Why You Should Take Coronavirus in Lebanon Seriously

Reuters / Mohammad Azakir

Many people in Lebanon are irresponsibly downplaying the Coronavirus, or COVID-19 as it’s officially referred to. It’s not “just like any flu or virus” and the situation and circumstances in the country make coronavirus in Lebanon something to take seriously.

There’s also no need to panic but taking steps to prevent catching or spreading it individually as well as to contain the spread of it in the country is absolutely necessary.

At the time of writing this, there were 52 cases in a matter of a few weeks, 1 death, 1 recovery and 3 in a critical situation. You can find the live numbers on our dedicated coronavirus outbreak in Lebanon page.

The Virus Itself

First, coronavirus is not like the flu. A virus’ strength is not in how lethal it is but mostly in how quickly it can spread undetected. Coronavirus can go 14 days without being detected, with reports of it going as much as 24 days. Compare this to about 48 hours for the common flu. This means someone can have coronavirus and be going about their day-to-day lives spreading it at work, in class, in the club, at the movie theatre, in the gym etc and have no idea until symptoms start to show up a couple of weeks later. Whereby as soon as you have the flu, you take precautions (medicine, staying in bed to rest etc.) to get better and not spread it.

Second, this is a new virus. It’s only a few months old and we don’t have enough data on it. We don’t know all the symptoms or sub-symptoms. We don’t know if it can reemerge in someone (some reports of this happening already). We don’t have a vaccine for it and it could be around 6 months before we see one. We don’t know it’s true lethality rate. We don’t know if or how it will mutate to adapt to stronger immune systems.

Third, just because you’re statistically less likely to die from it, doesn’t mean you can spread it to someone who is vulnerable. Did you go to visit your grandma this weekend for lunch? Well, you put her safety at risk as her weaker immune system puts her lethality rate at around 20%.

Fourth, the current lethality rate has it at around 3.6% globally. Assume 2 million people catch it in Lebanon (the population of greater Beirut), that will result in 52,000 deaths. Not a joke anymore huh?

All that aside, the situation in Lebanon makes things, as usual, a lot worse.

Economic Crisis

Roughly 50% of our population is expected to fall under the poverty level over the next few months. This means around 2.25 million people will be eating less, consuming less healthy foods, exercising less, more stressed out, overworking, and undersleeping. This means people’s immune systems aren’t as strong as they usually are making them more at risk and vulnerable to coronavirus (COVID-19).

Lebanon is very dense

Lebanon is among the densest countries in the world. Around half of our 4.5 million population (excluding refugees – more on that later) live in the greater Beirut area. This makes the spreading of the virus much easier as more people are in closer proximity to each other. Lebanon ranks 8th densest country in the world (inclusive of refugees). It sits at 672 people/km2 (1740 p/m2). That’s more than South Korea (517), England (429), 3 times more than Switzerland (208), Italy (200) which currently has the biggest outbreak of coronavirus (COVID-19) outside of China (145), France (123), and so on.

Refugees

We’re currently hosting upwards of 2 million refugees in Lebanon; 1.2-1.3million Syrians, 600,000 Palestinians, and 100,000 Iraqis. Most of whom are living in terrible conditions. This makes them more vulnerable to coronavirus (COVID-19) and their living situation (even denser than the country average) will make the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19) much quicker within the refugee camps, and eventually outside, much quicker.

Culture of being physically close

Culturally, unlike in many Western countries like the U.S., Canada and in Europe, we’re very close. The way we interact, greet each other and so on is often in close proximity – even with strangers. While in Western countries, there’s often a “personal bubble” maintaining a certain distance between people. This increases the likelihood of spreading.

Big Families

We have, on average, bigger families in Lebanon compared to the West and East Asian countries. Most people getting infections are catching it from their spouse and family members. With more people in the household, this increases the spread of it.

Healthcare Infrastructure and Response

Lebanon’s healthcare system is already underfunded and lacking many supplies from the economic crisis. This makes our ability to respond to pandemics a lot harder. We barely even have a disease control agency. It’s manageable when there are a few dozen cases. But what’s going to happen when there are hundreds, thousands and tens of thousands of cases?

Lessons from the coronavirus outbreak in Italy

Italy locked down the Northern region which has 25% of their population. The next morning, Italians woke up to find out the entire country with a population of 60 million people is now on lockdown.

A girl living in Italy, which is currently entirely in lockdown, took to social media to tell people to stop downplaying it as they did. Because suddenly they woke up to find it spreading fast and the hospitals at full capacity unable to handle all the cases. And that’s Italy, can you imagine in Lebanon?

Dr. Daniele Macchini, an Italian physician, had their post published in a local newspaper after circulating on social media as he described the situation:

“Nurses with tears in their eyes because we can’t save everyone … Every ventilator becomes like gold.” He continues, “and there are no more surgeons, urologists, orthopedists; we are only doctors who suddenly become part of a single team to face this tsunami that has overwhelmed us.”

Three professors from the University of Milan sent a letter warning doctors in the rest of Europe to “get ready” as 10% of patients who test positive for coronavirus (COVID-19) end up needing intensive care.

Another Italian physician, Dr. Giacomo Grasselli, who’s coordinating the intensive care response in Milan, the largest city in the country’s hard-hit northern region, described the situation as “a bomb that explodes, and you’re simply overwhelmed by an incredible number of patients.” 

Lebanon’s Response

Lebanon’s aggressive response to close schools, universities, movie theaters, gyms, sports and scout activities and so on is a very good move. One of the first countries to respond on this level after China’s full lockdown and right before Italy’s partial lockdown of 25% of their population – and presently the entire country. Lebanon also went ahead and suspended flights to several countries including a few Arab countries and Italy. But for some reason, flights from Iran were only just stopped despite the first infection and most currently infected in Lebanon are linked to the flight that arrived from Iran.

Economy

Coronavirus, in just a matter of a few months, was able to affect the global economy which could take years to properly recover from. And it’s just getting started. With lockdowns and forced closures of businesses, people aren’t working and businesses aren’t making money. This means economies are slowing and becoming unproductive.

In Lebanon, with an economic crisis already at hand, this virus is the last thing we need. Although necessary, the forced closures of businesses in Lebanon will take a strong toll on the businesses that have been able to survive the economic crisis as hundreds were forced to close down.

In Germany, Chancellor Merkel estimated that coronavirus (COVID-19) will hit up to 70% of Germany. To cushion the blow on the economy, Germany will introduce a “comprehensive” aid package for the German economy, as explained on CNA. This includes compensation for workers forced to cut working hours as well as liquidity support for companies hit the hardest by the impact of the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.

In the U.S., President Trump is proposing measures to help control the economic fallout of the coronavirus (COVID-19). Among these proposal ideas, are payroll tax cuts, ensuring water supplies are maintained even if people can’t pay their bills, expanding unemployment insurance, medical leave and providing food for children who rely on school nutrition programs (in case schools are shut).

The961’s Response

Here at The961, we created a dedicated page to provide all information related to the outbreak of coronavirus in Lebanon. This includes extensive resource information guides on how to prevent it, symptoms, what to do if you think you may have it, myths, frequently asked questions alongside a live tracker of all the cases in Lebanon and the latest news and updates related to coronavirus in Lebanon. Check it out here.