BEIRUT — While concerns around COVID-19 are spreading throughout Lebanon, especially on social media, the Ministry of Health gave assurances Thursday that a new variant has not yet been detected in the country.
A new COVID-19 variant, EG.5 (Eris), has been identified in several countries around the globe, but Lebanon's relative rise in COVID-19 cases is normal for the summer season, according to caretaker Health Minister Firass Abiad and Dean of Public Health at La Sagesse University Diala el-Khoury.
A seasonal rise
Recently, Lebanon's Ministry of Health recorded a rise in the number of positive PCR tests, according to reports published on X (formerly Twitter). In mid-August, 12.3 percent of tests carried out and listed by the ministry were positive, compared with 3.09 percent on June 12.
The ministry is "closely monitoring" the situation.
According to Abiad, a similar uptick in the number of COVID-19 cases was also recorded last summer.
"If you look at the previous summer and the one before that, you'll see a similar increase," the caretaker Health Minister added.
Khoury explained that, when people go out more in the evening during the summer, attend more social events and travel, the number of cases tends to increase.
Other countries, such as France, are experiencing similar surges, Khoury added.
This recent increase in reported COVID-19 cases need not be compared to the sharp at the start of the pandemic, said Abiad.
'The current situation in Lebanon is very different from that of 2019-2020. Immunity levels differ enormously from what they were previously, due to vaccines and previous infections. Nevertheless, we remain vigilant and are watching developments closely," he added.
"We are closely monitoring the figures and the number of cases, the percentage of positive test results and the rate of patient admissions to hospitals in Lebanon," Abiad continued. "The results of the genetic tests are also expected next week. The purpose of these tests is to determine the variant contracted by the patient."
"We are also monitoring the situation abroad and with the World Health Organization. In short, there is intensive preparation and monitoring on the Ministry's side, and any updates will be made public on our website," the caretaker Health Minister concluded.
"Covid has become a disease with which we have to live with, just like the flu or the H1N1 virus," Khoury told L'Orient-Le Jour
She recalled basic hygiene measures to prevent the virus from spreading: "It's not necessary to remain isolated at home, but it is essential to wear a mask, wash your hands, not cough or sneeze in the direction of other people, and maintain social distance."
So far, hospital occupancy rates are not worrying. However, Mount Lebanon Hospital nurse Rami Adada warned of the risks of mass emigration of health workers in the event of another crisis. Nevertheless, Lebanese hospitals are "well-equipped with all the necessary equipment," Adada added.
On Thursday, Health Ministry Director of Epidemiological Monitoring Nada Ghosn assured that the EG.5 (Eris) variant of has not yet appeared in Lebanon.
"Available data do not suggest that EG.5 poses any additional risk to public health compared to other Omicron descendant lineages currently in circulation," the World Health Organization stated on Aug. 9. However, the mutation needs to be closely monitored, as additional mutations may make it more severe and contagious, WHO added.
As of Aug. 8, Eris has been detected in over 50 countries, according to WHO. Today, it is the most common and fastest-growing variant in the United States.