Beirut: A majority of Lebanese were not taking coronavirus’s hazards seriously until the health authorities announced a steep increase in the number of those who had contracted it. Officials said on Wednesday that the number of coronavirus patients increased to 61, while two died. Meanwhile, there was one recovery, according to Rafik Hariri University Hospital’s daily report that was obtained by Gulf News. On Thursday, a third death at RHUH was declared.
Following the Lebanese cabinet’s reluctance and politically-motivated hesitation to declare a nationwide ‘state of emergency’ to limit the spread of the virus, social media users and broadcast media outlets launched hashtags and digital awareness campaigns to enlighten the public and encourage them to take precautionary measures against the coronavirus outbreak that has been declared a ‘pandemic’ by the World Health Organisation.
Social media users launched on Twitter a hashtag ‘declare the state of emergency’ in Arabic [#اعلنوا_حالة_طوارئ] in an attempt to coerce authorities to take immediate action to minimise the risks posed.
Hundreds of images and videos spread like wildfire across social media, criticising Lebanese citizens for the “irrationality and ridiculousness” with which they were dealing with coronavirus, as if they had immunity.
For nearly two weeks now, still and video images of families and schoolchildren skiing, picnicking and spending leisure time at parks and adults present in malls, restaurants and pubs were being circulated on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp.
Lebanese society was being seriously critiqued for taking coronavirus lightly and mingling in social circles as if they were holidaying rather than placing themselves under self-imposed house isolation.
Mainstream broadcast media like Al Jadeed TV and LBCI launched a joint hashtag ‘stay at home’ in Arabic [#خليك_بالبيت] that was used as a major platform for renowned media figures to advise the public to stay at home for the sake of reducing the risks of contracting the virus.
The hashtag campaigns are aimed at enlightening society about the importance of self-isolation and social distancing under the current circumstances.
“I hope such hashtags work out for us. People need to be extra vigilant and not take this lightly. It could turn vital if they don’t cooperate and stay at home,” Dr Talal, a general health physician told Gulf News.
During this week, citizens took to social media to call on Prime Minister Hassan Diab to impose a state of emergency and a nationwide lockdown. He was also criticised for the unexplainable delay in shutting down the air travel to Italy, China, South Korea and Iran to curb coronavirus.
Social worker Nawal Mustafa told Gulf News: “Many Lebanese have been taking this lightly. They shouldn’t. They always think they are smart and can overcome any problem. Well, this is not any problem … this is a pandemic. We have nearly 62 cases and the rate is expected to increase. Social distancing and self isolation are the two major actions that could help in keeping ourselves immune and stopping the virus from spreading. We should learn from Italy’s mistake.”
A WhatsApp voice message was circulated of Dr Faek Jamali of AUB Medical Centre saying: “Based on modulation and statistics we are doing and looking at numbers the way they are growing, we are going to hit the exponential phase of growth and become out of control within a week. Most likely, the country will head into full comprehensive shutdown like in Italy in an effort to contain the disease. There is no question that we have high levels of community transmission. People aren’t adhering to precautionary measures when they should … we need to impose social distancing.”
Roula F., a teacher said: “We have to announce a state of emergency before it is too late. Lock down the entire country NOW!”
During MTV’s Wednesday evening bulletin, newscaster Nabila Awad called on people to act as if there was a state of emergency in Lebanon and called on viewers to be responsible and stay in their homes.
“It is seriously dangerous and from MTV we call on everyone to act as if there is a health emergency,” she added.
The Ministry of Tourism demanded all restaurants shut down and limit service to deliveries.