Lebanon records zero new COVID-19 cases for first time since virus emerged

Anti-government protesters return to the streets of Beirut, the Lebanese parliament approves an IMF loan and the Health Ministry reports no new cases of COVID-19.

al-monitor Lebanese Prime Minister Hassan Diab gets sprayed with disinfectant as he arrives to attend a legislative session in Beirut, Lebanon, April 21, 2020.  Photo by REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir.

Apr 21, 2020

As anti-government protesters returned to the streets of Beirut, Lebanon’s Health Ministry reported no new cases of the novel coronavirus. 

For the first time since COVID-19 emerged in Lebanon two months ago, the country has recorded no new cases in the previous 24 hours, the Health Ministry said today.

Following 487 tests conducted in the previous 24 hours, the country’s total number of infections hit 677, with a death toll of 21. Public health experts say “at least 2,500 tests must be carried out daily, at random before lockdown measures can be eased,” writes The Daily Star newspaper.  

Lebanese lawmakers were sprayed with sanitizer today and had their temperatures taken before walking into a large theater that is being used in place of the Beirut parliament building. During their session, the members of parliament approved a $120 million loan from the World Bank to help Lebanon tackle the coronavirus outbreak. 

The coronavirus pandemic has compounded the country’s financial crisis. The economic downturn — considered Lebanon’s worst in decades — was brought on in 2019 by dwindling dollar reserves, a plunge in the currency’s value and a sharp decline in foreign investment. 

Amid its worst economic crisis since the 1975-1990 civil war, Lebanon defaulted on its Eurobond debt in March for the first time in its history.

As lawmakers met today, hundreds of protesters defied stay-at-home orders and returned to the streets of Beirut. Nationwide protests, which erupted in October over government corruption, high youth unemployment and a lack of basic services, had largely subsided amid the outbreak. 

Since Lebanese Prime Minister Hassan Diab gave security forces last month the authority to police social distancing, protest organizers have relied on virtual gatherings and seminars to keep their message alive. 

This story contains reporting from Agence France-Presse.

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