
The virus made its way to Lebanon’s political and sectarian tension through social media after the COVID-19 virus was found in a 45-year-old Lebanese woman who had traveled from Qom in Iran.
Lebanon’s political rivals started construing the story to their favor. The party rejecting the domination of the “resistance axis” started criticizing Iran and condemned it for exporting the virus, as if they were already waiting for the first case to come specifically from Iran so that they build on it.
On the other hand, some activists in the Free Patriotic Movement linked the coronavirus with Syrian refugees, with one of them saying on TV that “President Michel Aoun and Gebran Bassil’s warnings were on spot, how can we face the virus with the presence of Syrian refugees?”
Hezbollah supporters stood sharply against the tone of condemnation against Iran. They accused those promoting this condemnation with having racial hatred and conspiracy theories. The first instance was a voice recording allegedly by the woman who had the virus, lying at her hospital bed affirming that she was safe and that accusing her of having the virus was nothing but a conspiracy against Iran because she stayed six months in Qom. She also added that the news had spread before the results of the tests came back even though, she claimed, nothing was wrong with her.
This led some people to tweet a photo of her passport with a phrase expressing that she represents them, asking political officials to visit her so that they catch the infection.
The conspiracy theory was not limited to the camp of Iran supporters. The other side also spread a voice recording of someone claiming that “promoting the coronavirus reaching Lebanon is aimed at ending the popular uprising and continuing the repression practiced by the regime against the protesters and recruiting banks to steal the money of the Lebanese”.
The Lebanese government’s decision to ban travels to Iran, a couple of days ago, remained ambiguous despite mentioning that “flights to the quarantined areas in Iran are banned due to the spread of the coronavirus in China, Iran, South Korea and several other countries except those that are necessary for medical, educational or occupational purposes.”