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Pharmacies in Lebanon shut, as bankrupt government plans airport expansion

Gas stations are also threatening to close as long as authorities continue to ignore the economic collapse, while protests resumed on Tuesday.
People pass in front of the shuttered door of a pharmacy during a nationwide strike of pharmacies to protest against a severe shortage of medicine, Tripoli, Lebanon, July 9, 2021.

BEIRUT — Several roads across Lebanon were briefly blocked by angry protesters as the local currency hit a new record low early on Tuesday, amid the deteriorating economic crisis plaguing the country.

The Lebanese pound, which had been officially pegged to the US dollar at 1,507 pounds since 1990, reached 143,000 to the dollar on the black market in the early morning hours. As of the time of this writing, the currency had again gained some value, trading at about 110,000 to the dollar after the central bank raised the exchange rate on its foreign exchange platform, known as Sayrafa, to 90,000 pounds to the dollar. 

The sharp downfall of the currency comes as the country grapples with its worst economic crisis in decades. Many Lebanese have blamed the political elite — that has been ruling the country since the Lebanese civil war — of years of corruption and economic mismanagement that pushed Lebanon toward the economic and social collapse it is currently facing amid shortages of food, medicine, electricity and fuel.

On Tuesday, the Syndicate of Pharmacists announced the closure of all pharmacies across the country after running out of medications citing the “lack of concern of officials.” Drug importing companies have been withholding medication for two weeks now as they refuse to sell them to pharmacies at the prices fixed by the Ministry of Health. Many Lebanese are already unable to access lifesaving medicine, which has become either too expensive or is no longer available on the market. 

The 2019 financial and social collapse has affected almost all sectors of life. Prices of food and other basic commodities have skyrocketed, while people’s money remains locked in banks, which have been imposing informal capital controls and limiting cash withdrawals. More than three quarters of the population is now living in poverty, according to the United Nations.

Some gas stations in Lebanon were also closed on Tuesday amid the currency collapse, claiming that the government’s fixed pricing did not reflect the rising prices in the black market. After a meeting on Tuesday, the Syndicate of Gas Stations Owners called on the government to allow fuel stations to price gasoline in US dollars. 

Meanwhile, caretaker Minister of Public Works and Transport Ali Hamie announced on Monday a project to build a new terminal at the country’s only international airport in Beirut, with a foreign investment of $122 million. A leading Ireland-based company, daa International, will be in charge of operating the terminal once completed in four years. The project was launched during a ceremony held in Beirut in the presence of Lebanese ministers and Ireland’s Minister of State James Browne. Hamie said during the ceremony that the new terminal will create 2,500 new job opportunities and will accommodate 3.5 million passengers annually. 

The Beirut Rafic Hariri International Airport has not undergone any development works since 1998. It has been working at full capacity since the end of the civil war in the early 1990s and handles 8 million passengers a year. 

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