Lebanese experts suggest cautious reopening of Beirut’s airport to support troubled economy

Xinhua Net | 13 June 2020

Despite the daily increase in COVID-19 infections in Lebanon, experts believe the cautious reopening of Beirut International Airport as scheduled is a necessary measure to support the country’s troubled economy.

The prime minister’s office announced in a statement on Friday that Beirut-Rafic Hariri International Airport is scheduled to restart operating from July 1, with only 10 percent of its capacity a year ago, or about 2,000 passengers a day.

The statement said passengers will be tested for COVID-19 upon arrival and take a second test three days later to prevent any potential spread of the virus in Lebanon.

If testing positive, passengers must be quarantined for two weeks, it noted.

Firas Abiad, director general of Rafic Hariri University Hospital, told Xinhua that the airport should be reopened given the dire economic situation in the country, only if proper measures are carried out to curb the spread of the virus.

“The question that should be asked here is whether we have enough PCR tests for all arrivals,” Abiad said.

According to the airport chief, the health ministry is capable of providing 2,500 PCR tests per day while the private labs could serve as complements if the arrivals are willing to pay for their tests.

Abiad also suggests the Lebanese authorities follow up on arrivals and their staying locations.

“If people lie about their staying locations and phone numbers they should be arrested and punished at the airport when they return to their countries of residence,” he said.

Jean Beyrouthy, head of the Federation of Touristic Syndicates, said passengers can take COVID-19 tests in their countries of residence before travelling to Lebanon and waiting for test results.

Patrick Mardini, president of Lebanese Institute for Market Studies, told Xinhua that the negative repercussions of delaying the reopening of the airport, if any, could be worse than COVID-19 itself.

“Lebanon will face a much worse situation if authorities decide to delay the reopening of the airport because tourism can generate around 4 billion dollars in fresh money during summer season,” he explained.

Lebanon has witnessed in the past few months a shortage in the U.S. dollars amid an economic slowdown, the drop in cash injections from Lebanese abroad, and money transfers by big depositors to foreign countries.

Currently, the Lebanese central bank’s foreign reserves, valued at 22 billion dollars, can barely cover the country’s needs for wheat, oil and medical products for a few more months.

With an annual revenue of around 8 billion dollars from 2015 to 2018, tourism has traditionally been one of Lebanon’s leading economic sectors, providing employment and income for a large segment of the population.

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