Lebanon suspends flights after second coronavirus death

Agence France-Presse

Posted at Mar 12 2020 04:19 AM

Lebanon suspends flights after second coronavirus death 1
People wear facemasks as a precaution against the spread of the coronavirus, at Beirut international airport, Lebanon March 4, 2020. Picture taken March 4, 2020. Mohamed Azakir, Reuters

Lebanon on Wednesday suspended flights from countries hit hardest by the novel coronavirus after announcing its second death from the pandemic in two days.

The Mediterranean nation has recorded at least 61 cases of COVID-19.

Prime Minister Hassan Diab said Lebanon would suspend all trips to and from Italy, South Korea, Iran and China, the hardest hit countries.

It would also stop arrivals from France, Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Germany, Spain and the United Kingdom, he said.

Lebanese and their families, diplomats, employees of international organisations, as well as UN peacekeepers would still be allowed in, the premier added.

After four days, all trips from those countries would be suspended, Diab said, without specifying the precise date.

Earlier on Wednesday, the health ministry confirmed several new infections, bringing the total number of diagnosed cases to 61, most of whom had caught the virus from someone infected abroad. 

It also announced the death of man who had been suffering from a "chronic illness" before he was infected.

An official at the ministry said the 55-year-old Lebanese national had not left the country recently but was in contact with infected people who had arrived from abroad.

A 56-year-old man who had returned home from Egypt was the first to die on Tuesday.

The novel coronavirus is the latest crisis to hit Lebanon, already reeling from economic collapse and anti-government protests.

Health Minister Hamad Hassan said last week that the country had moved beyond the phase of "containment" and was bracing for a more serious outbreak.

Schools, universities, cafes, bars and other public places have been ordered shut, and on Tuesday Shiite authorities suspended prayers until further notice.

But public concern remains high amid fears that the country is ill-equipped to face a mass outbreak. 

Beirut's Rafic Hariri state hospital, where the vast majority of cases are being treated, cannot bear the burden on its own, its director Firas al-Abyad said on Tuesday.

"If the number of cases grows, then the capacity of the healthcare system to respond needs to be improved," he said. 

According to the hospital director, more than seven hospitals have already been equipped to deal with the outbreak and several more are currently being reinforced.