August 27, 2020 at 2:34 PM EDT
Amid economic turmoil, Lebanon will loosen lockdown even as cases rise
BEIRUT — Lebanon will loosen its latest coronavirus lockdown, government officials announced Thursday, following an outcry from business owners who said the rules in place since Aug. 21 were untenable and exacerbating the country’s enormous economic suffering.
The move comes after some restaurants in Beirut opened in defiance of the earlier order, which banned in-house dining and only allowed for food delivery.
“Starting today, we will no longer close down,” Tony Ramy, president of the Syndicate of Owners of Restaurants, Night Clubs and Pastries, said in a statement Tuesday. “We will not pay a single penny unless there is a new state that knows how to invest our money.”
Already engulfed in an economic crisis, Lebanon was thrust into further chaos Aug. 4 when a warehouse containing 2,750 metric tons of ammonium nitrate exploded in the capital, killing nearly 200 people and displacing hundreds of thousands of others.
Lebanon’s government resigned a week later, leaving a caretaker government in charge of crises on multiple fronts.
Coronavirus cases have risen dramatically in the weeks since the blast, as the country’s already burdened health system also grapples with thousands of injuries from the explosion.
Since Aug. 18, the number of new daily cases has rarely dipped under 500, and Tuesday the country confirmed 12 deaths — its highest daily toll since the pandemic began. Positivity rates have also been high, with 10.4 percent of all tests conducted Aug. 22 coming back positive.
Under the new rules announced Thursday, most businesses — including malls, restaurants and cafes — can open from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. starting Friday. Restaurant seating will be limited to 50 percent capacity.
By Siobhán O’Grady and Nader Durgham