“We have reached the brink of the abyss and we no longer have the luxury of time,” the health minister, Dr. Hamad Hassan, said on Friday, warning that hospitals were nearing capacity, according to Lebanon’s National News Agency.
The country has recorded 3,241 cases in the last seven days, according to a New York Times database, bringing its total cases to 10,952, in a population of about 5.5 million, or 160 cases per 100,000 people. One hundred and thirteen people have died, 21 of them in the last seven days.
The rules include a curfew from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m., with exceptions for disaster relief efforts around the port. Markets, gyms, restaurants and other public spaces were ordered to close until the lockdown ends on Sept. 7.
Lebanon had initially been able to contain the virus with a lockdown first imposed in mid-March, which eased in stages starting in June.
But cases had been rising in the weeks before the explosion, which killed more than 170 people, injured more than 6,000, and displaced more than 300,000. The blast’s cause is under investigation, but it was fueled by an enormous cache of ammonium nitrate that had been stored at the port for years, even after officials were warned of the danger it posed. And even before the pandemic, the country was paralyzed by an economic crisis that left hospitals facing shortages.
The blast rendered three hospitals inoperable, damaged three others, along with many clinics, and destroyed many medical supplies, according to the World Health Organization, which warned that the health care system and work force were under severe strain. Two of the damaged hospitals had been treating Covid-19 patients.
Officials had stressed the threat of a virus resurgence, as the calamity often made social distancing impossible. In the days after the blast, the displaced moved in with family and friends, mourners gathered, people flocked to damaged areas to clean up, and angry protests against the ruling elite erupted — and were met with tear gas — in central Beirut.