Lebanon extends partial lockdown as PM warns of second wave of COVID-19

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Lebanon’s Higher Defense Council met Tuesday at Baabda Palace and recommended the extension to mitigate the potential impact of a second wave the coronavirus.

by Georgi Azar

President Michel Aoun and Prime Minister Hassan Diab at a Cabinet meeting. (AFP)

BEIRUT: Lebanon is expected to extend the general mobilization against the coronavirus until May 24 as the small Mediterranean country scrambles to implement a rescue plan which seems to have garnered the support of the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

Lebanon’s Higher Defense Council met Tuesday at Baabda Palace and recommended the extension to mitigate the potential impact of a second wave of the coronavirus.

“There is fear of a second wave that could be much worse than the first wave” and recommended extending the general mobilization for two additional weeks on that basis,” a spokesperson of the Higher Defense Council quoted Prime Minister Hassan Diab as saying during the meeting.

A general consensus worldwide seems to indicate that countries should brace for another outbreak after the virus infected 3.58 million and killed 252,000.

Health Minister Hamad Hassan said Tuesday Lebanon will surpass the second wave “just like they did with the first one, thanks to awareness and cooperation.”

Lebanon is gradually easing restrictions that have been in place since mid-March, allowing restaurants to open at 30% capacity during the day and permitting other essential industries to go back to work.

“Despite the multiple disastrous scenarios about coronavirus at the beginning of the pandemic, there is much talk about the second wave and a grimmer scene,” Hasan tweeted.

Last week, the government came to terms on an economic rescue plan and signed off on a request for assistance from the IMF.

The government is seeking around $10 billion from the IMF and donor countries between now and 2024 to begin revamping an economy that is in freefall.

“I had a productive call with Lebanon’s Prime Minister Hassan Diab today to discuss the government’s recovery plan, which is an important step forward to address Lebanon’s economic challenges,” the IMF’s managing director Kristalina Georgieva tweeted.

Lebanon also hopes to unlock another $11 billion in loans and grants that the international community had pledged in 2018 at the CEDRE conference in Paris, the premier said.

The plan aims to reduce its ratio of debt to economic output below 100% from its current 178% and reform its ailing power sector. The plan, however, merely skims through the reforms of the state-owned electricity sector, which costs the state some 1.5 to 2 billion dollars annually.

“We agreed that our teams will soon start discussions on much needed reforms to restore sustainability and growth for the benefit of the Lebanese people,” Georgieva added.

Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, who had long rallied against the intervention of IMF while calling it “American imperialist tool”, seemingly welcomed the government’s plan during a televised address Friday.

“We are not against Lebanon requesting assistance from any side in the world,” Nasrallah said in a one-hour televised speech adding that what is not acceptable “is that we go hand over our necks to the International Monetary Fund or any other organization.”

The plan also seeks to overhaul Lebanon’s banking sector, which along with the central bank, has amassed losses of $69 billion according to the government. Experts, however, put the losses at $80 billion.

Banks will be asked to propose their own restructuring plans, with healthier banks being able to recapitalize themselves without bailing in large depositors.

 

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