On-The-Record Updates: The COVID-19 Situation In Lebanon
As Lebanon began its vaccination campaign on Sunday, February 14, the number of daily COVID-19 cases has been dwindling since the imposition of a strict lockdown on January 14, 2021.
Bethesda, MD (February 17, 2021)—As Lebanon began its vaccination campaign on Sunday, February 14, the number of daily COVID-19 cases has been dwindling since the imposition of a strict lockdown on January 14, 2021.
On Monday, February 15, there was a 7-day average of 2,698 cases—down from 4,801 cases on January 18. The number of deaths recorded daily is also declining, with 44 new deaths recorded on Monday, February 15—compared to 98 deaths recorded on February 5. With the reduction in the number of COVID-19 cases, intensive care units have recorded a slight decrease of the occupancy rate (87%); yet many hospitals continue to operate beyond capacity. Overall, Lebanon has reported more than 341,000 cases—about 5.6% of the country’s total population—and over 4,000 deaths since March 2020. Last week, the government announced an easing of the lockdown restrictions, following a four-phase plan.
Quotes from Rabih Torbay, CEO and President of Project HOPE:
“While implementing the vaccination campaign, national authorities should maintain the highest level of transparency by regularly communicating with the public through briefings, progress reports, and statistics. The country will not be able to overcome the pandemic if the population is poorly informed or misinformed about the vaccines. Overcoming vaccine hesitancy will be key to the recovery of Lebanon.”
“The gravity of the situation for Lebanese, refugees, and migrant communities cannot be understated. They are suffering socially, economically, and are facing death every day. Equitable access to treatment and vaccines based on needs, risks, and vulnerability must be a national priority in Lebanon. Access should not be determined by residency status nor political affiliations.”
Quote from health care workers at the AUB Medical Center in Beirut:
“February 14 wasn’t like any other Sunday. It was the launch of a long-awaited vaccination campaign. I woke up very excited and full of hope and joy. I took my first shot because I believe in science. I took it to protect myself and my beloved ones. It’s been three days since my shot and the only side effects are more confidence and satisfaction that I acted responsibly for my country. Please take the vaccine,” said a doctor who chose to remain anonymous.
“This year, Valentine’s Day felt different. There was a glimmer of hope that happy days are coming. I took my first shot of the COVID-19 vaccine and it was a shot of hope, happiness, and relief. I took it because I believe that it is a huge step to end this pandemic and that science is the only way to protect myself, my family, and my beloved ones,” said Chadi Al Achkar, a registered nurse.
- Since the start of the pandemic in Lebanon, 87% of reported deaths with COVID-19 had underlying health conditions, according to the WHO.
- Lebanon began its national COVID-19 vaccination campaign on Sunday, February 14, 2021. The first doses of vaccines were inoculated to frontline medical workers and the elderly. Over half a million people have registered for the vaccine so far, less than 10% of the population.
- The first batch of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine to arrive in Lebanon was made up of 28,500 doses. Lebanon signed a deal with Pfizer-BioNTech for 2.1 million doses of the coronavirus vaccine to be delivered over the next four quarters. These vaccines will be complemented by 2.7 million doses obtained through COVAX.
- The rollout will be monitored by the World Bank and the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies to ensure safe handling and fair and equitable access for all populations residing in Lebanon.
- Several political figures are also trying to purchase additional vaccines through bilateral negotiations, raising questions about transparency, coordination, and distribution tracking. Observers fear that vaccines purchased by political figures will be inequitably distributed to their supporters.
- While Lebanon’s Ministry of Public Health said that the vaccine will be distributed to everyone on an equal basis, the online registration form to receive the vaccine through COVAX requires a form of valid documentation. Such a requirement risks limiting the number of people able to access vaccine registration, such as Lebanese nationals with civil documentation and unregistered refugees. Government sources and humanitarian workers often mention a number of 500,000 unregistered refugees in Lebanon, though some believe that the number may also have declined significantly. Yet, around two-thirds of the babies born to Syrian parents are without a birth certificate registered with the Lebanese authorities, according to UNHRC.
- The country’s deep economic and financial crisis, the COVID-19 pandemic, and the devastating explosion in the Beirut port have led to a fast deterioration of the socio-economic situation of both Lebanese and refugees. According to a recent study, about 89% of Syrian refugee families in Lebanon are now living below the extreme poverty line, an increase from 55% in mid-2019.
- A recent survey found that a majority of people reject any discriminatory approach for vaccine access, with 78% of respondents expecting everyone to get their inoculation, in a rebuttal to the latest political calls in restricting vaccination only to Lebanese nationals.
- Vaccine hesitancy is strong in Lebanon, according to the CEO of Rafik Hariri University Hospital, Dr. Firas Abiad, who tweeted, “In a recent survey, only 33% of responders above 65 years of age (high risk) want to get vaccinated.” The vaccine hesitancy can be explained by a general lack of trust and fear of the adverse effects of the vaccine.
- There have been some reports of private hospitals demanding pre-payment from COVID-19 patients or issuing them with inflated bills for amounts allegedly not covered by public or private insurance. Some private hospitals have also yet to receive COVID-19 patients, while all public hospitals have been operating beyond capacity for several weeks.
Project HOPE In Lebanon:
Following the Beirut port explosion, Project HOPE has partnered with the Rene Moawad Foundation (RMF) Lebanon to provide trauma care and psychosocial support. Till this day, it continues to provide immediate assistance through the procurement and distribution of medicines, medical supplies, disaster health kits and PPEs. So far, Project HOPE has supported more than 10 hospitals in Beirut, 12 Public Health Centers and several local INGOs, and has reached more than 100,000 people in need and affected by the blast as well as health workers.
About Project HOPE:
Project HOPE is a global health and humanitarian relief organization that is committed to placing power in the hands of local health care workers to save lives across the globe. Read more here.