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'Shocked' Lebanese official finds he has Covid-19 during lunch with French FM

The French FM met Lebanese officials in Beirut this week [Getty]

Date of publication: 25 July, 2020

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The head of the Lebanese foreign minister's office was shocked to receive untimely news of a positive Covid-19 result during a meeting with the French foreign minister.
A senior Lebanese official who was having lunch with the French foreign minister in Beirut said he was shocked to receive a positive Covid-19 test result during the meeting.

Hadi Al-Hashem, the head of the Lebanese foreign minister's office, said he immediately left the lunch with France's Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian after receiving the news, alleging his virus level to be "low and not contagious".

"I received a telephone call from the hospital saying the test was positive, so naturally I left the lunch and informed all those present," Hashem told the local OTV broadcaster. 

"The result was unexpected but the most important thing is that the virus level is low and not contagious," he said.

The meeting had taken place in Beirut on Thursday and brought together Le Drian and Lebanese officials to discuss the ongoing deterioration of the country's crisis-hit economy. 

Le Drian's spokesperson made no comments on the matter, Reuters reported.

Hashem confirmed he had taken a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test and is now self-isolating at home until Monday before another scheduled test.

Similar tests were taken by Lebanon's Foreign Minister Nassif Hitti and his political affairs director - both of which confirmed negative results, according to a health ministry source.

Crisis-hit Lebanon has confirmed 3,407 positive cases of Covid-19, as well as 46 deaths.

According to Reuters, the country's Health Minister Hamad Hasan expressed concern over reports of three deaths in the past 24 hours, noting Lebanon has entered a "critical phase" that could require authorities to reimpose some coronavirus lockdown restrictions.

IMF 'only way out'

Lebanon is currently going through its worst economic and financial crisis

Le Drian, the first Western official to visit Lebanon since its economy began to unravel last year, said only concrete reforms would enable France, a major ally, to help Lebanon.

"What I want to tell those responsible in Lebanon today is, 'help yourselves and France and its partners will help you'," he said. "It is the key message of my visit."

France, the former colonial power in Lebanon, is leading Western efforts to help the Lebanese economy out of its dire straits. The solutions are well-known, Le Drian said, and are necessary to avoid destabilizing Lebanon and its model of tolerance and openness in the region.

The crisis has deepened since the government defaulted on its sovereign debt in March, the eruption of the coronavirus pandemic and the restrictions that it brought.

Unemployment and poverty rates have reached new heights, while basic resources, such as fuel, have became scarce as the government's resources dried up.

Talks with the IMF over a recovery plan, which began in May, have stalled over disagreements between Lebanese politicians on assessing losses and how to move forward.

Lebanese officials hope successful talks would open the way for $11 billion in aid pledged during a 2018 conference hosted by France.

"There is no alternative to an IMF program that will allow Lebanon to get out of the crisis," Le Drian said. "France is ready to mobilize itself and its partners to support Lebanon but credible and serious reform measures must be taken."

A person close to the discussions between the top French diplomat and Lebanese Prime Minister Hassan Diab said the French are supportive of the Lebanese government's efforts and that both sides recognise the importance of successful talks with the IMF that would also unleash money pledged in the 2018 conference.

The Lebanese government approved this week a forensic audit after weeks of stalling. The audit could take months.

Lebanon witnessed nationwide protests last October after the government, as part of efforts to introduce austerity measures, levied new taxes on messaging service WhatsApp.

Protesters accused the government of mismanagement and years of corruption and eventually forced then-premier, Saad Hariri, to resign.

Read more: 'War is inevitable': Lebanon's lost generation grapples with a bleak future

A new government, backed by the powerful Hezbollah group and its allies, was formed in January and has since been bogged down by domestic rivalries and economic power centres on ways to proceed with reforms and the IMF talks.

"The Lebanese have strongly expressed their legitimate aspirations through popular protests since October, they went on the streets to express their thirst for change, for transparency, to fight for corruption and for better governance," Le Drian said. "Their call has not been heard so far."

The economic crisis has sparked a free-fall of the national currency against the dollar, which had been used interchangeably with the Lebanese pound.

Unemployment and poverty have since soared and UN aid agencies began wide distribution of food to needy families for the first time since Lebanon's last devastating war with Israel in 2006.

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