The new Coronavirus infectious disease (COVID-19) that started in late 2019 in China is now roaming the entire globe. The virus is known to his very fast spread ability which forced governments to take drastic measures in order to contain it; most infected countries already closed their borders and made strict restrictions (Public spaces lockdown, limiting gathering, curfews…). To date there is more than 859,000 (known) infected person globally, 463 are located in Lebanon.
The Lebanese government declared a state of health emergency and ordered a lockdown until 12 April. Residents were ordered to stay home except for some essential industries such as supermarkets and pharmacies. The lockdown seems to add additional stress and fragility on daily workers who lost their daily income thus making half of the Lebanese population vulnerable without including the Syrian and Palestinian refugees.
Directly and indirectly, this epidemic has affected everyone even World Vision Lebanon staff. Walid shares how his family was directly affected by COVID-19. “A few days ago we knew that my sister and her family have tested positive. They currently live in France, where the virus is widely spread,” he says. “The impact of the news was very hard on the entire family. We were not able to sleep the first three days, as we never imagined that the virus may affect our family,” he explains. Prior to that, Walid did not take the virus very seriously. He thought it will pass by quickly. “Now we are more aware of the severity of this virus and taking all the needed precautions. It is not very clear how the family caught the virus. Doctors think it may have been transmitted from the children since the schools were not yet closed. “Everyone needs to take this virus very seriously, it can affect anyone physically and emotionally. This is not something to be ashamed of, we just need to take all the precautions,” says Walid.
Impact on the children
The pandemic is directly affecting children in different ways; parents and caregivers losing their income, schools closed, lockdown inside the house, and emotional stress.
Elise, 14, one of the registered children with World Vision in the Bekaa explains how her life changed recently. “Schools are closed, we are studying online now. It’s not the same as in the classroom. I am not very used to this kind of education,” she says. “We are not visiting anyone especially our old relatives, I am very afraid that we may transmit the disease,” she adds. Elise’s mother, Sanaa, admits that their normal life has changed. “We are emotionally stressed. My husband is a car smith and is no longer working. If this situation lasts for a while, we will not be able to sustain a balanced life for our children,” she explains. Elise and her family try to do sports, yoga and games to cope with the additional stress. “No matter how long this will last, everyone needs to remain home because health is a priority,” says Elise.
As for 10 year-old Nadine’s family from Beirut, the situation is more difficult. “My husband stopped going to work almost a month ago. He is a mechanic so we rely on his daily income,” says Nadine’s mother Fatimah. “Everything is really expensive now and we don’t have sufficient income. This month I spent the money that I saved for paying the rent on food. I don’t think we can last like this for more than a week,” she adds. “The health of my two girls is what matters the most now. I just want to keep them safe from this virus,” explains Fatimah. Now the situation is very hard on Nadine and her sister especially that they spend most of their time at home not doing enough activity. “I miss my school and my friends. We are studying at home via the mobile. I find this way of studying very difficult,” says Nadine. “I want to be able to go back to normal life and not be afraid anymore” adds Nadine.
Therezia, 16, never imagined that she will be forced to remain locked at her home in the south of Lebanon. “The situation is very weird for me, sometimes I feel it is not real. We are studying and doing our exams at home. Honestly, I don’t understand everything the teacher explains. We are not used to virtual education,” she says. “We are not doing enough activity since the lockdown. I used to go and visit my friends every day after school. Now I spend my days either in my room or the kitchen,” she adds. Therezia’s father, Omar, works at the municipality so he is still required to go to his job. “I am taking all the required precautions every time I leave the house. I wear a mask and sanitize my hands every 15 minutes. Otherwise, we are not going anyplace since it’s much safer not to visit anyone,” he says. “Our financial situation was already difficult since the beginning of the economic crisis in Lebanon five months ago and now it’s even harder. The merchants and suppliers are taking advantage of the situation and raising the prices,” he adds. “I am making the most of my free time to finish some work in the house. I hope the situation ends soon and people can feel relieved,” he explains.
A big challenge on the Municipalities
The Coronavirus outbreak revealed the important role every municipality can take in order to help the government containing the virus and supporting the fragile community. Municipalities in Lebanon have strong connections with the locals and can help in different ways during such crisis. They identify the vulnerable people within their perimeter, enforce curfews through their own police patrols, sanitize public places, and monitor people who tested positive with Coronavirus.
Some municipalities lack the financial ability to fight this battle alone, so they need additional support from the government or humanitarian organizations. Jehad Moallem, Head of the Qab Elias municpality in the Bekaa has double concerns. “In addition to our concern on the Lebanese community, we have a big influx of Syrian refugees in our town. I feel we are sitting on a time bomb. God forbids if someone from the refugees got the virus, he can easily spread it to huge numbers in the settlements and eventually to the Lebanese residents of the town as well,” says Jehad. “As a municipality, we have been trying to do as much as possible to limit the danger. We have police patrols making sure that there are no gatherings, and we had set a curfew at 6 pm,” he adds. “Most of the people in Qab Elias are daily workers. They were forced to close their businesses. I don’t think they can keep going like this for so long without help. Not having access to food, hygiene items and clean water will affect the local’s immunity,which might put them at more risk. We need to find ways to support them as much as possible,” says Jehad.
Elie Slieman, Head of the municipality of Burj El Molouk in the South, is taking all the needed actions so his town remains safe from the Coronavirus. “Since the beginning of the outbreak, we closed and sanitized all the public spaces in the town and limited all the gatherings. We have created two Whats App groups; one for the Lebanese community and another for the Syrian communities so we can share all the information and decisions,” he says. “There’s a lot of people in the town that rely on their shops or businesses for income. Now that they are closed, they are becoming more fragile and they will need more assistance especially with food items,” he adds. “We are trying to prepare a school to isolate people with mild symptoms in case we had a big spread of the virus in our town,” he says. “I hope that this epidemic is controlled soon because the people can’t remain living like this for so long and our capacity in providing them with support will decrease,” he explains.
The Lebanese government and municipalities are trying their best to contain and limit the spread of the outbreak. However, for a fragile country, the capacities of the authorities are limited, and vulnerable Lebanese families are aware of that, which leaves them in dire concern around their future and the futures of their children.