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Morning Brief

Higher Defense Council to meet, private sector inoculations, port probe questioning: Everything you need to know today

Here’s what happened yesterday and what to expect today, Friday, March 26, and this weekend

Higher Defense Council to meet, private sector inoculations, port probe questioning: Everything you need to know today

Both the COVID-19 and regular emergency departments at Rafik Hariri University Hospital have become “severely congested,” the hospital’s director said. (Credit: Nabil Ismail)

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The Higher Defense Council meets today at 10 a.m. to discuss measures to combat COVID-19. President Michel Aoun called for the session to discuss the state of general mobilization, which expires at the end of this month. Yesterday, cabinet’s coronavirus committee recommended a six-month extension to the general mobilization, pushing back curfew to 10 p.m. and extending commercial sector opening hours until 9 p.m. Despite the recommendations, Lebanon continues to register high numbers of new cases, with 3,560 infections recorded yesterday. The stubbornly high count comes as Firass Abiad, the head of Rafik Hariri University Hospital, warned that both his COVID-19 and regular emergency departments had become “severely congested,” with the regular ED only accepting life-threatening cases. He said the added pressure was partly due to deteriorating economic conditions as private hospitals demand cash deposits prior to admission and cash-strapped patients put off doctor’s visits until their conditions worsen to the point of going to the emergency room.

Some 308 tons of oxygen are set to arrive Saturday morning from Turkey. A ship owned by Sea Wise, which transports trucks between Tripoli and Turkey, left Lebanon’s coast Thursday morning to pick up 14 trucks, each loaded with 22 tons of oxygen, from Turkey, the Public Works Ministry said. It is expected to arrive in Tripoli on Saturday morning. This comes after caretaker Health Minister Hamad Hassan’s “emergency” trip to Damascus to import 75 tons of oxygen for Lebanon to combat a shortage. Overnight, the Dar al-Amal University Hospital in Baalbeck said it had stopped receiving patients due to a critically low oxygen supply.

Middle East Airlines is set to be the first private sector company to acquire Sputnik V COVID-19 inoculations from local firm Pharmaline. Employees at Middle East Airlines and Beirut’s Rafik Hariri International Airport will receive the Russian-made vaccine for free starting on Tuesday, the airline announced. Pharmaline, which has purchased 1 million doses of Sputnik V vaccines, will only supply private institutions. Meanwhile, caretaker Finance Minister Ghazi Wazni signed a decree to transfer funds from the budget reserves to the Health Ministry to cover the cost of 1.5 million doses from AstraZeneca, which are set to arrive in batches starting the first week of April, the Finance Ministry said. The Health Ministry is acquiring these vaccines directly from the company, rather than through the World Health Organization-led COVAX initiative that delivered a first batch on Wednesday.

Today, Judge Tarek Bitar is set to question seven people detained in connection with the Aug. 4 Beirut port blast. The lead investigator in the explosion probe will interrogate the final seven of 25 people who have been in detention for some seven months without knowing the charges against them. He questioned the others earlier this week. The judge was brought in to run the probe last month after his predecessor was dismissed following his charging of four senior politicians. While the investigation remains shrouded in secrecy, reports suggest Bitar is taking more interest than his predecessor in investigating the source of the ammonium nitrate explosive and is yet to decide how to proceed in relation to Fadi Sawwan’s charges of negligence against current and former ministers and the caretaker premier.

Clocks will turn forward one hour as daylight saving time starts on Sunday. The adjustment will occur at midnight, with the time leaping forward to 1 a.m. Sunday morning.


Want to get the Morning Brief by email? Click here to sign up.The Higher Defense Council meets today at 10 a.m. to discuss measures to combat COVID-19. President Michel Aoun called for the session to discuss the state of general mobilization, which expires at the end of this month. Yesterday, cabinet’s coronavirus committee recommended a six-month extension to the general mobilization, pushing...