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Morning brief

Everything you need to know to start your Monday

Here’s what happened over the weekend and what to expect today, Monday, November 23, and this week

Everything you need to know to start your Monday

Lebanon is entering its second week of lockdown to stem the spread of coronavirus. (Marc Fayad)

Lebanon enters its crucial second week of the COVID-19 lockdown, with the total cumulative death toll hitting 900 on Sunday. Caretaker Health Minister Hamad Hassan said that statistics starting from Sunday could offer initial indications on whether the shutdown was curbing the spread of the virus. Hospitals have taken advantage of the lockdown to ramp up capacity, with the number of ICUs rising from 372 on Nov. 13 to 427 as of Friday, according to the World Health Organization. The number of patients in intensive care has risen from 310 at the beginning of the shutdown to 337 as of yesterday, while test positivity has remained steady at around 15 percent, indicating undetected spread. With the lockdown set to end on Nov. 30, authorities face a test of weighing the restrictive measures’ effectiveness on the pandemic versus their effect on the economy and the most vulnerable.

Lebanon marked a somber Independence Day held amid a COVID-19 lockdown and mounting political impasse to address the country’s woes. No official celebrations were held Sunday other than the laying of wreaths at the graves of key independence figures. On Saturday, a small group of protesters marched between Martyrs’ Square in downtown Beirut and the nearby Zaitunay Bay, a playground for the country’s rich. In a televised address on the eve of Independence Day, Michel Aoun said that despite Lebanon achieving formal independence in 1943, the country is “captive to a system that prevents accountability.” The president failed to name names or make any specific, actionable allegations of corruption.

Alvarez & Marsal threw in the towel on its attempted forensic audit of Banque du Liban following the central bank’s failure to turn over documents. President Aoun announced Friday that the consulting firm had terminated its contract after Lebanese authorities effectively delayed the audit by three months earlier in the month. The central bank has refused to hand over documents for the audit on the dubious legal grounds that doing so would violate the banking secrecy law. The audit breakdown is the latest example of the country’s ruling class’ inability to pursue reforms necessary for international bailouts. In August, the IMF called for a “comprehensive audit” of the central bank.

Dozens of inmates escaped Saturday from the detention center at the Baabda Justice Palace, one of the largest jailbreaks in recent Lebanese history. Five of the fleeing detainees died when they crashed a car into a tree in the nearby town of Hadath, the Internal Security Forces said. Judge Ghada Aoun, the public prosecutor for the Mount Lebanon Appellate Court headquartered in Baabda, ordered an investigation into the incident and told AFP she could not rule out collusion between security forces and the escapees. The ISF said on Sunday night that out of the 69 escaped detainees, 35 were still on the loose. MP Michel Moussa said the escape highlights the “miserable situation” of prisons in the country, including their overcrowded conditions due to the number of detainees languishing as they await a court verdict.

Parliament is set to meet Wednesday for a joint committee session to discuss proposals for a new law to govern the parliamentary elections scheduled for 2022. The session will study proposals from MPs Anwar El-Khalil and Ibrahim Azar, who caucus with the Amal Movement, as well as one put forward by former Premier Najib Mikati’s bloc. The formulation of electoral laws has been a major stumbling block in the past, with the political class repeatedly delaying the parliamentary elections scheduled for 2013 until 2018 on questionable grounds. While some activists have called for early elections, French President Emmanuel Macron — who has pushed an ultimately-failed road map of reforms in Lebanon — said on Sept. 1 there was no consensus among the political class for a snap vote.


Lebanon enters its crucial second week of the COVID-19 lockdown, with the total cumulative death toll hitting 900 on Sunday. Caretaker Health Minister Hamad Hassan said that statistics starting from Sunday could offer initial indications on whether the shutdown was curbing the spread of the virus. Hospitals have taken advantage of the lockdown to ramp up capacity, with the number of ICUs rising...