Lebanon battered by Covid strain Omicron as hospital capacity lower than ever

Lebanon battered by Covid strain Omicron as hospital capacity lower than ever
3 min read
31 December, 2021
Lebanon's crippled healthcare system is less capable than ever of coping with a new Covid wave, spurred on by the new Omicron variant.
Despite having plenty of vaccines, about 60% of Lebanese remain unvaccinated [Getty]

Health officials have warned that Lebanon is in the midst of a new wave of Covid-19 as the Omicron variant spreads rapidly, putting pressure on the country’s already crippled healthcare system.

The exponential growth in cases comes in the midst of the holiday season, with Lebanese diaspora arriving from all over the world and social gatherings abound for Christmas and the New Year.

The country recorded 4,537 Covid-19 cases on 30 December - almost double the number of cases seen this time last year, when infections were considered to be at a dangerous level.

More than 18 percent of Covid tests conducted on 29 December came back positive. According to the World Health Organisation, a positive rate of more than 5 percent suggests that the number of people with Covid is much higher than figures suggest.

Worn down by two years of a punishing economic crisis, Lebanon is less prepared than ever for a new Covid wave.

“Last year, we had 2,500 bed capacity in the hospitals; now, we have 980 beds available all around Lebanon,” Dr. Naji Abirached, the Medical Director of the Lebanese Hospital Geitaoui-UMC, told The New Arab. He added that around 600 of these beds are have already been filled.

The reasons for the sharp decline in hospital capacity, Dr. Abirached explained, are mixed. The economic crisis has spurred a wave of brain drain in the medical sector, reducing the number of doctors and nurses in the country. At the same time, the dire shortage of medical supplies and equipment means the doctors who remain have fewer resources at their disposal to help treat patients.

“We still have capacity – but I’m afraid this is a nightmare that I don’t wish to see again,” the doctor said, referring to last year’s scenes of patients being treated in the corridors of overwhelmed hospitals.

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Despite having plenty of vaccines, about 60 percent of Lebanese have yet to receive their first dose. According to the country’s health minister, the “vast majority of infections were recorded in unvaccinated individuals (78 percent).”

Testing has gone up as a result, as exposure to infected people becomes commonplace. A worker at a PCR testing centre in Achrafieh, Beirut told The New Arab that lines had been stretching down the block all week. He estimated that 1,000 people received a test at that centre on 30 December alone – a sharp increase from weeks prior.

Hussein al-Saba’a, an employee of a Beirut hospital that does Covid home testing, said that there has been a large increase in demand for tests in the run-up to the New Year. “This week I’ve been doing 20 to 25 tests a day – before I was doing around five a day,” he said, noting that the number of positive tests has also sharply risen.

During a press conference on 29 December, Lebanon’s Minister of Interior Bassam Mawlawi announced new measures to prevent the spread of the virus. They included limitations on sizes of gatherings in public places, vaccination and testing requirements for workers, and deployment of the police and army to ensure compliance.

Lebanon stopped short of imposing a renewed lockdown on the country, citing the consequences it could have on the already beleaguered economy. Mawlawi warned, however, that future lockdowns could be on the cards if the virus continues to spread.