|Date: Mar 16, 2020|
|Source: The Daily Star|
|Lebanon declares "general mobililzation" to face coronavirus|
|Hussein Dakroub| The Daily Star|
BEIRUT: Declaring that the current situation arising from the coronavirus has put the country in a “health emergency,” the government Sunday proclaimed a state of general mobilization that called for the closure of the airport and seaports, in the latest measure to contain the epidemic that has so far infected 99 people and killed three.
The announcement was made by Prime Minister Hassan Diab following a marathon extraordinary Cabinet session dedicated to exploring ways to prevent the spread of the coronavirus outbreak. The session, chaired by President Michel Aoun at Baabda Palace, was preceded by a meeting of the Higher Defense Council that recommended the declaration of a general mobilization in the country to face the coronavirus threat.
“Today, Lebanon is experiencing a state of emergency, therefore, the government declares a state of general mobilization until the end March 31, 2020,” Diab said in a televised address to the Lebanese Sunday night after the Cabinet session.
Among measures approved by the Cabinet is the closure of the Rafik Hariri International Airport, land borders and seaports from March 18 until March 29, Information Minister Manal Abdel Samad told reporters after the session.
Exempted from the public shutdown are the Central Bank, commercial banks and exchange dealers, she said.
In a statement issued Sunday night, the Association of Banks in Lebanon said banks would be closed Monday until public administrations, in coordination with monetary authorities, organize work with banks during the March 16-29 period.
Abdel Samad said the declaration of a general mobilization was designed to stress the need for citizens to comply with staying at home and not to go out unless extremely necessary.
The declaration reaffirmed all decisions taken to confront the coronavirus with regard to banning gatherings in public and private places, she said. She added that the Cabinet decision also called for the closure of public administrations and institutions, municipalities, autonomous utilities, universities, public and private schools and nurseries.
Abdel Samad said the state-run Electricite du Liban, the Water Authority and oil companies would be exempted from the closure.
In his speech to the Lebanese, Diab called on the Lebanese to be united in the face of a host of crises.
“Our country is going through difficult times, burdened by worries, crises and problems. Now is the time for patience, courage, reason, wisdom, peace and caution. Now is the time for care, for protecting ourselves and those we cherish most: our families, children, brothers, sisters and friends,” Diab said.
“Now is the time for cooperation, mobilization, volunteering, initiatives, help, support, good deeds and saving others. Today, more than ever, the Lebanese need to be united, as they have always been in the face of crises.”
Diab called on all Lebanese to abide by the “highest levels of alert, to be able to control this epidemic and defeat it.”
“Until today, we have succeeded in hindering the spread of the virus, since it began to spread across the globe as of Dec. 31, 2019. A scientific, practical and proactive strategy has been set forth to protect Lebanese citizens, exceptional measures have been adopted since the beginning, and Lebanon was able to contain the first wave of the virus without commotion, because we are doing our duties,” he said.
Diab said the government has advanced measures to halt travel to certain countries before the World Health Organization had declared them contaminated, inclding Italy, Iran, the U.K., Egypt, France, Germany, Syria and Spain.
Diab said exceptional measures were also adopted at the airport, and we continued implementing them to ensure adequate testing of travelers arriving in Lebanon, from body-temperature control, on-board tests, and isolation for 14 days.
The prime minister said the measures taken by the government to protect the Lebanese, including the closure of various public and private sectors, would have a heavy toll on the crumbling economy.
“There is no doubt that these measures will affect our economy, much like international economies have been affected. However, the people’s lives and safety are far more precious and remain our priority above all else,” Diab said.
Aoun also addressed the Lebanese at the beginning of the Cabinet session by calling for national solidarity to face the coronavirus threat. He said the current situation constituted “a health emergency that requires the declaration of a state of general mobilization in all Lebanese regions.”
“For weeks now, we have not failed at all to confront [the virus], with determination, will and awareness, instantaneously and preemptively. The various health sectors in Lebanon have been mobilized, under the direct supervision of the prime minister and the Ministerial Committee for Coronavirus Prevention. All the necessary measures have been taken, at an exemplary speed, in order to counter this epidemic and prevent its spread in our country and among our nationals,” Aoun said in a televised speech.
“Today, in view of the fast spread of this epidemic, the global and local inability to contain it so far, and the increased number of cases, the Cabinet is holding this extraordinary session to adopt a series of exceptional and temporary measures which will be announced at the end of the session, especially that the current situation represents a health emergency that requires the declaration of a state of general mobilization in all Lebanese regions,” he added.
The declaration of a “general mobilization” gives the authorities a legal mandate to impose special measures designed to bring a threat such as the coronavirus under control.
The measures that can be introduced give the authorities greater control over transport, movement, telecommunications, the import of raw materials and industrial production. They can also enhance the government’s power to regulate energy production and distribution, and the import, export and storage of food supplies.
Declaring that it was the first time in about a century that Lebanon faced an epidemic with a global prevalence, Aoun called on the Lebanese to close ranks and on rival politicians to set aside their bickering to confront the coronavirus.
“It is the moment of truth for us all, the first in our modern history. Indeed, before the health of each citizen, all the narrow political considerations fall. It is absolutely no time to score points and exchange accusations, nor is it time for political exploitation of whichever nature, because this epidemic does not distinguish between loyalist and opposition, nor between a claimant of the right and an indifferent,” the president said. “It is the moment of national solidarity for all of us.”
Aoun urged the Lebanese to exercise self-isolation, work from home and avoid mingling with others in an attempt to prevent the spread of the epidemic.
“Everyone is invited to continue their work from home, in the manner that they deem appropriate, so that learning is pursued for students, and work for workers, and so that institutions remain as alive and active as possible,” Aoun said. “Let us avail ourselves of these days, no matter how long they may last, to ascertain that we are one people, worthy of life and capable of overcoming its hardships.”
The president stressed that national unity was vital to defeat the coronavirus epidemic. “Our national unity has been and remains our source of strength and our shield of protection. Thanks to it, we have achieved our invincibility, and today, it will support our strength and confirm our victory against this epidemic.”
The Cabinet measures, including the declaration of a general mobilization, were recommended by the Higher Defense Council which met earlier Sunday under Aoun at Baabda Palace. The council’s meeting was also attended by Diab, the ministers of defense, interior, finance, foreign affairs, health, justice, economy, public works and information, as well as Army Commander Gen. Joseph Aoun and heads of security agencies.
Lebanon has been boosting precautionary measures to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, including halting flights from several countries, closing all restaurants, nightclubs and bars, and tightening measures along the border with neighboring Syria. Many malls have shut down in response to the virus’ outbreak, and many public and private organizations have suspended their office activities.