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Experts warn of new COVID-19 variants as full hospitals continue to struggle

Experts warn of new COVID-19 variants as full hospitals continue to struggle

Hospitals are still overwhelmed by the post-holiday surge in coronavirus infections. (Credit: Marc Fayad)

BEIRUT — The COVID-19 pandemic continues to swell as Lebanon recorded 3,125 new infections on Friday, with experts sounding the alarm over the spread of the virus’ latest variants.

As of yet, there’s been no relief for hospitals from the pandemic; 59 more deaths were registered in the last 24 hours, bringing the total to 2,680. ICU occupancy remains high at 92.5 percent, according to the World Health Organization’s latest figures.

An estimated 60 to 70 percent of COVID-19 cases in Lebanon have the N501Y mutation, the medical director of Hôpital Notre Dame des Secours in Jbeil, told L’Orient Today, citing studies conducted by St. George Hospital.

The mutation, which is present in the UK and South African variants of the virus, has been shown to make the virus more likely to infect people.

“The number is worrisome,” Ziad El Khoury said, with his facility struggling to keep pace with the vast number of daily infections.

His hospital is experiencing shortages in “medication, equipment and staff,” he said, while it scrambles to increase capacity.

“Our ICU and COVID-19 wards are full with 12 patients currently in the emergency room,” he added.

The biggest struggle is getting their hands on ventilators, Khoury noted, expressing concern over high demand and scarcity in the market.

“We’re not far away from reaching the point of choosing who gets a ventilator and who doesn’t if things continue like this,” he warned.

Over 100,000 people have contracted the virus since New Year’s Day, after authorities loosened restrictions in a bid to attract Lebanese expatriates to visit over the holidays.

In Tripoli, where protesters and security forces have clashed all week over lockdown measures amid deteriorating living conditions, Haykel Hospital is also reeling under the strain of the rapid spread.

“We have a high volume of patients coming into the emergency room experiencing high difficulty in breathing and fever,” Mona Youssef, an infectious diseases specialist at the facility, told L’Orient Today.

The hospital has steadily increased capacity since September, treating some 42 patients across its different coronavirus wards.

What’s most worrisome, she said, is the possibility of the new strain spreading north, if that hasn’t happened already.

“We are eager to track it using sequencing methods,” Youssef said, while signaling that the strain has probably reached north Lebanon given the heightened transmission.

“Before, we were seeing one or two members from the same family; now it’s the entire household coming in,” she said.

Youssef did express slight optimism, however, saying that the facility has witnessed a “slight decrease over the past 48 hours.”

But more time is needed to evaluate the effects of the lockdown, Youssef noted, with Lebanon closing in on three weeks since the imposition of a strict COVID-19 lockdown, set tentatively to end Feb. 8.


BEIRUT — The COVID-19 pandemic continues to swell as Lebanon recorded 3,125 new infections on Friday, with experts sounding the alarm over the spread of the virus’ latest variants.As of yet, there’s been no relief for hospitals from the pandemic; 59 more deaths were registered in the last 24 hours, bringing the total to 2,680. ICU occupancy remains high at 92.5 percent, according to...