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Morning Brief

Vaccine controversy, World Bank program discord, Nasrallah talks politics: Everything you need to know today

Here’s what happened yesterday and what to expect today, Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Vaccine controversy, World Bank program discord, Nasrallah talks politics: Everything you need to know today

COVID-19 vaccine recipients wait to be inoculated. (Credit: João Sousa/L'Orient Today)

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COVID-19 deaths were on the rise again yesterday in Lebanon as controversy swirled over a former general accused of skipping the vaccine line. Fifty-five more fatalities were registered Tuesday while 955 people were in intensive care, the highest number since Feb. 1. Anger has mounted over a photo showing Fadi Ghorayeb, a former officer in the presidential guard now serving as a security official at the American University of Beirut, receiving a vaccine at the institute’s medical center. An official from the World Bank — which is helping finance the inoculation campaign — tweeted Monday that he asked an independent international monitor to look into the incident.

Parliamentarians failed to reach an agreement on a draft law to enable the World Bank’s $246 million social safety net project. Following the inconclusive joint parliamentary committees meeting Tuesday, Hezbollah MPs raised concerns over the constitutionality of the draft, while fellow deputy Alain Aoun said that questions were raised over the proposed program’s implementation. The Free Patriotic Movement parliamentarian told L’Orient Today that the finance and social affairs committees would meet again on Feb. 23 to tackle concerns over the draft law. Still requiring parliamentary approval, the World Bank on Jan. 12 greenlit a project to provide approximately 147,000 vulnerable families with direct cash assistance, with the proposed payouts made at a below market-rate in Lebanese liras.

Hezbollah’s leader offered a proposal to break the impasse over government formation, following a war of words between the president and premier-designate. In a televised speech Tuesday night, Hassan Nasrallah said that while he understands Saad Hariri’s insistence on a 18-minister cabinet, a new government could consist of 20 or 22 members to “reassure everyone.” The Hezbollah chief added that he also understood the premier-designate’s desire for no one political group to be given a “blocking third,” of ministers that could veto decisions. His speech came after Hariri on Sunday accused President Michel Aoun of blocking the formation of a government by trying to garner a “blocking third.” The president fired back that Hariri’s speech was inaccurate.

Banque du Liban’s usable reserves dropped by about $322 million in the first half of February, as worries persist over possible cuts to subsidies. On Jan. 8, the central bank governor said that BDL had $17.5 billion total, excluding its gold holdings, while estimates of required reserves stand at $17 billion. Riad Salameh has repeatedly said that he doesn’t want to dip into mandatory reserves, a policy that could force an end to subsidies. In a reflection of the high demand for banknotes amid the financial system’s paralysis, liras in circulation outside the central bank have increased by LL1.28 trillion so far in February. Despite BDL’s policies to restrict cash in circulation, the number continues to grow, with LL33.8 trillion in banknotes outside the central bank.


Want to get the Morning Brief by email? Click here to sign up.COVID-19 deaths were on the rise again yesterday in Lebanon as controversy swirled over a former general accused of skipping the vaccine line. Fifty-five more fatalities were registered Tuesday while 955 people were in intensive care, the highest number since Feb. 1. Anger has mounted over a photo showing Fadi Ghorayeb, a former...