Judge Aoun raids again, COVID-19 indicators improve, Hariri to meet Pope Francis: Everything you need to know to start your Thursday

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lorientlejour.com-Judge Ghada Aoun’s supporters work to break the lock on a gate leading to the Mecattaf Holding Group’s offices. (Credit: Marc Fayad)

Judge Ghada Aoun again raided the office of the money exchange group Mecattaf, a day after the Supreme Judicial Council asked her to abide by her dismissal from financial crime cases. Flanked by dozens of Free Patriotic Movement supporters, Aoun forcibly entered the company’s premises on Wednesday afternoon. She went on to spend hours inside the building while her supporters scuffled with security forces outside, before leaving late in the evening with files and computers. Aoun earlier in the day claimed she had not officially been notified of the Supreme Judicial Council’s decision regarding her dismissal. Yesterday’s raid was Aoun’s third of the office of Mecattaf Holding Group, a major foreign exchange business, since public prosecutor Ghassan Ouiedat last week dismissed her from a case investigating the company.

Compliance with caretaker Education Minister Tarek Majzoub’s order for some students to return to in-person classes was anemic. Students in the 12th grade, who are preparing to take their baccalaureate exam to graduate high school, were supposed to return to in-person classes yesterday, but Rodolphe Abboud, head of the private school teachers’ syndicate, told L’Orient Today that most schools had not complied with the order. Teachers have objected to a return to the classroom, saying in-person learning will remain unsafe until they all receive a COVID-19 vaccine. An Education Ministry source was unable to say what percentage of schools had returned to in-person teaching but acknowledged that most had not. LBCI reported that 80 percent of schools did not go back to classroom-based lessons but did not cite the source for this figure.

Coronavirus indicators are improving, according to Rafik Hariri University Hospital head Firass Abiad. In a series of tweets, Abiad said that the “daily number of new cases, test positivity rate, hospitalizations, and deaths” were showing improvement. However, he added that Health Ministry data were insufficient to explain the lower numbers. Abiad speculated that a combination of factors, including herd immunity, weather changes and the strict lockdown in January and February, may have led to the current decline in coronavirus cases. The number of new daily cases has not exceeded 3,000 in two weeks. Meanwhile, with 32 more COVID-19 related deaths recorded on Wednesday, the total death toll from the virus in Lebanon surpassed 7,000. There have now been a total of 7,027 deaths in the country due to COVID-19 complications.

Food prices nearly quadrupled in March 2021 compared to the same month last year, according to figures published Wednesday by the Central Administration of Statistics. The consumer price index, which measures inflation, was 158 percent higher in March 2021 than in March 2020, the government agency reported. The huge increase in prices is linked to the national currency’s record plummet against the dollar in mid-March, when it lost nearly 90 percent of its value, dropping as low as LL15,300 to the dollar. The parallel market exchange rate this month has so far hovered around LL12,000 to the dollar.

Saad Hariri is expected to meet with Pope Francis today, having departed on an official trip to the Vatican yesterday. The premier-designate is also set to meet with Italian officials while on the trip. Following a historic visit to Iraq in March, Pope Francis said that his next foreign visit will be to Lebanon, Sky News Arabia reported at the time. Hariri has of late made a spate of overseas trips — most recently journeying to Moscow — in a bid to rally international support as his government formation efforts remain deadlocked at home. Hariri was designated the task of leading Lebanon’s next cabinet six months ago today.

 

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