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Lebanon latest country to restrict travel over coronavirus fears

Lebanon has banned flights to and from countries hardest hit by the coronavirus.
Employees from a disinfection company sanitize handrails, as a precaution against the spread of the coronavirus, at Beirut's seaside Corniche, Lebanon March 5, 2020. REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir - RC2SDF9YPMAO

Lebanon is halting all flights to and from the countries hardest hit by the coronavirus, and giving its citizens in other coronavirus-struck countries four days to return home. 

Flights to and from Italy, South Korea, China and Iran will be suspended, Prime Minister Hassan Diab said March 11. Lebanon will also ban arrivals from France, Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Germany, Spain and the United Kingdom. 

The country of some 6 million people has at least 61 confirmed cases of COVID-19. In what marked the country’s first recorded death, a 56-year-old man with pre-existing health conditions contracted the disease while visiting Egypt and died March 10.

Health officials on Wednesday also confirmed the death of a 55-year-old Lebanese man who had been in contact with others who had recently traveled abroad. 

The coronavirus outbreak comes as Lebanon deals with an economic crisis. The country’s financial woes, coupled with months of anti-government protests over poor living conditions, have hindered the government’s ability to deal with the coronavirus. 

Even before the viral outbreak, doctors were reporting medical supply shortages and private hospitals complained the government owed them an estimated $1.3 billion in unpaid dues.

Meanwhile, health care workers treating coronavirus patients at Rafik Hariri University Hospital announced an open-ended strike beginning the morning of March 12, citing “harsh conditions” and the “indifference” of management.

Lebanon joins a host of other Middle East countries implementing temporary travel restrictions. On March 9, Saudi Arabia extended its travel ban to include 14 countries, and Israel announced all those returning to the country must self-quarantine for two weeks.

This story contains additional reporting from Agence France-Presse.

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