https://mail.google.com-A Lebanese health worker prepares a shot of the Covid-19 AstraZeneca vaccine, which arrived on Monday. (Credit: Anwar Amro/AFP)
Parliament approved a $200 million payout to the floundering state utility Électricité du Liban on Monday to purchase fuel. Lebanon’s chronic electricity shortages have worsened in recent days, with state-provided electricity coming only a few hours a day in Beirut, and even less in other parts of the country. The $200 million will pay for fuel to supply the country’s power plants over about the next month and a half; however, it requires dipping into the central bank’s rapidly depleting foreign currency reserves. Separately, MPs approved the framework of a deal for Iraq to export fuel to Lebanon in exchange for medical services and equipment — something the Lebanese health system is unable to provide for its own people.
The legislature also passed a draft law aiming to recover funds and assets obtained through practices such as bribery and embezzlement. The law calls for the creation of a special committee to decide how to recover the ill-gotten gains as well as the establishment of a fund that would pay for social welfare initiatives, sustainable development programs and anti-corruption efforts. However, the law’s implementation remains an open question because it depends on the activation of the National Anti-Corruption Commission, the members of which have never been appointed by the government.
Residents countrywide should expect longer-than-usual electricity cuts after the Zahrani plant on the south Lebanon coast was rendered idle, having run out of fuel. Électricité du Liban said in a statement that a spot-purchased shipment of gas oil had not been unloaded after failing to meet testing standards. The plant normally supplies some 420 megawatts of electricity — which means that national output is set to drop by about 20 percent. Another major plant, in Deir Ammar, only has enough fuel to keep running for three or four more days, an EDL source told L’Orient Today.
Ships bound for Lebanon should expect further delays even after crews managed to dislodge the Ever Given. The massive container ship had been stuck in the Suez Canal, causing major backups in global shipping. Tripoli port director Ahmed Tamer told L’Orient Today that it will likely take three or four days for shipping traffic to get back to normal and that the held-up traffic includes at least one tanker coming from Kuwait carrying fuel for electricity.
Distribution of the AstraZeneca vaccine began on Monday, with people aged 55–65 eligible to get the shot. Lebanon received 33,600 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine last week through the global COVAX program for equitable vaccine distribution and is set to receive another 130,000 early next month. Also Monday, caretaker Education Minister Tarek Majzoub and caretaker Health Minister Hamad Hassan launched a campaign to immunize secondary education teachers with the AstraZeneca vaccine as a step toward reopening schools. The Pfizer vaccine continues to be distributed to those older than 65 and for those aged 55–65 who have pre-existing conditions. Meanwhile, distribution of the Russian-made Sputnik V vaccine on the private market has begun, with Middle East Airlines set to start administering the shots to its employees today.
Two of Parliament’s committees are scheduled to meet this morning to examine various measures. The Administration and Justice Committee will consider a proposal to abolish the legal statute of limitations on torture crimes, as well as measures related to prescription drugs, regulation of the nursing profession and amendments to the penalties for crimes against doctors. The National Economy, Trade, Industry and Planning Committee will discuss a draft law aimed at ending monopolies and a proposal for Lebanon to join the United Nations Convention on International Settlement Agreements Resulting from Mediation.