Lebanon: Coronavirus Alters Politicians’ Routine, Activities
Lebanon’s political leaders are making drastic adjustments to their daily lives amid the spread of the novel coronavirus. Baabda’s Presidential Palace is now operating with a quarter of its employees, as many were sent home and others are working in rotation to limit the threat of infection.
Measures imposed at the Palace entrance include checking the body temperature of visitors and sterilizing all of their belongings, including telephones, computers and paper documents.
Mail inside the palace is disinfected before handing it over to its recipients. The premises are sterilized twice a day, and everyone is required to wear masks, while the movement of President Michel Aoun is restricted to specific areas.
Daily appointments were canceled, excluding urgent meetings and cabinet sessions chaired by the president, during which ministers sit apart at a noticeable distance.
Family visits, including those of the presidents’ daughters and grandchildren, were also restricted.
In Ain el-Tineh, reporters and friends are missing their daily encounter with Speaker Nabih Berri, who has adopted strict measures since the announcement of the first coronavirus case in Lebanon.
Berri has cancelled receptions, living in near-total isolation. His meetings are currently limited to crisis management.
He has also canceled his meeting with lawmakers each Wednesday, which was an opportunity for the deputies to hold talks with him without an appointment.
He also stopped Monday’s reception of supporters, who used to gather in Ain el-Tineh to present their requests to the Speaker, in addition to his routine meeting with the Amal movement every Wednesday.
Berri replaced meetings with journalists with direct and indirect phone contact, while he managed to conduct Parliament’s administrative work through daily mail and meetings with senior officials, under preventive health controls.
As for Berri’s “great loss”, according to those close to him, it was his weekly reunion with his family and 22 grandchildren.
The speaker spends some time out, strolling in Ain el-Tineh’s garden, a privilege he was deprived of since 2005 due to security reasons.
The government palace, or the Grand Serail, is more lenient. Prime Minister Hassan Diab was insisting on working with “less controls” as sources close to him say, and he used to conduct his meetings without a mask, before surrendering to the advice of his health and administrative team.
He was seen this week chairing the cabinet session wearing a mask, while the ministers sat apart at a wide distance.
Opposition leaders have also made changes to their daily schedule.
Former Prime Minister Saad Hariri, who is outside the country, has given his directives to his Lebanon team, asking them to work from home.
Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea lives in a compound in the distant village of Maarab, north of Beirut. Occupying a large area of a mountain overlooking the sea, the site has a strategic advantage for being away from the daily movement of people, and its entrances and exits are tightly controlled.
For his part, Progressive Socialist Party chief Walid Jumblatt is isolating himself at his Beirut residence and has stopped all of his usual gatherings and dinners with friends.
Jumblatt communicates with his party’s leaders through the phone, as well as through his long-time favorite, Twitter. He even went to call for finding graves for coronavirus victims away from villages residential areas.