Beirut, Weekly Report # 9, March 20th, 2020

Cronache dal Libano

by Yves

The main topic this week is the following up on the Coronavirus pandemic and the decision taken on Sunday 15 by the President of Lebanon and the government to proclaim a state of sanitary urgency for the country till 31 mars.

As of Thursday 19, 158 individuals would have now been contaminated and four patients have died while four would have been cured so far. What worries more the authorities, is the fact that among the last six recently detected cases, no source of infection has been identified yet. Generally speaking, the confinement is well respected while the government is now thinking about applying stricter circulation measures. Lebanese are invited to stay at home and go out only in cases of extreme urgency. Gatherings in private and public places are forbidden. Banks have also announced that they will close Monday 16 till 29 mars. In the meantime, over 1280 people have now died in Iran.

On Wednesday 18 at midnight, Beirut international Airport has been closed down to flights till 29 March. The Health minister Hamad Ali Hassan has advised against using public transportation and the government has proposed Thursday to isolate the Kesrouan and Jbeil regions because they would have lost control of the health situation in their districts. In parallel, one of the biggest Palestinian camps in the South of Lebanon, which numbers over 90,000 inhabitants, Ain El-Heloué, is being currently disinfected. 

An exemption on this ban has been granted to “Electricité du Liban” and companies in charge of delivering electricity to the country as well as bakeries, food shops and supermarkets. 

President Michel Aoun has also tasked the Lebanon’s ministers of foreign affairs and health to undertake contacts with foreign embassies and international organizations to help Lebanon get additional health support or receive critical medical equipment. 

As for the financial crisis, the government is now looking for a reduction of this debt, an “haircut” on Eurobonds. That will mean that the government will have to negotiate very quickly with its debtors. It will certainly have to offer to some of them some complete or partial refunding while in some cases the amount will be purely and simply written off. Normally, that would mean that in exchange another series of Eurobonds should be advertised with a longer maturity, a reduction of the interests and even of the capital. Whatever the importance of this « haircut », the current funds of the banks in Lebanon will not be enough to pay them and this is why Ghazi Wazni, the finance minister has asked them to increase their funds and not to pay any dividends for year 2019 due this month. Raoul Nehmé, minister of commerce and industry has declared Thursday that Lebanon should know more about the outcome of these negotiations by the beginning of the fourth semester.On Thursday, Amer Fakhoury, former head of Khiam prison during the presence of Israeli and South Lebanese Army troops (a pro-Israël South-Lebanese militia) in the South between 1985 and 2000 and a well-known executioner and torturer of prisoners was cleared by the tribunal. A. Fakhoury who has reportedly terminal cancer, had been arrested on 19 September by Lebanese authorities as he was coming into the country, was cleared by military justice on 16 March and finally evacuated back to the USA via Cyprus under the pressure of the US government and to the outcry of a lot of Lebanese human rights organizations and former detainees. Following that, the President of the Military tribunal, by which he had been cleared Brigadier Hussein Abdallah has announced his resignation today Friday 20 March.