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Social unrest brewing under lockdown in Lebanon

While Lebanon’s financial crisis has been aggravated by lockdown measures imposed to help stem the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, Prime Minister Hassan Diab assured that bank deposits will not be jeopardised by a financial rescue plan.

Police in the northern city of Tripoli used force to disperse angry crowds who took to the streets chanting slogans and denouncing poor living conditions that have deteriorated since Lebanon imposed a curfew more than a month ago.

More than half of Tripoli’s population live at or below the poverty line and more than a quarter live in extreme poverty, according to the United Nations.

Lebanon is already hit by economic collapse and is now grappling with an outbreak of the deadly virus – the latest in a long list of crises.

In a public address April 16, Diab said that “at least 98%” of bank deposits will not be affected by any financial measures that might be taken in the near future to deal with the crisis.

“The situation is difficult and complicated but people’s lifelong savings have a special status and immunity and no one will lose their deposits, but the timing of retrieving those hinges on the restructuring plan,” he said.

Diab said the reform plan that the government is finalising aims to reactivate the economy and bring in fresh money from abroad, “whether from the IMF, CEDRE (international conference in support of Lebanon) or friendly nations or through a new economic drive and BOT (Build, Operate, Transfer) projects.”

Diab also announced the launch of “a stimulus and social safety plan worth LBP 1,200 billion (around $800,000) that will be spent to cover the burdens of the anti-coronavirus fight, assist public sector daily workers, support the health sector and farmers, and grant small industrial institutions subsidised loans to boost national industry.”

The extended lockdown has brought Lebanon’s already fledgling economy to an abrupt halt, with no sign that the measures would be eased anytime soon.

“It is not true that we intend to ease the lockdown and general mobilisation measures. We might rather harden them should the need arise in order to prevent the spread of coronavirus and we might request a two-week extension on April 26,” Diab said.

“There are indications that the pandemic has so far been contained in Lebanon. But we are still in the middle of the pandemic spread phase.

“At the moment, the focus is on the domestic situation in order to immunise it prior to the resumption of the repatriation of Lebanese from abroad,” Diab added.

As part of international assistance to help it confront the outbreak of coronavirus, Lebanon received medical equipment, including PCR kits and thermometers from China.

“We are going to conduct more PCR tests in various Lebanese regions,” said Health Minister Hamad Hassan. “We would like to assure everyone that the random test samples we have taken last week were a positive indicator.”

In mid-March the government ordered residents to stay at home and all non-essential businesses to close to halt the spread of COVID-19, which has infected 668 people and killed 21 nationwide so far. Source