A Bundle Of English Reports, News and Editorials For March 28-29/2020 Addressing All That is happing In the Iranian Occupied & Oppressed Lebanon

35
A boys adjusts the protective mask of another in a street outside their homes in Gaza City on March 22, 2020. (Photo by MOHAMMED ABED / AFP)

A Bundle Of English Reports, News and Editorials For March 28-29/2020 Addressing All That is happing In the Iranian Occupied & Oppressed Lebanon
Compiled By: Elias Bejjani
March 29/2020

Titles For The Latest English LCCC Lebanese & Lebanese Related News & Editorials published on March 28-29/2020
Our Father, Almighty God Is Our Sole Refuge/Elias Bejjani/March 29/2020
Lebanese Health Ministry: 412 lab-confirmed Coronavirus cases in Lebanon
Coronavirus policy: Lebanon’s Berri threatens to suspend support
Army begins implementing curfew
Sayyed Nasrallah: Returning Lebanese Expatriates Stranded in Corona-hit Countries Must Start Immediately
Report: Banks ‘Still Pushing’ for Capital Control
Lebanon Begins Implementing Night Closure, Curfew
Fahmi: Next Phase Crucial to Fight Coronavirus
Moucharafieh meets Ohanian, Hassan, Bazzi
Hassan, Bou Saab inspect the Lebanese Canadian Hospital’s readiness to receive Corona patients
Bassil: No country can prevent the return of its citizens, government must establish a medical, social, and financial protocol to secure this return
Akkar Crisis Cell explores equipping government hospital in province, launches donations account
Police Dismantle Protest Tents in Beirut
UNHCR urges displaced Syrians to adhere to curfew
Nehme provides Health Minister with names of insurance companies and their coverage details
Lebanon to Form Debt Restructuring Plan by Year-End
With Virus, Cherished Lebanon Traditions Come to Abrupt Halt
Geagea: Government is required to take a quick decision to ensure the return of the Lebanese from abroad
Lebanon says to form debt restructuring plan by year-end
Lebanon’s Municipalities: First Defense Line in Times of Crisis
Lebanese Judicial Measures to Ease Pressure on Overcrowded Prisons
Berri Criticizes Government’s Conditions to Repatriate Stranded Lebanese Nationals
Industry raw materials are available until now,’ reassures Huballah
Lebanon reads its way through quarantine/Salma Yassine/Annahar/March 29/2020

The Latest English LCCC Lebanese & Lebanese Related News & Editorials published on March 28-29/2020
Our Father, Almighty God Is Our Sole Refuge
Elias Bejjani/March 29/2020
أبانا السماوي هو ملجأنا الوحيد
In the midst of the Corona Virus spread and hazards we are ought to pray and pray for the recovery of all those who are sick and specially for the ones who are either unable to take care of themselves, or living in countries where the health services are not good or unqualified to deal with the corona spread.
Currently, in the face of the Corona Virus attack the whole world is in state on fear and confusion.
Yes it is very true and extremely wise to resort to science and scientists hoping for a curing drug or a preventative vaccine, but at the same we have to hold on to Jesus Christ and pray and pray that our Father, Almighty God Who definitely shall come rescue us at the right tome, we His children.
It remains that faith is a very powerful means for hope when it is genuine and solid.
John 09:39: “I came into this world for judgment, that those who don’t see may see; and that those who see may become blind.”
The faithful all over the world strongly believe that Jesus is the holy and blessed light through which believers can see God’s paths of righteousness.
There is no doubt that without Jesus’ light, evil darkness will prevail in peoples’ hearts, souls and minds.
Without Jesus’ presence in our lives we definitely will become preys to all kinds of evil temptations.
John 09:5: “While I am in the world, I am the light of the world”.
In every community, there are individuals from all walks of life who are spiritually blind, lacking faith, have no hope, and live in dim darkness because they have distanced themselves from Almighty God and from His Gospel, although their eyes are physically perfectly functional and healthy.
Meanwhile the actual blindness is not in the eyes that can not see because of physical ailments, but in the hearts that are hardened, in the consciences that are numbed and in the spirits that are defiled with sin.
Romans 8:26: “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans”
Sadly our contemporary world hails atheism, brags about secularism and persecutes those who have faith in God and believe in Him and belief strongly that He is our only sanctuary and refuge in face of all kinds of evil temptations.
Where ever we live, there are opportunists and hypocrites who advocate for the denial of faith and all that is love, forgiveness, humbleness, sharing and peace.
Meanwhile, Christian believers do suffer dire persecution in many countries on the hands of ruthless oppressors, Jihadists and rulers who refuse to witness for the truth.
But despite of all the dim spiritual darkness, thanks God, there are still too many meek believers who hold strong to their faith no matters what the obstacles or hurdles are.
In the midst of the Corona Virus plague we call on the loving and merciful Lord to enlighten our minds and hearts with His light and open our eyes to realize that He is our only refuge.
Lord Help us to solidify and strengthen our faith.
Lord help us to defeat all kinds of sin that might take us away from Your light, and deliver us all from all evil temptations.

Lebanese Health Ministry: 412 lab-confirmed Coronavirus cases in Lebanon
NNA /March 28/2020
The Ministry of Public Health announced, in a statement on Saturday, that “twenty-one new laboratory-confirmed cases infected with the novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) have been registered, including the cases diagnosed at the Rafic Hariri Governmental Hospital, and those reported from other university hospitals accredited by the Ministry.””The total number of confirmed Corona patients until today, March 28, has reached 412 cases,” the Ministry’s statement added. The Ministry emphasized, once again, the crucial need to implement of all preventive measures, thus reminding all citizens to strictly remain at home.

Lebanon Confirms 24 News Coronavirus Cases, 1 New Death
Naharnet/March 28/2020
The Health Ministry said on Saturday that one more death and 21 new cases of coronavirus have been detected on Saturday. The Ministry said an elderly in his 80s has died as the result of the virus and that he already had other chronic diseases. His death raises the number of victims to eight. The new coronavirus cases have raised the number of people infected to 412. The Ministry’s report comes as Lebanon observes a curfew monitored by the Army and security forces to contain the spread of the virus.

Coronavirus policy: Lebanon’s Berri threatens to suspend support
Reuters, Beirut/Saturday 28 March 2020
Lebanese Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri threatened on Saturday to suspend his support for Prime Minister Hassan Diab’s government if it did not act to bring home expatriates stranded abroad during the coronavirus pandemic. Foreign Minister Nassif Hitti said on Thursday that Lebanese citizens abroad must undergo a test to make sure they are not carrying coronavirus before boarding a flight home. “If the government keeps its position on the issue of the expatriates beyond this coming Tuesday we will suspend our representation in the government,” Berri, head of the Shiite Amal Movement, said in a statement from his office. Berri is one of Lebanon’s most powerful figures and named the finance minister and others in the government which is grappling with a financial crisis and would be paralyzed were he to withdraw his backing. Like all of Lebanon’s main politicians, Berri has a significant support base in the country’s large diaspora. Leading Christian politician Samir Geagea also attacked the government on the issue on Saturday, expressing concern that countries struggling to cope with outbreaks would prioritize the treatment of their own nationals over expatriates. Some Lebanese stuck abroad are struggling to get by, their situation complicated by tight restrictions imposed by Lebanese banks on transfers abroad and cash withdrawals from ATMs overseas. Lebanon has been struggling with a crippling financial crisis since October.Hitti said this week the ceilings for bank transfers to students stuck abroad would be increased. “We hope to bring home Lebanese today, before tomorrow, and understand the feelings of families and their children but the PCR tests must be secured because there is great danger in a person infected with corona boarding a plane with those who are not infected,” he wrote on Twitter.
The government would arrange flights to bring home those stuck abroad, he said, urging Lebanese abroad to register with embassies to provide them with help.

Army begins implementing curfew
NNA/March 28/2020
The Lebanese army said in a statement on Saturday that its forces had deployed throughout the Lebanese regions to ensure that the curfew was respected, in order to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus. “The army units deployed in all Lebanese regions have implemented extraordinary measures to implement the curfew decision from 7:00 pm until 5:00 am,” the statement said.It also stressed the need to adhere to “general mobilization” measures and urged all citizens to stay in their homes and refrain from going out for unnecessary reasons and from gatherings.

Sayyed Nasrallah: Returning Lebanese Expatriates Stranded in Corona-hit Countries Must Start Immediately
Al-Manar English Website/Mohammad Salami/March 29, 2020
Hezbollah Secretary General Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah highlighted Saturday that the process of returning the Lebanese expatriates, who are stranded in corona-hit countries and interested in going back to their country, must start immediately.In a televised speech via Al-Manar TV Channel, Sayyed Nasrallah explained that any procrastination in this file will expose the expatriates to health dangers in the countries which will witness a large-scale outbreak of the coronavirus during the coming days.
Sayyed Nasrallah added that the coronavirus outbreak might lead to a social and security collapse in certain countries, which will endanger the Lebanese expatriates as they may be killed there.
“Even in the United Sates, the rate of arms purchase has sharply increased because of the fear of the security collapse.”
Sayyed Nasrallah maintained that all the Lebanese locked in corona-hit countries have the right to return to their country, adding that the Lebanese authorities’ duty to return them must be also indisputable.
“Whatever the threats are, the Lebanese authorities must respond to the pleas of the expatriates,” Hezbollah leader said, “Preventive measures can be taken to guarantee a safe return to the expatriates.”
Sayyed Nasrallah further stressed that the returning expatriates have houses in Lebanon and have vowed to financially contribute to the process aimed at bringing them back to their country.
Sayyed Nasrallah further called on all the Lebanese, including the wealthy people, to help the government carry out this mission which would be a source of pride for the cabinet, when done.
“Medical capabilities, closed hotels, and funds must be consecrated by all the parties for this mission.”
Sayyed Nasrallah also urged all the Lebanese political parties to avoid the mutual provocations and cooperate in order to help the government in face of the Coronavirus challenge.
In this context, Sayyed Nasrallah called on the bank owners to ease the transactions from the Lebanese families to their children studying abroad, stressing that it is a simple mission in case a serious decision is taken.
Coronavirus Challenge
Hezbollah Secretary General stressed that all the Lebanese must recognize the fact that the confrontation with the coronavirus is a world war as all countries are preoccupied with this challenge, citing the failure of many world governments to address this threat in their countries
“In comparison with the confusion storming the world countries, including the major powers, the confrontation with the coronavirus in Lebanon is acceptable and promising.”
Sayyed Nasrallah pointed out that the government is taking good measures in this regard, adding that Hezbollah does not oppose any of them and explaining some people propose declaring the state of emergency without knowing what it means.
In this regard, Sayyed Nasrallah hailed the efforts exerted by President Michel Aoun, House Speaker Nabih Berri, PM Hassan Diab and all the ministers to confront the coronavirus.
Sayyed Nasrallah highlighting the importance of mitigating the political rifts in the country in order to concentrate all the efforts on facing this pandemic, citing the eminent threat posed by the virus whose nature and essence have not been discovered by the scientists yet.
Thus, the plan to face the coronavirus depends mainly on imposing home quarantine and social distancing in order to siege the threat, according to Sayyed Nasrallah who added that this is adopted by all the world countries, including China.
Sayyed Nasrallah called on the Lebanese to keep committed to the state general mobilization, adding that violations will waste all the previously exerted efforts. Sayyed Nasrallah hailed all the initiatives of the political and social organizations to help the needy people during this crisis, highlighting the veracity of competition in this field.
Hezbollah Chief suggested coordinating the efforts among all the parties and organizations, shedding light on helping the families which reject to apply for aids due to moral concerns.
Sayyed Nasrallah called the judiciary to try all the merchants who are raising prices and monopolizing during the crisis, urging the honorable tradesmen to break monopoly and lower prices by dumping the market with their commodities.
Sayyed Nasrallah further highlighted the importance of ending the crisis of the small depositors, stressing that the human and moral responsibility imposes on the banks to solve this problem by returning the funds.
Hezbollah leader addressed the bank owners, “What is the suitable rhetoric that we should use in order to stir your humaneness?”
“You have earned billions of dollars from the Lebanese deposits since 1992, benefiting from certain governmental policies. Now you have to help your nation during this calamity.”
“You donated $6 million dollars to the Lebanese government, while your children’s weddings used to cost millions of dollars.”Sayyed Nasrallah considered that the Banking Association grant to the government was shameful, highlighting the ceremony held at the Grand Serail for this purpose.

Report: Banks ‘Still Pushing’ for Capital Control
Naharnet/March 28/2020
Despite the opposition it faces by various political parties, a group of bankers are reportedly trying to again push a capital control bill, that organizes the relation between banks and depositors, to the Cabinet table for approval amid a financial crisis and shortage in dollars, al-Joumhouria daily reported on Saturday. The daily said it learned that banking authorities have “raised the issue with some of the ministers.”In this context, Speaker Nabih Berri, a staunch adversary of said law was quoted as telling his visitors that he will never approve it. “The capital control law does not exist anymore, securing a legislation during my days to touch the funds of depositors is out of the question, nor would I allow anyone to underrate the Constitution,” stressed Berri. The Speaker said that banks should better turn to Article 174 of the Cash and Credit Law, to organize relations with their customers.

Lebanon Begins Implementing Night Closure, Curfew
Naharnet/March 28/2020
Lebanon on Friday started implementing beefed up “general mobilization” measures with the closure of all shops including supermarkets at 5:00 pm and a curfew that starts at 7:00 pm and ends at 5:00 am. Only pharmacies, bakeries, mills, medical and hygiene product factories, gas stations, media outlets, hotels, private security firms and crews related to sanitation, neighborhood generator providers and the electricity and internet sectors will be allowed to operate uninterrupted, the Internal Security Forces said. “It is true that the economic situation is difficult and the assets are tight, but we are in a war with an invisible enemy and the coming days are crucial,” Interior Minister Mohammed Fahmi tweeted as the stricter measures got underway. “The goal is not to write the biggest number of fines; the goal is having zero fines,” he added. “Out of keenness on you and your families, stay home,” Fahmi urged. The army for its part issued a statement saying it would begin taking measures to “prevent movement on the streets between 7:00 pm and 5:00 am, in addition to monitoring the closure of institutions included in the closure order.” “The Army Command calls on citizens to cooperate with the taken measures,” the military added. The government had on Thursday extended the so-called state of general mobilization until April 12. The government had first declared the state of general mobilization on March 15, asking citizens to stay home unless it is necessary, shuttering non-essential public and private institutions and closing the air, land and sea ports of entry. Lebanon has so far confirmed 391 coronavirus cases among them seven deaths and 27 recoveries.

Fahmi: Next Phase Crucial to Fight Coronavirus

Naharnet/March 28/2020
Interior Minister Mohammed Fahmi said the measures will be tightened to ensure that the state of “general mobilization” declared by the government meets the desired goal in controlling the spread of the novel coronavirus, al-Joumhouria daily reported on Friday. “Implementation of the new general mobilization state will be tightened. The next phase which extends until April 12 is crucial and we must all work together to make it successful,” said Fahmi. On Thursday the government extended the so-called state of general mobilization until April 12 and ordered a general closure from 7pm until 5am with some exceptions, in an amplification of the anti-coronavirus measures. The Premiership later said in a statement that only mills, bakeries, pharmacies and medical factories will be exempt from the 7pm-5am closure order, adding that citizens and residents will be barred from being on the streets. The extension of general mobilization followed a recommendation from the Higher Defense Council which convened earlier in the day.

Moucharafieh meets Ohanian, Hassan, Bazzi
NNA/March 28/2020
Minister of Social Affairs and Tourism, Ramzi Moucharafieh, recieved in his office at the Ministry this morning Youth and Sports Minister Vartine Ohanian, with whom he tackled the latest developments and the repercussions of the health crisis we are experiencing at the level of tourism and sports in Lebanon. The Minister also met with Public Health Minister Hamad Hassan, with whom he discussed the latest health developments resulting from the Corona epidemic, and its social and economic impact on citizens, in addition to the social emergency plan that the Ministry of Social Affairs is working on in cooperation with some ministries and bodies. Moucharafieh later met with MP Ali Bazzi.

Hassan, Bou Saab inspect the Lebanese Canadian Hospital’s readiness to receive Corona patients
NNA/March 28/2020
Public Health Minister, Hamad Hassan, toured Saturday the Lebanese Canadian Hospital in Sin El Fil, accompanied by former Defense Minister, MP Elias Bou Saab, and the Hospital Director, Dr. Joe Toutikian, whereby they inspected its various sections and its readiness to receive “Corona” patients soon.
Bou Saab thanked the Minister of Health and the Ministry staff for their undertaken efforts during these exceptional circumstances, as well as the staff of Rafic Hariri Governmental Hospital and all other hospitals, “because they are most vulnerable to corona infection and are putting their lives at risk in order to help others.”Bou Saab urged all those who are capable of extending a helping hand in every region not to spare any effort to do so, noting that “the responsibility does not stop at certain borders, because the whole world is suffering, and all of Lebanon is enduring this crisis.”
The MP disclosed that the Metn region has recorded the highest number of infected patients, which has reached 70, adding that “this province is overpopulated and there is no hospital equipped for emergency Corona cases, as there is only one government hospital that is not equipped at the moment, namely the Dahr Al-Bashiq Hospital, which is to be included in the second phase of the Health Ministry’s plan.”In this connection, Bou Saab announced his initiative to rent the Lebanese Canadian Hospital building in Sin El Fil for a year and allocate it to receive Corona patients, since it has been closed for about 7 months and can rapidly be placed at the patients’ disposal. Minister Hassan, in turn, considered that these initiatives from all volunteers and all groups provide a true model on how to approach the situation at hand, stressing on the importance of making sure that what is being provided reaches the people in need of health and social care and assistance. Hassan disclosed that the Lebanese Canadian Hospital will be equipped soon, with the joint cooperation between the civil society and the Health Ministry, to receive and care for coronavirus infected cases.
“The hospital can be ready within a week or 10 days for hotel services and illness cases within two weeks,” the Health Minister stated, adding that “in the event of an epidemic outbreak and declaring a state of emergency, the hospital can be equipped within 4 weeks so that it will have a large capacity for absorbing patients.”

Bassil: No country can prevent the return of its citizens, government must establish a medical, social, and financial protocol to secure this return
NNA/March 28/2020
Head of the “Strong Lebanon” Parliamentary Bloc, MP Gebran Bassil, stressed Saturday that “a country cannot, in principle, prevent the return of its citizens to it, just as it cannot ignore its expatriates and turn to its residents only, but must maintain equality between the two.”
“The government must develop a medical, social and financial protocol to secure the return of the Lebanese from abroad,” he said, expressing “willingness to help with many aspects.” Bassil also demanded that Syria removes any measure preventing the return of its nationals residing in Lebanon, calling for official contact between Lebanon and Syria to secure this return. Bassil’s words came in an address he delivered this evening, which tackled the issue of Lebanese citizens who wish to return to Lebanon due to the Corona epidemic outbreak in their countries of residence abroad.
“A Lebanese emigrant, possessing the Lebanese citizenship, has the same rights as a Lebanese resident…The right of the Lebanese abroad to return to Lebanon is undisputed, and it is guaranteed by the Constitution,” Bassil underscored. “We are all confident that the government, just as it carries out its duties towards residents, is beginning to perform its duties towards the Lebanese Diaspora,” he said, calling for according the cabinet ample time and necessary support to meet its obligations towards all its citizens, away from any political outbidding. “The government must be given an adequate but limited time limit, and the time required to set the return program and its mechanism among these criteria,” Bassil maintained. “The issue requires combined responsibility and patriotism, on one hand, and respect for science and medicine on the other hand, so that Lebanon would overcome, God willingly, with its residents and emigrants, this ordeal,” Bassil concluded.

Akkar Crisis Cell explores equipping government hospital in province, launches donations account
NNA/March 28/2020
The Akkar Crisis Cell began Saturday its first meeting at the Issam Fares Hall in the Halba Municipal Building, comprised of Akkar’s seven deputies, Head of the Syndicate of Attorneys in Tripoli Mohamed Mourad, clerics representing Akkar’s five sects, heads of municipal unions, and representatives of the Civil Defense, Caritas, Zakat Fund , Red Cross and Dr. Abdullah Al-Rassi Governmental Hospital. Talks during the meeting centered on the efforts and endeavors made to equip the only governmental hospital available in the Province of Akkar, and the necessary requirements for receiving Coronavirus infected cases, in addition to opening the door for donations to support the provision of this hospital and possible difficult social cases in the region. Accordingly, a donations account was launched during the meeting, whereby participants and citizens of Akkar, both residents and expatriates, began donating to support their region during these challenging circumstances. The Crisis Cell called on all those who wish to donate to contact the following phone numbers: 76/546420 and 71/873999.

Police Dismantle Protest Tents in Beirut
Naharnet/March 28/2020
Security forces on Saturday removed all the tents that protesters erected in Beirut’s Martyr Square and Riad al-Solh since Lebanon’s uprising on October 17. The police first asked the protesters to evacuate the tents on Friday evening, but some activists said they will do that Saturday morning referring to a curfew already in place in the country over the novel coronavirus, according to LBCI TV station. However, one of the activists reportedly threatened to immolate himself. A brawl erupted between security forces and the protesters, added LBCI. Attorney Ali Abbas, one of the activists who joined the anti-government protests since day one told the TV reporter: “There is an intention for power abuse and also an intention to take advantage of the current situation,” he said, referring to the coronavirus pandemic, The media office of Interior Minister Mohammed Fahmi said in a statement that orders were given to dismantle the tents when the “protesters encroached on public and private property, and triggered a dispute with one of the ambassadors,” who was not named. “It has not been brought to our knowledge anything about a dispute,” Abbas said, “the Minister has vowed a week ago to preserve the uprising and to do his best to protect the protesters. We don’t know what changed today,” he added. “We were surprised to see what is happening today. There is an intention for power abuse and also an intention to take advantage of the current situation,” he added. On the precautionary measures taken inside the tents to prevent the spread of the virus, Abbas emphasized: “Tents were all sanitized and the general safety standards were observed.”

UNHCR urges displaced Syrians to adhere to curfew

NNA/March 28/2020
Displaced Syrians recieved text messages from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, asking them to stay in their homes to limit the spread of the Coronavirus, in accordance with the decision imposed by the Lebanese authorities from 27 March, and the curfew put into effect from 7 pm to 5 am. The UNHCR also indicated in its text messages that Syrian refugees would be provided with treatment at its expense in case of infection. In this connection, it is to note that the displaced have expressed their dismay for not receiving any food or assistance in kind from the Refugee Agency.

Nehme provides Health Minister with names of insurance companies and their coverage details
NNA/March 28/2020
Minister of Trade and Economy, Raoul Nehme, submitted a letter to the Minister of Health, Hamad Hassan, enclosing a table showing the names of insurance companies and the details of the coverage they provide to their insured clients.
Nehme asked Hassan to circulate the decision to all hospitals, and to commit them to the following: “Provide insured patients with COVID-19 coverage without delay in the interest of their rights and public safety, refer the files of those infected with COVID-19 whose insurance companies refuse to cover to the Supervisory Bodies .Control Committee for follow-up, via contact number: 01999069, WhatsApp 81999069, or email: icc-care@insurancecommission.gov.lb”He also pointed out that the insurance contracts for all foreign workers include COVID-19 coverage upto a ceiling of thirty-five million Lebanese pounds.

Lebanon to Form Debt Restructuring Plan by Year-End
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/March 28/2020
Lebanon Friday pledged to finalise a plan to restructure the country’s massive debt by the end of 2020, just weeks after its first default in history. Finance Minister Ghazi Wazni promised “a full restructuring of the government debt –- both Lebanese pound and dollar denominated debt” as part of a wider economic recovery plan. “Our aim is to finalise this ambitious turnaround agenda before year-end 2020,” he said during a presentation to investors by webcast. Describing the Lebanese economic model as “broken”, he also pledged banking sector and fiscal reforms. One of the most indebted countries in the world, Lebanon is burdened by a public debt equivalent to more than 170 percent of GDP. On Monday, the finance ministry said it would discontinue payments on all of its outstanding dollar-denominated Eurobonds. This came after its first default in history on a $1.2 billion Eurobond originally due on March 9. The country is embroiled in one of its worst economic crises since the 1975-1990 civil war, now compounded by an outbreak of the novel coronavirus. In a bid to halt the spread of the illness, the government has ordered a lockdown until April 12 and ordered all non-essential businesses to close. The finance ministry’s director-general Alain Bifani warned that the pandemic would only “exacerbate the deterioration of social conditions”. He said 45 percent of Lebanese already lived in poverty, and 22 percent in extreme poverty. He predicted the economy would further contract by around 12 percent this year, and inflation would reach up to 25 percent. Even before the coronavirus, prices had soared and many businesses had been forced to slash salaries, fire staff or close. The pandemic is just the latest crisis to hit Lebanon, already reeling from months of unprecedented anti-government protests that sought to dislodge a ruling elite seen as incompetent and corrupt.

With Virus, Cherished Lebanon Traditions Come to Abrupt Halt

Associated Press/Naharnet/March 28/2020
As the pandemic continues to spread, governments across the Middle East are clamping down on the region’s cherished traditions: No more massive weddings and celebrations. No more evenings spent mostly by men in traditional coffee shops across the region. And most importantly, no more smoking of the beloved shisha, or water pipe, in public places. The Lebanese port city of Sidon, south of the capital Beirut, is mostly deserted. It once bustled with people flocking to its traditional coffee shops where elderly men gathered to smoke cigarettes and play cards and backgammon. Those closed after the Lebanese government ordered a lockdown last week. Qassem Bdeir, a fisherman, sat with a group of friends near a hidden segment of the port, discussing the situation, each seated a meter away from the other. “We used to meet at the coffee shop after a day’s work to talk and play cards. Now there’s no work, and we steal these few moments to talk and commiserate sitting away from each other before we go home to lock ourselves up,” he said. The virus has also upended plans for weddings — often extravagant affairs in the region, with hundreds of invitees. In Beirut, Bassam Makki, the 42-year-old owner of a jewelry shop had been in the final stages of planning his wedding when the pandemic started. He and his fiance took out a loan and planned a celebration for 130 people at a four-star hotel in Beirut. The party, which had been scheduled for April 10, has been canceled. “I guess it wasn’t meant to be,” he said, trying to offer a smile.

Geagea: Government is required to take a quick decision to ensure the return of the Lebanese from abroad
NNA/March 29/2020
“The government is required to take a very quick decision to organize flights for Lebanese emigrants who wish to return to their homes in these exceptional circumstances,” underlined Lebanese Forces Party Chief, Samir Geagea, on Saturday. “The position of the Lebanese government until this hour regarding the Lebanese expatriates scattered across the four corners of the world, who wish to return urgently to their motherland in this difficult circumstance, is very shameful,” Geagea said in a statement. He wondered how a government, having the minimum sense of responsibility towards its people, can refuse the request of its citizens to return from abroad under the pressure of the Corona epidemic outbreak, and the lack of necessary infrastructure in many countries of the Diaspora presence to limit the spread of this epidemic or to treat patients? Geagea criticized the government’s reluctance in this regards, especially since Lebanese expatriates have expressed on more than one occasion their willingness to bear the costs of their transfer and compulsory quarantine upon their arrival in Lebanon.

Lebanon says to form debt restructuring plan by year-end
The New Arab & agencies/March 28, 2020
Lebanon on Friday pledged to finalise a plan to restructure the country’s massive debt by the end of 2020, just weeks after its first default in history. Finance Minister Ghazi Wazni promised “a full restructuring of the government debt – both Lebanese pound and dollar denominated debt” as part of a wider economic recovery plan. “Our aim is to finalise this ambitious turnaround agenda before year-end 2020,” he said during a presentation to investors by webcast. Describing the Lebanese economic model as “broken”, he also pledged banking sector and fiscal reforms. One of the most indebted countries in the world, Lebanon is burdened by a public debt equivalent to more than 170 percent of GDP. On Monday, the finance ministry said it would discontinue payments on all of its outstanding dollar-denominated Eurobonds. This came after its first default in history on a $1.2 billion Eurobond originally due on March 9. The country is embroiled in one of its worst economic crises since the 1975-1990 civil war, now compounded by an outbreak of the novel coronavirus. In a bid to halt the spread of the illness, the government has ordered a lockdown until April 12 and ordered all non-essential businesses to close.
The finance ministry’s director-general Alain Bifani warned that the pandemic would only “exacerbate the deterioration of social conditions”. He said 45 percent of Lebanese already lived in poverty, and 22 percent in extreme poverty. He predicted the economy would further contract by around 12 percent this year, and inflation would reach up to 25 percent. Even before the coronavirus, prices had soared and many businesses had been forced to slash salaries, fire staff or close. The pandemic is just the latest crisis to hit Lebanon, already reeling from months of unprecedented anti-government protests that sought to dislodge a ruling elite seen as incompetent and corrupt.

Lebanon’s Municipalities: First Defense Line in Times of Crisis
Beirut – Caroline Akoum/Asharq Al-Awsat/Saturday, 28 March, 2020
Lebanon’s municipalities are striving to be the defense line in the face of the coronavirus epidemic despite their limited capabilities and budgets. They are also making remarkable efforts that go beyond implementing the government’s decisions, through special voluntary initiatives.
The government entrusted the municipal councils with several tasks, including monitoring residents’ commitment to social distancing, preventing gatherings and regulating the work of institutions that are exempted from shutting down, in addition to distributing aid to underprivileged families.
“Municipalities are the only form of administrative decentralization in Lebanon, and they enjoy financial and administrative independence… but the problem lies in their limited financial capabilities, with the exception of some cities such as Beirut,” former Interior Minister Ziad Baroud told Asharq Al-Awsat. “Based on the recent state of emergency declared by the government, the municipalities have a role to play because they are in contact with the people… There is no doubt that the effectiveness of their work lies on their capabilities and the number of staff,” he continued.
While stressing the need to support the municipalities and raise their budgets, Baroud noted that Lebanon allocates between 5 and 7 percent of the total domestic spending to municipalities, while in other countries the budget reaches 27 percent.
Tripoli, where a large number of stores did not adhere to the government’s “general mobilization” decision to fight the COVID-19 disease, is an example of the difficult task assumed by the municipalities.
Riad Yamak, the head of Tripoli’s municipality, told Asharq Al-Awsat: “We have a great responsibility and our capabilities are limited, especially in light of the widespread poverty in the city, as more than 40 percent of its residents are below the poverty line.
“This has put pressure on our task to close the shops and markets, which led to the intervention of the army,” he explained.
“A city lockdown and preparing for the next stage in the event of an outbreak of the virus needs great financial capabilities,” Yamak stressed.
Despite all, some municipalities have launched special and distinctive initiatives that are not limited to financial, social and health support but go as far as providing entertainment activities to urge families to stay home.
Some municipalities anticipated the government’s plans by helping poor families through special initiatives, while others chose to resort to different methods to motivate people to stay home. The municipality of Aley, for example, circulated vehicles broadcasting music and recruited volunteer musicians, who toured the neighborhoods, raising cheers from people standing on their balconies.

Lebanese Judicial Measures to Ease Pressure on Overcrowded Prisons
Beirut – Youssef Diab/Asharq Al-Awsat/Saturday, 28 March, 2020
The Lebanese judiciary has taken decisions to ease pressure on the country’s overcrowded prisons and put in place mechanisms to deter the spread of the coronavirus.
With the difficulty of transferring detainees from prisons to the relevant courts for questioning, the judiciary, in cooperation with the Bar Associations in Beirut and North Lebanon, speeded up the pace of investigations, by interrogating the detainees through virtual platforms.
Well-informed sources told Asharq Al-Awsat that the judiciary wanted to achieve justice and law enforcement, and reduce the risk of the spread of the coronavirus in the overcrowded prisons. Asked whether this measure would compensate for the general amnesty demanded by the prisoners, the judicial sources said: “The general amnesty requires a political decision by the government and parliament.” “The judiciary, which is aware of the seriousness of the situation, cannot stand idle while awaiting such a decision; rather, its duty is to balance between achieving justice and reducing the risk of contamination,” they added. The head of the Bar Association in the North, Mohammad Mrad, explained that the new mechanisms, implemented by the Beirut and the North Bar Associations, would protect the detainees, the security forces, and the administrative team inside prisons.
“The Prison Committee of the Bar Association in Tripoli turned into an emergency cell, and began receiving dozens of requests for the release of detainees, whether by fax or by sending lawyers to prisons, and transferring those requests to the appropriate judicial authorities,” he said.
“We see positive cooperation in this regard,” he added, noting that 25 detainees were released on Friday and that mechanisms were put in place to receive similar requests via a call center. He added that these measures could lead to the release of about 200 detainees from Tripoli Prison, meaning 15-20 percent of its inmates. Those procedures, however, do not satisfy those accused of major crimes. Lawyer Mohamed Sablouh, the defense attorney for most Islamic detainees, considered that the recent decisions were limited to those convicted of minor crimes. “The release of detainees does not include those held on trial by the military court, who constitute the most oppressed category among the prisoners,” he underlined, adding: “These measures are good and may temporarily reduce overcrowding in prisons; but they cannot replace a comprehensive and fair general amnesty.”

Berri Criticizes Government’s Conditions to Repatriate Stranded Lebanese Nationals
Beirut – Asharq Al-Awsat/Saturday, 28 March, 2020
Speaker Nabih Berri lashed out at the Foreign Ministry for delaying the repatriation of Lebanese nationals stranded in coronavirus-infected countries.“They are facing the threat of the pandemic across the globe and some places lack hospitals and the minimum basics of health care,” Berri said.
The issue of Lebanese locked in coronavirus-endemic countries in Europe and Africa has raised a lot of controversy. While many political parties have called for their return to Lebanon, the government insisted they could not be repatriated before April 12, at the end of the extended lockdown period. In a television interview on Thursday, Foreign Minister Nassif Hitti said nationals would not be allowed to return to Lebanon unless they test negative for the virus. “We will allocate aircraft to return them to their homeland after securing a PCR examination, and subjecting them to it,” he stated.
Prime Minister Hassan Diab explained the government’s position, saying: “Nobody can be excluded before the end of the specified public mobilization for two reasons: First, protecting people who wish to return from the possibility of being infected on the plane and transmitting the infection to a large number of people; second, preventing the spread of the virus in the country, because a large part of our infections were transmitted by inbound travelers.”“In all cases, we are studying the means to bring them back home, and we will work to develop a clear vision before April 12,” he added. Berri called on the government to hold an urgent meeting to review the issue. “Isn’t the attempt to steal their deposits via capital control enough? You are asking them to submit requests to embassies, but they are not seeking citizenship. They are Lebanese or rather the Lebanese,” Berri affirmed. He also noted that the expats are “willing to bear all the financial and medical burdens of their return.”

Industry raw materials are available until now,’ reassures Huballah
NNA/March 29/2020
Minister of Industry, Imad Huballah, indicated Saturday that the necessary raw materials for the industry are secure until the present moment, adding that industrialists were asked to provide the government with a list of their needs in this regard, in order to secure the needed liquidity from the Central Bank so they can purchase them. Huballah continued to state that “the factories that produce medicines, food and basic materials will open in full capacity as of next Monday, following the permission given to other industries to operate in the coming period, with emphasis on the obligation to adhere to the announced preventive and protective measures.”“In these circumstances, we will need additional quantities of the necessary livelihood consumables that the factories will provide, and the government supports the industrial sector to continue production,” the Minister assured.
He disclosed herein that “a scientific committee will be formed next week to supervise initiatives related to the manufacture of artificial respiratory devices, in cooperation with the Premiership, the Ministry of Health and Universities.” Referring to the issue of the Lebanese stranded abroad, Huballah said: “The decision in the government is taken to ensure their return, with the cabinet taking into account that their return requires more precautions, and this is what we are doing, with the assurance that said return will be as soon as possible.” He reiterated the government’s conviction that it is its duty to preserve its citizens, take care of them and ensure their safe return, while protecting the passengers on board the returning aircrafts. Touching on the “Capital Control” issue, Huballah explained that “the project is not a priority if its goal is not to improve the position of depositors, but to improve the position of banks at the expense of depositors,” highlighting herein the need for “controlling what is going on in banks and protecting depositors.”

Lebanon reads its way through quarantine

Salma Yassine/Annahar/March 29/2020
With the overabundance of isolation that we’re currently subjected to, reading has become a privilege that is encouraged and inevitably fought for.
BEIRUT: A plethora of the Lebanese have taken reading as a safe harbor and a mindful escape, thus reviving it in times of quarantine.
The COVID-19 pandemic invaded the globe, coercing people into the confinement of their own homes. People in quarantine have found solace in nurturing hobbies, shifting to novel lifestyles, and accommodating to the radical aspects of the online realm. Amidst the chaos of adapting to the rigidity of virtual productivity and the lack of physical human interaction, a wide range of quarantined individuals rekindled their relationship with the art of reading in hopes of defeating isolation and lonesomeness. A colossal fraction of the Lebanese belong to this sample, for they have found refuge within the written word. The latter is quite astonishing, since it transgresses the pre-existing notion that people of the Levant are not ardent readers, and this is based on grounded reasons. “Lebanese people aren’t avid readers because of the stress they are subjected to every single day. We have to think about the country’s situation, our financial instability, meager healthcare sector, the neglected senior citizens and oppressed migrant workers, and simply, our basic human rights to the point that enjoying a book has become a guilty pleasure,” Serena Younes, an avid reader, noted for Annahar. “I asked a member of my family, who was a devoted reader, why they stopped and they told me that they felt they can be doing something productive instead of enjoying a book.” Marianne Azar who is an MSc in Psychology of Language student at The University of Edinburgh stated that another reason behind the declination in reading Arabic books in particular is that they do not resemble our reality.
“If there were books in Lebanese Arabic, I’m sure they would attract more readership. At this moment, reading in Modern Standard Arabic is a bit challenging because it is neither intuitive nor familiar and it fails more often than spoken languages at striking a recollection of real life events, which would have succeeded if written in the colloquial language,” she said. She elaborated further that reading might be misunderstood as choosing to withdraw yourself from socializing, because there isn’t much respect and tolerance for alone time, the ideal time for reading, in our society. Yet, with the overabundance of isolation that we’re currently subjected to, reading has become a privilege that is encouraged and inevitably fought for. Dana Hodeib Eido, an instructor of English Language and Literature at the Lebanese American University, believes that the art of reading has been lost because the former is perceived as a burdening academic duty. This idea is enforced in some schools and reinforced in some homes. She, however, has adorned her household with a different aura. “I have read to my kids every night since they were almost two. Prior to that, I had introduced them to interactive picture books and they used to love them. Growing up to reading happening at home, they now perceive books as fun and interesting, an activity that is done with smiles,” she said. “In my family, the tooth fairy brings books and a good deed is rewarded with a nice story time. And recently, quarantine granted us an additional space to devour more books.”
As a brave initiative, Halabi Bookshop was one of the pioneering bookstores that offered delivery services in a sanitary manner all across Lebanon since the beginning of the pandemic. However, due to the aggravation of the situation, delivery services in Lebanon were banned except for food products.
“It is very assuring that people are still reading in uncertain times. People with limited income are still willing to pay for books, which reflects eagerness for a reading culture being embraced; reading has become a necessity that people are in need of and asking for. Thus, I was still opening the bookshop for an hour or two, despite the haunting threat of the virus, to cater to these requests. This sign of yearning for books defies the misconception that has stained the Lebanese when it comes to reading,” Lana Halabi, the co-owner of Halabi Bookshop, noted for Annahar.