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Welcome, Coronavirus… Remember us!

Welcome, Coronavirus… Remember us!

Saturday, 29 February, 2020 - 13:15

In the past weeks, the coronavirus has been taking the world by storm. The news coming from Wuhan and the photos of victims and nurses wearing protective suits looking like aliens, and victims being taken to isolation was all over the media.

The Lebanese Minister of Health in the “technocrat government”, Dr. Mohammad Hassan, however, went to the airport in Beirut and conducted a televised tour and show. He did not hesitate in saying that there was no reason for panic, for everything is being monitored and is under control, and anyway, Lebanon has the cure for the virus.

This was confusing and astounding, “Lebanon has a vaccine?” How and when, while we read that Chinese, American and European scientists are working day and night to find a treatment for this virus that has started to look like a pandemic threatening the entire world? Perhaps Hassan took the matter very lightly that day, before the global state of panic, and thought that we are just facing a known case of influenza that has vaccines even in African caves.

Quickly, however, the matter started to look horrifying after a Lebanese woman posted a short video on Facebook talking about how she reached the airport in Beirut from China wearing a mask and entering the airport without being tested or examined. She was casually welcomed and went home to isolate herself for two weeks in her room and publish the video that caused a huge commotion that culminated in the Ministry of Health sending her an ambulance and transferring her to Rafik Hariri University Hospital in Beirut and putting her in quarantine under observation.

Once again the Minister of Health became active and published a long series of reassuring statements, and went with a group of his ministry’s physicians to the airport to announce that there was no reason to panic, as all the necessary measures were being taken and Lebanon is free of any cases of coronavirus.

However, this did not end people’s confusion, precaution and suspicions, especially after virus-related developments dominated the media.

Panic was slowly drawing nearer, and suddenly ten days ago, an Iranian flight landed with 164 passengers with some of them having visited holy sites in Qom, and it was discovered that a woman on board had the virus. She was then transferred to Rafik Hariri Hospital for treatment. Hours later the story of utter negligence and lack of minimal responsibility from officials in the Lebanese government spread, against a backdrop of questions that Minister Hassan was unable to convincingly answer: First: If this woman was infected, how did the Iranian authorities allow her to board a 164-passenger flight? The Minister answered: Perhaps the authorities in Tehran were unaware that she was infected and allowed her to travel. Second: Great, if the woman started to suffer from the malaise on the flight why was the airport in Beirut not informed? The answer: Perhaps the captain was unaware. Third: After she was discovered to have a fever at the airport, how did you casually allow the rest of the passengers to go home? The answer was very strange and was from the passengers this time: The ongoing precautions were great as per the testimony of passengers who came from China and Iran who spread their testimonies on social media saying that they were asked: Do you have a fever? The answer was: No sir. Then they were allowed to leave.

The 164 passengers then went home and of course hugged their families and neighbors, and this great state did not try to summon them in fear that some of them may have the virus has a 14-day incubation period. The story does not stop there. In the past ten days, planes from Iran continue to land in Beirut and the authorities continue to hold onto their “Welcome” policy. One of the arriving passengers posted a video on Facebook, saying: “I’ve just arrived at the airport, awaiting my luggage, and nobody has tested me or asked me a single question… astonishing.”

Yes very astonishing, especially that the authorities were swamped in discussions about the necessity of stopping flights from countries with infections such as China and Iran among others, and masks were disappearing from the market while their prices suddenly jumped from LL2,500 to LL15,000. It then turned out that merchants exported 4 tons of masks and that some of them are hiding the rest, awaiting another hike in prices.

Before finally announcing the suspension of religious trips, flights were still arriving from Iran while a floor at Rafik Hariri Hospital was dedicated to infected patients. Then it was announced that the entire hospital was dedicated to these cases. On Wednesday, a second case from the same flight with the first case was announced. It was confirmed by a laboratory test and was from Iran. Flights from Tehran were not suspended, and this increased fears especially after news of rising number cases from Iran spread.

This pushed all countries neighboring Iran to stop flying there, including Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iraq which closed their aerial and land borders with Iran. On Thursday, it was announced that 106 people were infected in Iran in 24 hours and that the number of people who have died reached 26 after the reformist Member of Parliament Mahmoud Sadiqi who was infected, wrote, “I do not have much hope to persist in this world”.

The Head of the National Security Committee in parliament, Muhtaba Di Nur, announced that he was also infected alongside the Deputy Minister of Health, Iraj Harichi. In the last two weeks, 200 people entered Lebanon from China without any precautions, and four times as many from Tehran. This poses a great danger as at least some of them may harbor the virus that has an incubation period of 14 days. Specialist doctors in Beirut say that the Lebanese people’s fears are justified and that the government was late in taking precautions and controlling movement of flights from countries with outbreaks.

The Minister of Health, however, continues to work based on “There is no need for panic”, after announcing that flights from countries with outbreaks are being controlled and that only urgently needed trips were being allowed after religious trips were suspended. What are these urgent needs though, while Bahrain announced on Thursday that all trips from and to Lebanon and Iraq were suspended until further notice? Despite there being many people who entered Lebanon from China, Iran, Italy and South Korea, and which raises panic levels among the Lebanese, the government was unable to say anything other than municipalities can monitor the cases that have returned for signs of infection. Consequently, many Lebanese are now very fearfully and cynically saying: Welcome, coronavirus, remember us!

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