Lebanon hits record coronavirus deaths, infections

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Beirut (AFP)

Lebanon hit new daily records of 44 coronavirus deaths and over 6,000 new infections Friday, the second day of a lockdown aimed at preventing the country's creaking healthcare system from collapsing.

The country of six million recorded 6,154 new infections over the past 24 hours, the health ministry said, as hospitals in Beirut reached full capacity.

The announcement came as the American University of Beirut's medical centre, one the country's top facilities, said that its intensive care units, COVID-19 units and emergency room were all full.

"We are unable to find beds for even the most critical patients," it said in a statement.

The World Health Organisation says that occupancy rates for ICU beds across the country has reached 90.4 per cent, up from 81 per cent on December 22.

Occupancy rates for regular beds has shot up from 72.5 percent to 86.3 percent over the same period, it added.

Recent days have seen cases surge in one of the steepest increases in transmission worldwide.

Lebanon has recorded 243,286 coronavirus cases and 1,825 deaths since its outbreak started in February.

Infections skyrocketed after authorities loosened restrictions during the holiday season, allowing restaurants and nightclubs to remain open until 3:00 am, despite warnings from health professionals.

On Thursday, a strict 11-day lockdown came into force, imposing a round-the-clock curfew and barring residents even from grocery shopping.

Sleiman Haroun, head of the Syndicate of Private Hospitals, said Friday that such facilities were all nearly full.

"Despite a substantial increase in the number of beds, the occupancy rate in most private hospitals is nearly 100 percent," he told AFP.

"Several, including those who have recently set up specialised units, have already reached capacity".

A hospital outside Beirut where health minister Hamad Hasan is receiving coronavirus treatment converted its cafe into a COVID-19 unit to deal with the influx of new patients, an AFP correspondent said.

Other hospitals in the capital have repurposed their ER and pediatrics wards to treat coronavirus patients.

Lebanon hopes to receive its first shipment of Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccines in mid-February.

Parliament on Friday approved a bill to allow the import and use of Covid-19 jabs by both the state and the private sector.