Beirut, Lebanon – Lebanon has asked all schools, universities and nurseries to close until March 8 as a precaution against the new coronavirus.
So far, the country has recorded seven cases of the virus that was first detected in China at the end of last year, while dozens have been tested and are waiting for results or have been negative.
Three of the patients, two Lebanese and an Iranian, had returned from Iran, the regional epicenter of the virus.
The fourth case, of Syrian nationality, is suspected of coming into contact with someone who visited Iran, the Lebanese Ministry of Health said on Saturday in a statement.
Three of the cases were in a stable condition, but an elderly patient suffered several diseases prior to his coronavirus infection and "his condition is unstable."
Later, on Saturday, the ministry said the number of cases had increased to seven, and that the three new patients had previously been in contact with infected people.
All patients are currently in quarantine at the Rafik Hariri University Hospital in the capital, Beirut.
Almost all educational institutions are expected to respect the request of the Minister of Education, Tarek Majzoub, on Friday night about the closure.
However, the prestigious American University of Beirut, which has about 10,000 students, announced that it would remain open, "based on consultations with several experts in the field of infectious diseases."
At least 2,900 people have died and more than 85,000 have been infected worldwide since the virus, which has a mortality rate of about 2 percent, was first detected in the central Chinese city of Wuhan in December. 2019. The overwhelming majority of infections have been reported in China, but now there are more daily cases outside the country, and Iran, Italy and South Korea are also experiencing severe outbreaks.
Lebanon ordered Thursday to stop the entry by land, sea and air of any person coming from China, South Korea, Iran and Italy, unless they are Lebanese citizens or foreigners residing in the country. The transport ministry said other countries could be added to the list and that the decision was temporary.
Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain have stopped all flights to and from Lebanon.
Local municipalities have also begun to take precautions.
The southern city of Mays al-Jabal ordered to close its weekly market on Wednesdays as a preventive measure, while the southern city of Hasbaya announced that it would no longer receive merchants from March 3 to 10.
Burj al-Barajneh, a large municipality in the southern suburbs of Beirut, announced the closure of a main Husseiniyeh or Shia congregation hall, until further notice as a precautionary measure about the virus.
& # 39; Limited capabilities & # 39;
The politician Assem Araji, head of the parliamentary health committee, told Al Jazeera that the authorities were doing everything possible to diagnose new cases at the entry points of the country, but had "limited capabilities."
"Our staff is highly trained, but we don't have much equipment and resources that other countries like South Korea have to fight this virus," he said.
According to Araji, Rafik Hariri University Hospital had only four certified quarantine rooms, and there were probably no more than 20 or 25 in the entire country.
Other hospitals in the small Mediterranean nation have not been designated to treat the disease, officially known as COVID-19. The World Health Organization (WHO) earlier this week told the local newspaper The Daily Star that Lebanon was not well equipped to deal with a major outbreak.
At the same time, the challenges of detecting the virus, a patient who tests negative at an early stage and can then test positive, complicate the situation, Araji said.
He also noted that some Lebanese merchants had initially started exporting gloves and medical masks from Lebanon to other nations for greater profits, which caused a shortage and an increase in prices. "This has stopped and we are slowly recovering more of these supplies," Araji said.
Araji urged the Lebanese not to gather in large groups, but in a country dominated by a four-month anti-system uprising, their pleas may fall on deaf ears.
Several hundred people protested on Saturday, wandering the streets of Beirut, while other demonstrations are planned over the next week.
Lebanon recorded its first case of coronavirus, a passenger returning from Iran, February 21.
Shortly thereafter, the Ministry of Health asked all the people who arrived in Lebanon from countries with a large number of cases of coronavirus that underwent quarantine for two weeks, the period of incubation of the virus.
On Friday, the Ministry of Health urged those who returned from countries that experienced a significant outbreak to remain in quarantine for two full weeks.
He said that no death had been recorded to date and said the country remained in the "containment stage,quot;.
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