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Beirut airport prepares to reopen as Lebanon eyes tourism dollars

Lebanon's only airport has been closed to flights since March 18 [Getty]

Date of publication: 30 June, 2020

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Beirut Rafic Hariri International Airport, which grounded flights 18 March due to the coronavirus epidemic, will reopen on Wednesday with reduced air traffic.

Beirut's Rafic Hariri International Airport is set to reopen on Wednesday after grounding flights due to the coronavirus epidemic, as Lebanon prepares to receive thousands of travellers.

The resumption of commercial flights comes as the country suffers one of the worst economic crises in decades and in need of a new injection of cash.

Images published by local media showed the airport empty on Saturday as new preventive social distancing measures were put in place and will be implemented upon passengers' arrival.

The images showed the airport halls plastered with stickers and signs to avoid crowding at security checks and baggage claim. 

Lebanon's only airport has been closed to flights since 18 March, in a bid to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Once reopened, it is expected to bring in around 2,000 travellers a day and will begin by receiving between 10 to 20 percent of flights.

Prime Minister Hassan Diab said on Tuesday that his country would reopen air travel to wealthy Gulf Arab nations, which make up around 30 percent of Lebanon's annual air traffic.

"What is important for us today is to put Lebanon back on the tourism map while balancing between health protection and tourism in order to revive the economy," Diab said during a meeting with representatives of tourism-dependent sectors.

Beirut announced on Monday that passengers arriving to Lebanon will not be required to quarantine as PCR tests are expected to be carried out prior to departure. 

Read also: Is Lebanon close to containing the coronavirus outbreak?

While Covid-19 cases in the country remain low - with only 1,745 cases recorded - the re-opening of the airport and no mandatory quarantine requirement has been a cause of concern.

As the financial crisis deepens, the prospects of tourism offers a sliver of hope for the country, where more than half of the population are living in poverty.

Around two million tourists visit Lebanon every year – many of which are Lebanese expats with fresh dollars to spend. 

Lebanon - which has a sovereign debt equivalent to 170 percent of its GDP - defaulted on its debt in March for the first time in its history.

The economic crunch has sparked unprecedented protests since October and plunged entire segmentsof the population, including many middle class, into poverty.


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