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World

Lockdown adds to suffering of vulnerable Lebanese: charity

  • Lebanon, a country of more than six million, is grappling with its worst economic downturn since the 1975-1990 war.
12 Jan 2021

BEIRUT: A total lockdown set to start this week will exacerbate the suffering of vulnerable Lebanese families struggling to make ends meet unless the government offers assistance, a charity has warned.

"We recognise the importance of taking thorough measures... but we are very concerned that vulnerable families and their children will be left to deal with a catastrophe on their own," Jennifer Moorehead, Save the Children's Lebanon director, said late Monday.

Lebanon, a country of more than six million, is grappling with its worst economic downturn since the 1975-1990 war.

A spiralling coronavirus outbreak has compounded the crisis, forcing businesses shut and denying daily wage earners an income in a country where more than half the population lives in poverty.

The Lebanese government on Monday said it would enforce a 24-hour curfew for 11 days from Thursday, after daily infections spiked by some 70 per cent over the past week.

The surge in new cases is among the steepest in the world.

Under the new measures, non-essential workers will not be allowed out of the house and supermarkets will only operate delivery services.

This prompted fears of food shortages as such services are not readily available in impoverished and remote regions.

"Almost half of the population can't afford to buy sufficient food to last them through the supermarket closures," Moorehead said.

"We fear they will face hunger as it is uncertain whether stores have the capacity to deliver food to people's homes."

Lebanon has recorded 222,391 Covid-19 cases, including 1,629 deaths, since February.

The round-the-clock curfew will start Thursday and run until January 25, in a desperate attempt to slow the spread of a virus that has overwhelmed the country's healthcare system.

Hours before it was announced on Monday, rumours that stores would close completely prompted a wave of panic buying.

Large crowds streamed into supermarkets, pharmacies and bakeries, where shelves were left completely empty.

Save the Children urged the government of Lebanon to implement "fair and transparent social assistance packages for the most vulnerable communities."

Outgoing finance minister Ghazi Wazni on Monday said the government was dedicating 75 billion Lebanese pounds (around $49 million at the official rate) to struggling families hit hard by the lockdown.