Beirut: Lebanon on Friday announced a gradual easing of coronavirus restrictions, after three weeks of draconian measures imposed to stem a surge in cases and ease the burden on overwhelmed hospitals.
The country of more than six million has officially recorded 315,340 coronavirus cases, including 3,495 deaths - including a record daily toll of 98 fatalities on Friday.
A full lockdown in place since January 14 includes a round-the-clock curfew, with grocery shopping allowed just by deliveries.
Only limited exceptions are permitted, such as to go to hospital or change money, and individuals must carry authorisations.
"Sectors will reopen progressively, in four phases," caretaker interior minister Mohamed Fahmi told a press conference Friday.
"The first phase, starting February 8, will last two weeks."
He said the requirement for authorisations to leave home would remain in place.
"The criteria for evaluating the epidemiological situation remain worrying, in particular the increase in deaths," caretaker health minister Hamad Hasan said at the press conference, adding that the aim was to lift measures gradually.
Authorities have increased the number of hospital beds for COVID-19 patients, but facilities are almost full.
Intensive care occupancy rates are almost 90 per cent across the country and 100 percent in Beirut, according to figures published Friday by the World Health Organisation.
Lebanon is expecting its first delivery of two million Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine doses mid-February, with priority for inoculations to be given to medical personnel and people aged over 75.
The current surge has largely been blamed on a loosening of restrictions over the end-of-year holiday period, although some experts have also pointed to virus variants.
Late last month, the country saw several days of clashes in the impoverished northern city of Tripoli, with protesters angered by a lockdown they said was starving them.
Authorities have been accused of failing to support the most disadvantaged, already struggling amid Lebanon's worst economic crisis since the 1975-1990 civil war.