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Lebanon sees record COVID-19 deaths for the second day in a row as hospitals struggle to contain the virus’ surge

Lebanon sees record COVID-19 deaths for the second day in a row as hospitals struggle to contain the virus’ surge

Despite lower infections rates, hospitals are still struggling to fight January’s surge of COVID-19 cases. (Credit: João Sousa/L’Orient Today)

BEIRUT — For the second day running, Lebanon saw a record number of deaths Wednesday, with 89 people succumbing to COVID-19 as hospitals continued to strain under pressure from the post-holiday surge in infections.

“We have patients flooding into the intensive care unit,” said Hussein Kataya, head of nurses at Rafik Hariri University Hospital in Beirut. “Some of them are referred to the emergency room because of the lack of space in our COVID-19 care sections, while a number of moderately ill people are being sent home so that the ER doesn’t get over capacity.”

Nationwide, 940 ICU beds were full — about nine out of every 10 — the Health Ministry said. Beirut hospitals are hardest hit, with 98.9 percent of ICU beds filled as of Monday night, according to the World Health Organization.

At the capital’s St. George Hospital, commonly known as Mustashfa Roum, “the number of cases required the hospital’s administration to expand into the former Lebanese Canadian Hospital [with which St. George has an agreement for treatment of COVID-19 patients] and occupy around 14 of its rooms,” said Georges Juvelekian, the head of the hospital’s ICU.

“We now have a total of 75 COVID-19-specific beds, 11 of which are for moderate to mild cases,” he added. All are full.

Elsewhere, doctors and nurses are also stretched. According to Jinane Bakour, spokesperson for Tripoli’s Haykel Hospital, the hospital is struggling with ICU capacity, with the ER serving as an alternative to take in COVID-19 patients.

“We also have a low supply of medical equipment, which is a struggle faced by many hospitals, especially in the north,” she noted.

At Saida Governmental Hospital, the ICU is “still overwhelmed,” said Chadi Hanouni, the hospital’s director of administration. There, too, patients are being treated in the ER until ICU rooms become available.

But another challenge has risen to the fore: providing patients with the medications they need. The hospital has been unable to secure supplies of some drugs due to a lack of so-called fresh dollars and difficulties with importing.

“Even when fresh dollars are made available, drugs are not, because allegedly the agents are not able to import,” Hanouni said. “COVID-19 equipment is not easily acquired, either. While some claim that the supplies are subsidized, in practice they are not.”

The result: patients are asked to supply their own medicine, and when they cannot, they must go without.

The continued strain on Lebanon’s health system has tempered any expectation of a quick return to normalcy. While the country’s strict lockdown is set to end Monday, health officials have cautioned against a full reopening.

“The government should reopen the country gradually to avoid chaos,” said Abdul Rahman Bizri, an infectious disease specialist and member of the national COVID-19 scientific committee.

Meanwhile, Firass Abiad, the director of Rafik Hariri University Hospital, pointed to the high test positivity rate, warning in a tweet that “it is much higher than it should be for a safe easing of the lockdown.” Over the past seven days, 24.3 percent of local PCR tests have been positive.

But, he added, it is “highly unlikely” that many could survive an extension of the lockdown.

“We find ourselves between a rock and a hard place. ... The only game changer now is the vaccine, and a competent roll out campaign. It is that, or bust.”

The first vaccines are not set to arrive until mid-February.


BEIRUT — For the second day running, Lebanon saw a record number of deaths Wednesday, with 89 people succumbing to COVID-19 as hospitals continued to strain under pressure from the post-holiday surge in infections.“We have patients flooding into the intensive care unit,” said Hussein Kataya, head of nurses at Rafik Hariri University Hospital in Beirut. “Some of them are referred to the...