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Lebanon tightens security around refugee camp after coronavirus outbreak

Camp security stand guard at the entrance following the virus outbreak [Getty]

Date of publication: 24 April, 2020

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All entrances to Lebanon's Wavel camp have been sealed off after five residents tested positive for the coronavirus, however all other tests from the camp have returned negative so far.
Lebanese authorities closed all entrances to a Palestinian refugee camp in the country's eastern on Friday after four more people tested positive for the coronavirus, heightening concerns the virus could further spread among its overcrowded population.

The four infected with the virus are relatives of a woman who tested positive earlier this week and are isolating inside their home, according to a statement from the UN agency for Palestinian refugees. It said they were so far not in need of hospital treatment.

The Palestinian woman who was taken to a hospital in Beirut this week became the first refugee living in a camp in Lebanon to contract the virus, a finding that triggered a spate of testing in the camp. The five confirmed cases are residents of the Wavel camp in the city of Baalbek, known locally as the Jalil, or Galilee camp.

Lebanon, a country of just 5 million people, is home to more than 1 million Syrian refugees and other Syrians who are residents. It also hosts tens of thousands of Palestinian refugees and their descendants, most of whom live in squalid camps with no access to public services, scarce employment opportunities and no rights to ownership.

Wavel camp was originally a site for French army barracks during the mandate period, which later provided shelter for the influx of Palestinian refugees in 1948.

Many of its residents still live in the original barracks, which lack adequate ventilation, a factor that may increase the spread of coronavirus.

On Friday, Palestinian factions in charge of camp security wore face masks as they patrolled the narrow streets and alleyways of the camp, which has an estimated population of 9,460.

Camp residents hunkered down at home after being asked to stay indoors, while paramedics in protective suits spraying down the few vehicles that were permitted to enter with disinfectant and took people's temperatures.

Lack of testing has stoked fears among millions of displaced people around the world packed into refugee camps and informal settlements.

Health Minister Hamad Hassan told reporters after visiting a clinic at the camp that Lebanese authorities were working together with the UN and other agencies “to avoid an outbreak in the coming days.”

Lebanon has recorded 22 deaths from among nearly 700 confirmed cases of Covid-19, the illness caused by the virus. The head of Lebanon’s main hospital overseeing Covid-19 patients, Firass Abiad, tweeted that apart from the four relatives of the Palestinian woman, all other tests conducted in the camp turned out negative.



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