Lebanon's COVID-19 Cases Jump By More Than A Third In Week Following Beirut Port Blast

As Lebanon continues to dig through the rubble of last week's port explosion in the capital city of Beirut, new COVID-19 infections and deaths have surged in the wake of the tragedy.

The Ministry of Public Health announced a record-high of 309 new infections on Tuesday, as well as seven new deaths caused by the novel coronavirus. That brings the Mediterranean nations totals to 7,121 cases and 87 deaths since the start of the pandemic. While the overall numbers remain relatively low, health officials are concerned at the surge in new cases amid the myriad of other crises facing Lebanon.

"COVID-19 had already drained the health sector even before last week's explosion, but now – in the aftermath of this disaster – it is causing even more suffering. In the past week, we've seen the number of COVID-19 cases jump up by over a third, putting even more pressure on an already overwhelmed health system," Matias Meier, country director for the International Rescue Committee in Lebanon, said in a statement emailed to Newsweek.

"The clean-up operation is vast, the hospitals that remain open are almost full, and those that can still operate are in desperate need of more equipment. One week on from the blast, the needs in Beirut are greater than ever," Meier said.

Lebanese youth
A Lebanese youth wrapped in the national flag looks at the damaged grain silos at Beirut's port on August 11, where a huge chemical explosion devastated large swathes of the capital -/AFP/Getty

Newsweek reached out to the Ministry of Public Health for comment, but it did not respond by the time of publication.

Novel coronavirus infections first arrived in Lebanon in February. The country did relatively well at managing the spread of the pandemic through a series of lockdowns and curfews. But in the wake of the Beirut explosion—which destroyed and damaged some hospitals and left thousands injured—the nation's beleaguered health care sector has been pushed to the brink.

Now, as more than 200 have been confirmed dead from the explosion last Tuesday, while hundreds of thousands have been left homeless, curbing the spread of the novel virus has become all the more difficult. Thousands of protesters have descended on Beirut since the weekend, leading the government to announce its resignation on Monday. But demonstrations persist against endemic corruption—which analysts generally agree will not cease until the nation's entrenched political leaders accept major reforms.

Protesters see the Beirut port explosion as the result of corruption and incompetence. Government officials have said the blast was caused by more than 2,700 tons of ammonium nitrate, which had been improperly stored for six years. They believe a nearby fire, perhaps started by welding, set off the highly explosive material, causing the blast that could be heard more than 160 miles away across the Mediterranean in Cyprus while shattering glass and causing buildings to crumble across the city.

Lebanese chant
Lebanese people chant their national anthem during a commemoration ceremony for the victims of the Beirut port explosion across from the capital's harbor, on August 11 PATRICK BAZ/AFP/Getty

"F*** all of them [the political leaders]. That's my comment," a female Lebanese protester told Newsweek. "I wish them all a slow painful death."

Lebanon's economy was already collapsing due to a severe dollar shortage, which has led to rapid inflation, a fuel shortage and empty grocery store shelves. The country largely depended on imports for most of its needs, and concerns over mounting food insecurity have grown significantly.

Meanwhile, the cost of damage from the blast has been estimated to be around $15 billion. On Sunday, a large international donors conference led by French President Emmanuel Macron managed to raise $300 million—or just 2 percent of the cost of damages.