AMMAN, Jordan (CNS) — A group of priests in Lebanon have quarantined themselves while a pair of their elders are fighting coronavirus. A Catholic hospital in another part of the tiny Mediterranean country has also seen a spread of the COVID-19 as fear of the disease grips the cash-strapped nation.
The number of cases is steadily increasing in Lebanon, which announced its second death from the virus March 11. Officials are concerned that Lebanon is not equipped to face a mass outbreak.
Already hit by economic collapse and anti-government protests, Lebanon is now grappling with an outbreak of the deadly illness — its latest in a long list of crises. Lebanon is one of several Middle Eastern countries combating the infection and its economic implications.
“What is sad in Lebanon is that in the first few days all the (coronavirus) cases were coming from Iran or Italy. Now we have cases (of people) who have never been in Iran or Italy and were not connected to people in Iran or Italy,” Michel Constantin, Catholic Near East Welfare Association’s regional director for Lebanon, Syria and Egypt, told Catholic News Service by phone.
“That’s why we believe the virus is not contained anymore. It’s spreading, but we are still not in the high level of infection. It’s not like Italy. In Lebanon, we are registering some five to seven cases a day,” said Constantin. However, he said the infection is creating “a very big panic in Lebanon.”
Constantin described “an accident in a private hospital for the Maronite church called Notre Dame de Secours in Byblos.”
“It seems that they didn’t take the right precautions in one of the cases because they weren’t sure and took some time before sending the case to the big hospital, where people are quarantined. We had five people and two nurses in this Catholic hospital infected (with the coronavirus),” Constantin said.
Most of the coronavirus cases in Lebanon are being treated at the Rafik Hariri University Hospital in the Lebanese capital, Beirut.
Constantin also expressed concern for two elderly Jesuit priests who contracted coronavirus and live near Beirut’s St. Joseph’s University.
“One is 82. The other is perhaps 80. One is in a critical condition, while the other is better. We now have 15 Jesuit priests locked inside the residence who have decided to remain in isolation. All the employees are outside. The church, offices, the residence, the bedrooms, everything is being disinfected,” Constantin said.