By Tony Akleh
More than 6,150 new Covid-19 cases were registered in the last 24 hours, a new record
Lebanese hospitals are battling the country’s most dangerous surge in coronavirus cases to date, with some patients being treated in car parks and a cafeteria because there are no more beds.
More than 6,150 new Covid-19 cases were registered in the last 24 hours, a new record, while 44 more people died from the virus, also the highest number on record, bringing cumulative totals to 243,286 cases and 1,825 deaths.
The first batch of some 2.1 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccines is expected to arrive next month.
Lebanon has been frustrated in its effort to get vaccines by repeated bureaucratic delays partly due to the fact that it hasn't a fully operational government.
The new daily toll came on the second day of a nationwide 11-day curfew.
The lockdown, ordered after some hospitals started to run out of intensive care beds, includes a 24-hour curfew until January 25.
Most hospitals have now reached maximum capacity for coronavirus patients. Some have run out of beds, oxygen tanks and ventilators. Others have halted elective surgeries.
The American University of Beirut Medical Centre released a statement warning that the hospital is "unable to find beds for even the most critical patients".
"Our intensive care units and regular Covid-19 units have reached full capacity. Our emergency room is also at full capacity with 40 patients who require immediate admission," the statement said.
Mount Lebanon Hospital also issued a warning on social media, announcing that the facility is treating over 60 Covid-19 patients.
"Our ventilators are currently all being used and our emergency department is full," the post said, calling on all residents to adhere to lockdown measures and stay at home.
At Geitawi Hospital in Beirut, director Pierre Yared said the emergency department was filled with coronavirus patients while St Georges Hospital in Hadath, outside Beirut, announced that all of its beds are occupied, prompting it to convert the cafeteria into a space for receiving Covid-19 patients.
Caretaker Health Minister Hamad Hassan is receiving care at the hospital after contracting Covid-19.
Sheikh Ragheb Harb University Hospital outside Nabatieh, in the south, also stated that its Covid-19 ward is full while Dr Firass Abiad, the CEO of state-run Rafik Hariri University Hospital tweeted on Friday that the new record number of Covid deaths was sobering.
Dr Antoine Bejjani, Hotel Dieu Hospital in Achrafieh, Beirut, told Arabian Business: "There are no more rooms to treat Covid-19 patients, even the ordinary rooms are nearly full. We are treating patients in the car park or in their cars. It’s a catastrophe. We fear the worst in the coming weeks."
He urged Lebanese to take extreme precautionary measures to "overcome the catastrophe we are facing".
Lina Akar, a nurse at Geitawi Hospital, Beirut, told Arabian Business that the nursing body is working under dramatic conditions, with a shortage of medical equipment and beds to treat Covid-19 patients. "We feel helpless in some cases when we cannot admit a patient in critical condition because we don’t have a room or a bed for him," she said.
"The doctors and nurses in hospitals are exhausted, we work ten days in a row sometimes. We hope the lockdown may bring us a relief to take a little breath," Akar added.
Meanwhile, Lebanon’s Parliament passed on Friday a law permitting the use of emergency vaccines. The law protects producers of any Covid-19 vaccines used in Lebanon from potential liability claims for two years.
Once a pioneer in the health sector among Middle Eastern countries, Lebanon now leads the Arab world in the number of cases per million people.