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Morning brief

Total lockdown talks, COVID-19 airport rules, lira peg ‘finished’: Everything you need to know to start your Monday

Here’s what happened over the weekend and what to expect today, Monday, January 11, and this week

Total lockdown talks, COVID-19 airport rules, lira peg ‘finished’: Everything you need to know to start your Monday

Members of the Lebanese Red Cross, dressed in protective gear, transfer an elderly coronavirus patient to the COVID-19 department of the Nabih Berri Governmental University Hospital in the southern town of Nabatieh Saturday. (Credit: Mahmoud Zayyat/AFP)

Lebanon may be headed for a tougher lockdown after the Higher Defense Council meets this afternoon. President Michel Aoun called the special meeting of the council Sunday, in light of the steadily increasing number of COVID-19 cases that has resulted in shortages of hospital beds. Meanwhile, adherence to the current countrywide lockdown — even with a slew of exemptions — has been spotty. Videos showed bustling markets in Sabra and a football match in Beddawi over the weekend. The defense council will consider a one-week complete lockdown that would include the closure of all businesses and no cars allowed on the road, a source with knowledge of the discussions told L’Orient Today. Whether the airport would be closed is “under discussion,” the source said. The head of Parliament's health committee, Assem Araji, said that the airport closure is less essential, since few cases are coming in through the airport at present, but said he believes a full lockdown within the country is crucial “because the number of cases has greatly increased and there are not places in the hospitals, the emergency rooms are full, and there’s not another solution to stop the spread.”

Meanwhile, as long as the airport remains open, travelers arriving in Lebanon will face a new set of requirements beginning today. In addition to presenting a negative PCR test result before boarding their flight, all travelers must take a second test upon arrival at the Beirut airport — at a cost of $50 to be collected by the airlines — and then are required to quarantine in one of a list of designated hotels for 48 hours or until receiving the test result. If negative, they may then quarantine at home and are required to take a final test five days later. There are some exceptions, including for diplomats and officials, those who have documentation that they have taken the COVID-19 vaccine, and passengers continuing to Syria by land.

In comments to France 24, Riad Salameh said the lira peg to the dollar is “finished.” While flotation would depend on the outcome of talks with the International Monetary Fund, the central bank governor said that the country’s multiple exchange rates — a system he helped create — must be unified. Salameh also said that the remaining central bank reserves total $17.5 billion, excluding gold, which would allow Banque du Liban to continue subsidizing basic goods including fuel, medicine and staple food items for about a month without dipping into required reserves. The reserves currently stand at about $17 billion. Officials have yet to take a decision as to when or how to remove the subsidies or what will replace them.

Government formation discussions remain stalled, with the parties pointing fingers at each other. Maronite Patriarch Bechara al-Rai, who has been attempting to mediate between President Michel Aoun and Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri, urged the two in comments Sunday to hold a “reconciliation meeting,” but if anything, the impasse deepened. Hours later, Gebran Bassil, the head of Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement, in a video criticized Hariri’s handling of the government portfolios and said the FPM would not participate in the new government, prompting Hariri’s Future Movement to respond that the Cabinet lineup is “ready and waiting for the president” so it could undertake the “required reforms according to the French initiative and not according to Bassil’s ideological, sectarian and racist standards.” Meanwhile, in a Friday speech, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah had denied accusations that he is stalling the government formation until US President Donald Trump — whose administration has carried out a “maximum pressure” campaign against Iran and, by extension, Hezbollah — leaves office.


Lebanon may be headed for a tougher lockdown after the Higher Defense Council meets this afternoon. President Michel Aoun called the special meeting of the council Sunday, in light of the steadily increasing number of COVID-19 cases that has resulted in shortages of hospital beds. Meanwhile, adherence to the current countrywide lockdown — even with a slew of exemptions — has been spotty....