Lebanon coronavirus cases top 15,000

Lebanon passed the 15,000 mark for coronavirus cases on Friday, the health ministry said, as the country eased lockdown measures just a week after re-imposing them following pressure from businesses.

The ministry announced 676 new infections and two deaths in the past 24 hours, bringing the total number of novel coronavirus cases registered since February to 15,613, including 148 deaths.

Daily infection rates have spiked since a massive explosion at Beirut’s port on August 4 that killed more than 180 people, wounded thousands and ravaged large parts of the capital.

Some 5,855 cases, or more than a third of the total, have been registered in the past 10 days alone.

Authorities on August 21 imposed a lockdown in all parts of the country except those ravaged by the blast, as well as a night-time curfew from 6 pm (1500 GMT) to 6 am (0300 GMT).

But they eased the restrictions on Friday after protest from the private sector, including the owners of service and tourism businesses already reeling from the country’s worst economic downturn in decades.

The start of the curfew was pushed back to 10 pm (1900 GMT), while malls, restaurants, coffee shops and gyms were allowed to re-open.

Caretaker health minister Hamad Hassan warned on August 17 that hospitals were reaching maximum capacity to treat coronavirus patients after the blast overwhelmed health centres already stretched by the virus.

The head of a major public hospital battling coronavirus, Firass Abiad, was unimpressed by Friday’s easing of preventive measures.

With a record 24-hour tally of 689 positive tests recorded a day earlier, “it is clear the objectives of the lockdown had not been reached,” he said on Twitter.