March 29/2020
Compiled & Prepared by: Elias Bejjani

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Bible Quotations For today
Jesus Heals The Blind Beggar Bartimaeus the Son of Timaeus
Mark/10/46-52/Then they came to Jericho. As Jesus and his disciples, together with a large crowd, were leaving the city, a blind man, Bartimaeus (that is, the Son of Timaeus), was sitting by the roadside begging. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”Many rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.” So they called to the blind man, “Cheer up! On your feet! He’s calling you.”Throwing his cloak aside, he jumped to his feet and came to Jesus. “What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked him. The blind man said, “Rabbi, I want to see.””Go,” said Jesus, “your faith has healed you.” Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus along the road.

Titles For The Latest English LCCC Lebanese & Lebanese Related News & Editorials published on March 28-29/2020
Our Father, Almighty God Is Our Sole Refuge/Elias Bejjani/March 29/2020
Lebanese Health Ministry: 412 lab-confirmed Coronavirus cases in Lebanon
Coronavirus policy: Lebanon’s Berri threatens to suspend support
Army begins implementing curfew
Sayyed Nasrallah: Returning Lebanese Expatriates Stranded in Corona-hit Countries Must Start Immediately
Report: Banks 'Still Pushing' for Capital Control
Lebanon Begins Implementing Night Closure, Curfew
Fahmi: Next Phase Crucial to Fight Coronavirus
Moucharafieh meets Ohanian, Hassan, Bazzi
Hassan, Bou Saab inspect the Lebanese Canadian Hospital’s readiness to receive Corona patients
Bassil: No country can prevent the return of its citizens, government must establish a medical, social, and financial protocol to secure this return
Akkar Crisis Cell explores equipping government hospital in province, launches donations account
Police Dismantle Protest Tents in Beirut
UNHCR urges displaced Syrians to adhere to curfew
Nehme provides Health Minister with names of insurance companies and their coverage details
Lebanon to Form Debt Restructuring Plan by Year-End
With Virus, Cherished Lebanon Traditions Come to Abrupt Halt
Geagea: Government is required to take a quick decision to ensure the return of the Lebanese from abroad
Lebanon says to form debt restructuring plan by year-end
Lebanon’s Municipalities: First Defense Line in Times of Crisis
Lebanese Judicial Measures to Ease Pressure on Overcrowded Prisons
Berri Criticizes Government’s Conditions to Repatriate Stranded Lebanese Nationals
Industry raw materials are available until now,' reassures Huballah
Lebanon reads its way through quarantine/Salma Yassine/Annahar/March 29/2020

Titles For The Latest English LCCC Miscellaneous Reports And News published on March 28-29/2020
News Alert: FDA authorizes 15-minute coronavirus test
More than 600,000 Coronavirus Cases Recorded Globally
Trump Signs $2 Trillion Recovery Plan as U.S. Virus Cases Skyrocket
China Virus Epicentre Eases Travel Restrictions after Lockdown
UN panel calls for halt to Syria fighting as coronavirus strikes
Pentagon orders preparations to ‘destroy’ pro-Iran Kataib Hezbollah in Iraq: Report
Coronavirus: Iran president credits foreign ministry for campaign to lift sanctions
Former Iran deputy speaker Mohammad Reza Khatami infected with coronavirus
Coronavirus: Iran death toll rises to 2,517, total cases reach 35,408
Over 80 inmates escape prison in Iran’s Kurdistan after riots over coronavirus
Coronavirus: Iraqi Shia cleric blames gay marriage for coronavirus
UK looking for options to repatriate citizens in Iraq: British embassy
Coronavirus: Turkey suspends trains, limits domestic flights
Iranian Diplomats Instigated Killing of Dissident in Istanbul, Turkish Officials Say

Titles For The Latest LCCC English analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on March 28-29/2020
The Era of the Coronavirus Agreement/Mohamed Orabi/Asharq Al Awsat/March 28/2020
The ups and downs of our new ‘virtual’ lives/Yossi Mekelberg/Arab News/March 28, 2020
The G20 extraordinary summit/Basil M.K. Al-Ghalayini/Arab News/March 28, 2020
Stay home and help save the world as well as yourselves/Jonathan Gornall/Arab News/March 28, 2020
This region is ill prepared for the tsunami that is coming/Hafed Al-Ghwell/Arab News/March 28, 2020

The Latest English LCCC Lebanese & Lebanese Related News & Editorials published on March 28-29/2020
Our Father, Almighty God Is Our Sole Refuge
Elias Bejjani/March 29/2020
أبانا السماوي هو ملجأنا الوحيد
In the midst of the Corona Virus spread and hazards we are ought to pray and pray for the recovery of all those who are sick and specially for the ones who are either unable to take care of themselves, or living in countries where the health services are not good or unqualified to deal with the corona spread.
Currently, in the face of the Corona Virus attack the whole world is in state on fear and confusion.
Yes it is very true and extremely wise to resort to science and scientists hoping for a curing drug or a preventative vaccine, but at the same we have to hold on to Jesus Christ and pray and pray that our Father, Almighty God Who definitely shall come rescue us at the right tome, we His children.
It remains that faith is a very powerful means for hope when it is genuine and solid.
John 09:39: “I came into this world for judgment, that those who don’t see may see; and that those who see may become blind.”
The faithful all over the world strongly believe that Jesus is the holy and blessed light through which believers can see God’s paths of righteousness.
There is no doubt that without Jesus’ light, evil darkness will prevail in peoples’ hearts, souls and minds.
Without Jesus’ presence in our lives we definitely will become preys to all kinds of evil temptations.
John 09:5: “While I am in the world, I am the light of the world”.
In every community, there are individuals from all walks of life who are spiritually blind, lacking faith, have no hope, and live in dim darkness because they have distanced themselves from Almighty God and from His Gospel, although their eyes are physically perfectly functional and healthy.
Meanwhile the actual blindness is not in the eyes that can not see because of physical ailments, but in the hearts that are hardened, in the consciences that are numbed and in the spirits that are defiled with sin.
Romans 8:26: “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans”
Sadly our contemporary world hails atheism, brags about secularism and persecutes those who have faith in God and believe in Him and belief strongly that He is our only sanctuary and refuge in face of all kinds of evil temptations.
Where ever we live, there are opportunists and hypocrites who advocate for the denial of faith and all that is love, forgiveness, humbleness, sharing and peace.
Meanwhile, Christian believers do suffer dire persecution in many countries on the hands of ruthless oppressors, Jihadists and rulers who refuse to witness for the truth.
But despite of all the dim spiritual darkness, thanks God, there are still too many meek believers who hold strong to their faith no matters what the obstacles or hurdles are.
In the midst of the Corona Virus plague we call on the loving and merciful Lord to enlighten our minds and hearts with His light and open our eyes to realize that He is our only refuge.
Lord Help us to solidify and strengthen our faith.
Lord help us to defeat all kinds of sin that might take us away from Your light, and deliver us all from all evil temptations.

Lebanese Health Ministry: 412 lab-confirmed Coronavirus cases in Lebanon
NNA /March 28/2020
The Ministry of Public Health announced, in a statement on Saturday, that "twenty-one new laboratory-confirmed cases infected with the novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) have been registered, including the cases diagnosed at the Rafic Hariri Governmental Hospital, and those reported from other university hospitals accredited by the Ministry.""The total number of confirmed Corona patients until today, March 28, has reached 412 cases," the Ministry's statement added. The Ministry emphasized, once again, the crucial need to implement of all preventive measures, thus reminding all citizens to strictly remain at home.

Lebanon Confirms 24 News Coronavirus Cases, 1 New Death
Naharnet/March 28/2020
The Health Ministry said on Saturday that one more death and 21 new cases of coronavirus have been detected on Saturday. The Ministry said an elderly in his 80s has died as the result of the virus and that he already had other chronic diseases. His death raises the number of victims to eight. The new coronavirus cases have raised the number of people infected to 412. The Ministry’s report comes as Lebanon observes a curfew monitored by the Army and security forces to contain the spread of the virus.

Coronavirus policy: Lebanon’s Berri threatens to suspend support
Reuters, Beirut/Saturday 28 March 2020
Lebanese Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri threatened on Saturday to suspend his support for Prime Minister Hassan Diab’s government if it did not act to bring home expatriates stranded abroad during the coronavirus pandemic. Foreign Minister Nassif Hitti said on Thursday that Lebanese citizens abroad must undergo a test to make sure they are not carrying coronavirus before boarding a flight home. “If the government keeps its position on the issue of the expatriates beyond this coming Tuesday we will suspend our representation in the government,” Berri, head of the Shiite Amal Movement, said in a statement from his office. Berri is one of Lebanon’s most powerful figures and named the finance minister and others in the government which is grappling with a financial crisis and would be paralyzed were he to withdraw his backing. Like all of Lebanon’s main politicians, Berri has a significant support base in the country's large diaspora. Leading Christian politician Samir Geagea also attacked the government on the issue on Saturday, expressing concern that countries struggling to cope with outbreaks would prioritize the treatment of their own nationals over expatriates. Some Lebanese stuck abroad are struggling to get by, their situation complicated by tight restrictions imposed by Lebanese banks on transfers abroad and cash withdrawals from ATMs overseas. Lebanon has been struggling with a crippling financial crisis since October.Hitti said this week the ceilings for bank transfers to students stuck abroad would be increased. “We hope to bring home Lebanese today, before tomorrow, and understand the feelings of families and their children but the PCR tests must be secured because there is great danger in a person infected with corona boarding a plane with those who are not infected,” he wrote on Twitter.
The government would arrange flights to bring home those stuck abroad, he said, urging Lebanese abroad to register with embassies to provide them with help.

Army begins implementing curfew

NNA/March 28/2020
The Lebanese army said in a statement on Saturday that its forces had deployed throughout the Lebanese regions to ensure that the curfew was respected, in order to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus. "The army units deployed in all Lebanese regions have implemented extraordinary measures to implement the curfew decision from 7:00 pm until 5:00 am," the statement said.It also stressed the need to adhere to "general mobilization" measures and urged all citizens to stay in their homes and refrain from going out for unnecessary reasons and from gatherings.

Sayyed Nasrallah: Returning Lebanese Expatriates Stranded in Corona-hit Countries Must Start Immediately
Al-Manar English Website/Mohammad Salami/March 29, 2020
Hezbollah Secretary General Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah highlighted Saturday that the process of returning the Lebanese expatriates, who are stranded in corona-hit countries and interested in going back to their country, must start immediately.In a televised speech via Al-Manar TV Channel, Sayyed Nasrallah explained that any procrastination in this file will expose the expatriates to health dangers in the countries which will witness a large-scale outbreak of the coronavirus during the coming days.
Sayyed Nasrallah added that the coronavirus outbreak might lead to a social and security collapse in certain countries, which will endanger the Lebanese expatriates as they may be killed there.
“Even in the United Sates, the rate of arms purchase has sharply increased because of the fear of the security collapse.”
Sayyed Nasrallah maintained that all the Lebanese locked in corona-hit countries have the right to return to their country, adding that the Lebanese authorities’ duty to return them must be also indisputable.
“Whatever the threats are, the Lebanese authorities must respond to the pleas of the expatriates,” Hezbollah leader said, “Preventive measures can be taken to guarantee a safe return to the expatriates.”
Sayyed Nasrallah further stressed that the returning expatriates have houses in Lebanon and have vowed to financially contribute to the process aimed at bringing them back to their country.
Sayyed Nasrallah further called on all the Lebanese, including the wealthy people, to help the government carry out this mission which would be a source of pride for the cabinet, when done.
“Medical capabilities, closed hotels, and funds must be consecrated by all the parties for this mission.”
Sayyed Nasrallah also urged all the Lebanese political parties to avoid the mutual provocations and cooperate in order to help the government in face of the Coronavirus challenge.
In this context, Sayyed Nasrallah called on the bank owners to ease the transactions from the Lebanese families to their children studying abroad, stressing that it is a simple mission in case a serious decision is taken.
Coronavirus Challenge
Hezbollah Secretary General stressed that all the Lebanese must recognize the fact that the confrontation with the coronavirus is a world war as all countries are preoccupied with this challenge, citing the failure of many world governments to address this threat in their countries
“In comparison with the confusion storming the world countries, including the major powers, the confrontation with the coronavirus in Lebanon is acceptable and promising.”
Sayyed Nasrallah pointed out that the government is taking good measures in this regard, adding that Hezbollah does not oppose any of them and explaining some people propose declaring the state of emergency without knowing what it means.
In this regard, Sayyed Nasrallah hailed the efforts exerted by President Michel Aoun, House Speaker Nabih Berri, PM Hassan Diab and all the ministers to confront the coronavirus.
Sayyed Nasrallah highlighting the importance of mitigating the political rifts in the country in order to concentrate all the efforts on facing this pandemic, citing the eminent threat posed by the virus whose nature and essence have not been discovered by the scientists yet.
Thus, the plan to face the coronavirus depends mainly on imposing home quarantine and social distancing in order to siege the threat, according to Sayyed Nasrallah who added that this is adopted by all the world countries, including China.
Sayyed Nasrallah called on the Lebanese to keep committed to the state general mobilization, adding that violations will waste all the previously exerted efforts. Sayyed Nasrallah hailed all the initiatives of the political and social organizations to help the needy people during this crisis, highlighting the veracity of competition in this field.
Hezbollah Chief suggested coordinating the efforts among all the parties and organizations, shedding light on helping the families which reject to apply for aids due to moral concerns.
Sayyed Nasrallah called the judiciary to try all the merchants who are raising prices and monopolizing during the crisis, urging the honorable tradesmen to break monopoly and lower prices by dumping the market with their commodities.
Sayyed Nasrallah further highlighted the importance of ending the crisis of the small depositors, stressing that the human and moral responsibility imposes on the banks to solve this problem by returning the funds.
Hezbollah leader addressed the bank owners, “What is the suitable rhetoric that we should use in order to stir your humaneness?”
“You have earned billions of dollars from the Lebanese deposits since 1992, benefiting from certain governmental policies. Now you have to help your nation during this calamity.”
“You donated $6 million dollars to the Lebanese government, while your children’s weddings used to cost millions of dollars.”Sayyed Nasrallah considered that the Banking Association grant to the government was shameful, highlighting the ceremony held at the Grand Serail for this purpose.

Report: Banks 'Still Pushing' for Capital Control
Naharnet/March 28/2020
Despite the opposition it faces by various political parties, a group of bankers are reportedly trying to again push a capital control bill, that organizes the relation between banks and depositors, to the Cabinet table for approval amid a financial crisis and shortage in dollars, al-Joumhouria daily reported on Saturday. The daily said it learned that banking authorities have “raised the issue with some of the ministers.”In this context, Speaker Nabih Berri, a staunch adversary of said law was quoted as telling his visitors that he will never approve it. “The capital control law does not exist anymore, securing a legislation during my days to touch the funds of depositors is out of the question, nor would I allow anyone to underrate the Constitution,” stressed Berri. The Speaker said that banks should better turn to Article 174 of the Cash and Credit Law, to organize relations with their customers.

Lebanon Begins Implementing Night Closure, Curfew
Naharnet/March 28/2020
Lebanon on Friday started implementing beefed up “general mobilization” measures with the closure of all shops including supermarkets at 5:00 pm and a curfew that starts at 7:00 pm and ends at 5:00 am. Only pharmacies, bakeries, mills, medical and hygiene product factories, gas stations, media outlets, hotels, private security firms and crews related to sanitation, neighborhood generator providers and the electricity and internet sectors will be allowed to operate uninterrupted, the Internal Security Forces said. “It is true that the economic situation is difficult and the assets are tight, but we are in a war with an invisible enemy and the coming days are crucial,” Interior Minister Mohammed Fahmi tweeted as the stricter measures got underway. “The goal is not to write the biggest number of fines; the goal is having zero fines,” he added. “Out of keenness on you and your families, stay home,” Fahmi urged. The army for its part issued a statement saying it would begin taking measures to “prevent movement on the streets between 7:00 pm and 5:00 am, in addition to monitoring the closure of institutions included in the closure order.” “The Army Command calls on citizens to cooperate with the taken measures,” the military added. The government had on Thursday extended the so-called state of general mobilization until April 12. The government had first declared the state of general mobilization on March 15, asking citizens to stay home unless it is necessary, shuttering non-essential public and private institutions and closing the air, land and sea ports of entry. Lebanon has so far confirmed 391 coronavirus cases among them seven deaths and 27 recoveries.

Fahmi: Next Phase Crucial to Fight Coronavirus

Naharnet/March 28/2020
Interior Minister Mohammed Fahmi said the measures will be tightened to ensure that the state of “general mobilization” declared by the government meets the desired goal in controlling the spread of the novel coronavirus, al-Joumhouria daily reported on Friday. “Implementation of the new general mobilization state will be tightened. The next phase which extends until April 12 is crucial and we must all work together to make it successful,” said Fahmi. On Thursday the government extended the so-called state of general mobilization until April 12 and ordered a general closure from 7pm until 5am with some exceptions, in an amplification of the anti-coronavirus measures. The Premiership later said in a statement that only mills, bakeries, pharmacies and medical factories will be exempt from the 7pm-5am closure order, adding that citizens and residents will be barred from being on the streets. The extension of general mobilization followed a recommendation from the Higher Defense Council which convened earlier in the day.

Moucharafieh meets Ohanian, Hassan, Bazzi
NNA/March 28/2020
Minister of Social Affairs and Tourism, Ramzi Moucharafieh, recieved in his office at the Ministry this morning Youth and Sports Minister Vartine Ohanian, with whom he tackled the latest developments and the repercussions of the health crisis we are experiencing at the level of tourism and sports in Lebanon. The Minister also met with Public Health Minister Hamad Hassan, with whom he discussed the latest health developments resulting from the Corona epidemic, and its social and economic impact on citizens, in addition to the social emergency plan that the Ministry of Social Affairs is working on in cooperation with some ministries and bodies. Moucharafieh later met with MP Ali Bazzi.

Hassan, Bou Saab inspect the Lebanese Canadian Hospital’s readiness to receive Corona patients
NNA/March 28/2020
Public Health Minister, Hamad Hassan, toured Saturday the Lebanese Canadian Hospital in Sin El Fil, accompanied by former Defense Minister, MP Elias Bou Saab, and the Hospital Director, Dr. Joe Toutikian, whereby they inspected its various sections and its readiness to receive "Corona" patients soon.
Bou Saab thanked the Minister of Health and the Ministry staff for their undertaken efforts during these exceptional circumstances, as well as the staff of Rafic Hariri Governmental Hospital and all other hospitals, "because they are most vulnerable to corona infection and are putting their lives at risk in order to help others."Bou Saab urged all those who are capable of extending a helping hand in every region not to spare any effort to do so, noting that "the responsibility does not stop at certain borders, because the whole world is suffering, and all of Lebanon is enduring this crisis."
The MP disclosed that the Metn region has recorded the highest number of infected patients, which has reached 70, adding that "this province is overpopulated and there is no hospital equipped for emergency Corona cases, as there is only one government hospital that is not equipped at the moment, namely the Dahr Al-Bashiq Hospital, which is to be included in the second phase of the Health Ministry's plan."In this connection, Bou Saab announced his initiative to rent the Lebanese Canadian Hospital building in Sin El Fil for a year and allocate it to receive Corona patients, since it has been closed for about 7 months and can rapidly be placed at the patients’ disposal. Minister Hassan, in turn, considered that these initiatives from all volunteers and all groups provide a true model on how to approach the situation at hand, stressing on the importance of making sure that what is being provided reaches the people in need of health and social care and assistance. Hassan disclosed that the Lebanese Canadian Hospital will be equipped soon, with the joint cooperation between the civil society and the Health Ministry, to receive and care for coronavirus infected cases.
"The hospital can be ready within a week or 10 days for hotel services and illness cases within two weeks," the Health Minister stated, adding that "in the event of an epidemic outbreak and declaring a state of emergency, the hospital can be equipped within 4 weeks so that it will have a large capacity for absorbing patients."

Bassil: No country can prevent the return of its citizens, government must establish a medical, social, and financial protocol to secure this return
NNA/March 28/2020
Head of the "Strong Lebanon" Parliamentary Bloc, MP Gebran Bassil, stressed Saturday that "a country cannot, in principle, prevent the return of its citizens to it, just as it cannot ignore its expatriates and turn to its residents only, but must maintain equality between the two.”
"The government must develop a medical, social and financial protocol to secure the return of the Lebanese from abroad," he said, expressing “willingness to help with many aspects." Bassil also demanded that Syria removes any measure preventing the return of its nationals residing in Lebanon, calling for official contact between Lebanon and Syria to secure this return. Bassil’s words came in an address he delivered this evening, which tackled the issue of Lebanese citizens who wish to return to Lebanon due to the Corona epidemic outbreak in their countries of residence abroad.
"A Lebanese emigrant, possessing the Lebanese citizenship, has the same rights as a Lebanese resident…The right of the Lebanese abroad to return to Lebanon is undisputed, and it is guaranteed by the Constitution," Bassil underscored. “We are all confident that the government, just as it carries out its duties towards residents, is beginning to perform its duties towards the Lebanese Diaspora,” he said, calling for according the cabinet ample time and necessary support to meet its obligations towards all its citizens, away from any political outbidding. “The government must be given an adequate but limited time limit, and the time required to set the return program and its mechanism among these criteria,” Bassil maintained. “The issue requires combined responsibility and patriotism, on one hand, and respect for science and medicine on the other hand, so that Lebanon would overcome, God willingly, with its residents and emigrants, this ordeal,” Bassil concluded.

Akkar Crisis Cell explores equipping government hospital in province, launches donations account
NNA/March 28/2020
The Akkar Crisis Cell began Saturday its first meeting at the Issam Fares Hall in the Halba Municipal Building, comprised of Akkar’s seven deputies, Head of the Syndicate of Attorneys in Tripoli Mohamed Mourad, clerics representing Akkar’s five sects, heads of municipal unions, and representatives of the Civil Defense, Caritas, Zakat Fund , Red Cross and Dr. Abdullah Al-Rassi Governmental Hospital. Talks during the meeting centered on the efforts and endeavors made to equip the only governmental hospital available in the Province of Akkar, and the necessary requirements for receiving Coronavirus infected cases, in addition to opening the door for donations to support the provision of this hospital and possible difficult social cases in the region. Accordingly, a donations account was launched during the meeting, whereby participants and citizens of Akkar, both residents and expatriates, began donating to support their region during these challenging circumstances. The Crisis Cell called on all those who wish to donate to contact the following phone numbers: 76/546420 and 71/873999.

Police Dismantle Protest Tents in Beirut
Naharnet/March 28/2020
Security forces on Saturday removed all the tents that protesters erected in Beirut’s Martyr Square and Riad al-Solh since Lebanon’s uprising on October 17. The police first asked the protesters to evacuate the tents on Friday evening, but some activists said they will do that Saturday morning referring to a curfew already in place in the country over the novel coronavirus, according to LBCI TV station. However, one of the activists reportedly threatened to immolate himself. A brawl erupted between security forces and the protesters, added LBCI. Attorney Ali Abbas, one of the activists who joined the anti-government protests since day one told the TV reporter: “There is an intention for power abuse and also an intention to take advantage of the current situation,” he said, referring to the coronavirus pandemic, The media office of Interior Minister Mohammed Fahmi said in a statement that orders were given to dismantle the tents when the “protesters encroached on public and private property, and triggered a dispute with one of the ambassadors,” who was not named. “It has not been brought to our knowledge anything about a dispute,” Abbas said, “the Minister has vowed a week ago to preserve the uprising and to do his best to protect the protesters. We don't know what changed today,” he added. “We were surprised to see what is happening today. There is an intention for power abuse and also an intention to take advantage of the current situation,” he added. On the precautionary measures taken inside the tents to prevent the spread of the virus, Abbas emphasized: “Tents were all sanitized and the general safety standards were observed.”

UNHCR urges displaced Syrians to adhere to curfew

NNA/March 28/2020
Displaced Syrians recieved text messages from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, asking them to stay in their homes to limit the spread of the Coronavirus, in accordance with the decision imposed by the Lebanese authorities from 27 March, and the curfew put into effect from 7 pm to 5 am. The UNHCR also indicated in its text messages that Syrian refugees would be provided with treatment at its expense in case of infection. In this connection, it is to note that the displaced have expressed their dismay for not receiving any food or assistance in kind from the Refugee Agency.

Nehme provides Health Minister with names of insurance companies and their coverage details
NNA/March 28/2020
Minister of Trade and Economy, Raoul Nehme, submitted a letter to the Minister of Health, Hamad Hassan, enclosing a table showing the names of insurance companies and the details of the coverage they provide to their insured clients.
Nehme asked Hassan to circulate the decision to all hospitals, and to commit them to the following: "Provide insured patients with COVID-19 coverage without delay in the interest of their rights and public safety, refer the files of those infected with COVID-19 whose insurance companies refuse to cover to the Supervisory Bodies .Control Committee for follow-up, via contact number: 01999069, WhatsApp 81999069, or email:"He also pointed out that the insurance contracts for all foreign workers include COVID-19 coverage upto a ceiling of thirty-five million Lebanese pounds.

Lebanon to Form Debt Restructuring Plan by Year-End
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/March 28/2020
Lebanon Friday pledged to finalise a plan to restructure the country's massive debt by the end of 2020, just weeks after its first default in history. Finance Minister Ghazi Wazni promised "a full restructuring of the government debt –- both Lebanese pound and dollar denominated debt" as part of a wider economic recovery plan. "Our aim is to finalise this ambitious turnaround agenda before year-end 2020," he said during a presentation to investors by webcast. Describing the Lebanese economic model as "broken", he also pledged banking sector and fiscal reforms. One of the most indebted countries in the world, Lebanon is burdened by a public debt equivalent to more than 170 percent of GDP. On Monday, the finance ministry said it would discontinue payments on all of its outstanding dollar-denominated Eurobonds. This came after its first default in history on a $1.2 billion Eurobond originally due on March 9. The country is embroiled in one of its worst economic crises since the 1975-1990 civil war, now compounded by an outbreak of the novel coronavirus. In a bid to halt the spread of the illness, the government has ordered a lockdown until April 12 and ordered all non-essential businesses to close. The finance ministry's director-general Alain Bifani warned that the pandemic would only "exacerbate the deterioration of social conditions". He said 45 percent of Lebanese already lived in poverty, and 22 percent in extreme poverty. He predicted the economy would further contract by around 12 percent this year, and inflation would reach up to 25 percent. Even before the coronavirus, prices had soared and many businesses had been forced to slash salaries, fire staff or close. The pandemic is just the latest crisis to hit Lebanon, already reeling from months of unprecedented anti-government protests that sought to dislodge a ruling elite seen as incompetent and corrupt.

With Virus, Cherished Lebanon Traditions Come to Abrupt Halt

Associated Press/Naharnet/March 28/2020
As the pandemic continues to spread, governments across the Middle East are clamping down on the region's cherished traditions: No more massive weddings and celebrations. No more evenings spent mostly by men in traditional coffee shops across the region. And most importantly, no more smoking of the beloved shisha, or water pipe, in public places. The Lebanese port city of Sidon, south of the capital Beirut, is mostly deserted. It once bustled with people flocking to its traditional coffee shops where elderly men gathered to smoke cigarettes and play cards and backgammon. Those closed after the Lebanese government ordered a lockdown last week. Qassem Bdeir, a fisherman, sat with a group of friends near a hidden segment of the port, discussing the situation, each seated a meter away from the other. "We used to meet at the coffee shop after a day's work to talk and play cards. Now there's no work, and we steal these few moments to talk and commiserate sitting away from each other before we go home to lock ourselves up," he said. The virus has also upended plans for weddings — often extravagant affairs in the region, with hundreds of invitees. In Beirut, Bassam Makki, the 42-year-old owner of a jewelry shop had been in the final stages of planning his wedding when the pandemic started. He and his fiance took out a loan and planned a celebration for 130 people at a four-star hotel in Beirut. The party, which had been scheduled for April 10, has been canceled. "I guess it wasn't meant to be," he said, trying to offer a smile.

Geagea: Government is required to take a quick decision to ensure the return of the Lebanese from abroad
NNA/March 29/2020
"The government is required to take a very quick decision to organize flights for Lebanese emigrants who wish to return to their homes in these exceptional circumstances," underlined Lebanese Forces Party Chief, Samir Geagea, on Saturday. "The position of the Lebanese government until this hour regarding the Lebanese expatriates scattered across the four corners of the world, who wish to return urgently to their motherland in this difficult circumstance, is very shameful,” Geagea said in a statement. He wondered how a government, having the minimum sense of responsibility towards its people, can refuse the request of its citizens to return from abroad under the pressure of the Corona epidemic outbreak, and the lack of necessary infrastructure in many countries of the Diaspora presence to limit the spread of this epidemic or to treat patients? Geagea criticized the government’s reluctance in this regards, especially since Lebanese expatriates have expressed on more than one occasion their willingness to bear the costs of their transfer and compulsory quarantine upon their arrival in Lebanon.

Lebanon says to form debt restructuring plan by year-end
The New Arab & agencies/March 28, 2020
Lebanon on Friday pledged to finalise a plan to restructure the country's massive debt by the end of 2020, just weeks after its first default in history. Finance Minister Ghazi Wazni promised "a full restructuring of the government debt - both Lebanese pound and dollar denominated debt" as part of a wider economic recovery plan. "Our aim is to finalise this ambitious turnaround agenda before year-end 2020," he said during a presentation to investors by webcast. Describing the Lebanese economic model as "broken", he also pledged banking sector and fiscal reforms. One of the most indebted countries in the world, Lebanon is burdened by a public debt equivalent to more than 170 percent of GDP. On Monday, the finance ministry said it would discontinue payments on all of its outstanding dollar-denominated Eurobonds. This came after its first default in history on a $1.2 billion Eurobond originally due on March 9. The country is embroiled in one of its worst economic crises since the 1975-1990 civil war, now compounded by an outbreak of the novel coronavirus. In a bid to halt the spread of the illness, the government has ordered a lockdown until April 12 and ordered all non-essential businesses to close.
The finance ministry's director-general Alain Bifani warned that the pandemic would only "exacerbate the deterioration of social conditions". He said 45 percent of Lebanese already lived in poverty, and 22 percent in extreme poverty. He predicted the economy would further contract by around 12 percent this year, and inflation would reach up to 25 percent. Even before the coronavirus, prices had soared and many businesses had been forced to slash salaries, fire staff or close. The pandemic is just the latest crisis to hit Lebanon, already reeling from months of unprecedented anti-government protests that sought to dislodge a ruling elite seen as incompetent and corrupt.

Lebanon’s Municipalities: First Defense Line in Times of Crisis
Beirut - Caroline Akoum/Asharq Al-Awsat/Saturday, 28 March, 2020
Lebanon’s municipalities are striving to be the defense line in the face of the coronavirus epidemic despite their limited capabilities and budgets. They are also making remarkable efforts that go beyond implementing the government’s decisions, through special voluntary initiatives.
The government entrusted the municipal councils with several tasks, including monitoring residents’ commitment to social distancing, preventing gatherings and regulating the work of institutions that are exempted from shutting down, in addition to distributing aid to underprivileged families.
“Municipalities are the only form of administrative decentralization in Lebanon, and they enjoy financial and administrative independence… but the problem lies in their limited financial capabilities, with the exception of some cities such as Beirut,” former Interior Minister Ziad Baroud told Asharq Al-Awsat. “Based on the recent state of emergency declared by the government, the municipalities have a role to play because they are in contact with the people… There is no doubt that the effectiveness of their work lies on their capabilities and the number of staff,” he continued.
While stressing the need to support the municipalities and raise their budgets, Baroud noted that Lebanon allocates between 5 and 7 percent of the total domestic spending to municipalities, while in other countries the budget reaches 27 percent.
Tripoli, where a large number of stores did not adhere to the government’s “general mobilization” decision to fight the COVID-19 disease, is an example of the difficult task assumed by the municipalities.
Riad Yamak, the head of Tripoli’s municipality, told Asharq Al-Awsat: “We have a great responsibility and our capabilities are limited, especially in light of the widespread poverty in the city, as more than 40 percent of its residents are below the poverty line.
“This has put pressure on our task to close the shops and markets, which led to the intervention of the army,” he explained.
“A city lockdown and preparing for the next stage in the event of an outbreak of the virus needs great financial capabilities,” Yamak stressed.
Despite all, some municipalities have launched special and distinctive initiatives that are not limited to financial, social and health support but go as far as providing entertainment activities to urge families to stay home.
Some municipalities anticipated the government’s plans by helping poor families through special initiatives, while others chose to resort to different methods to motivate people to stay home. The municipality of Aley, for example, circulated vehicles broadcasting music and recruited volunteer musicians, who toured the neighborhoods, raising cheers from people standing on their balconies.

Lebanese Judicial Measures to Ease Pressure on Overcrowded Prisons
Beirut - Youssef Diab/Asharq Al-Awsat/Saturday, 28 March, 2020
The Lebanese judiciary has taken decisions to ease pressure on the country's overcrowded prisons and put in place mechanisms to deter the spread of the coronavirus.
With the difficulty of transferring detainees from prisons to the relevant courts for questioning, the judiciary, in cooperation with the Bar Associations in Beirut and North Lebanon, speeded up the pace of investigations, by interrogating the detainees through virtual platforms.
Well-informed sources told Asharq Al-Awsat that the judiciary wanted to achieve justice and law enforcement, and reduce the risk of the spread of the coronavirus in the overcrowded prisons. Asked whether this measure would compensate for the general amnesty demanded by the prisoners, the judicial sources said: “The general amnesty requires a political decision by the government and parliament.” “The judiciary, which is aware of the seriousness of the situation, cannot stand idle while awaiting such a decision; rather, its duty is to balance between achieving justice and reducing the risk of contamination,” they added. The head of the Bar Association in the North, Mohammad Mrad, explained that the new mechanisms, implemented by the Beirut and the North Bar Associations, would protect the detainees, the security forces, and the administrative team inside prisons.
“The Prison Committee of the Bar Association in Tripoli turned into an emergency cell, and began receiving dozens of requests for the release of detainees, whether by fax or by sending lawyers to prisons, and transferring those requests to the appropriate judicial authorities,” he said.
“We see positive cooperation in this regard,” he added, noting that 25 detainees were released on Friday and that mechanisms were put in place to receive similar requests via a call center. He added that these measures could lead to the release of about 200 detainees from Tripoli Prison, meaning 15-20 percent of its inmates. Those procedures, however, do not satisfy those accused of major crimes. Lawyer Mohamed Sablouh, the defense attorney for most Islamic detainees, considered that the recent decisions were limited to those convicted of minor crimes. “The release of detainees does not include those held on trial by the military court, who constitute the most oppressed category among the prisoners,” he underlined, adding: “These measures are good and may temporarily reduce overcrowding in prisons; but they cannot replace a comprehensive and fair general amnesty.”

Berri Criticizes Government’s Conditions to Repatriate Stranded Lebanese Nationals
Beirut - Asharq Al-Awsat/Saturday, 28 March, 2020
Speaker Nabih Berri lashed out at the Foreign Ministry for delaying the repatriation of Lebanese nationals stranded in coronavirus-infected countries.“They are facing the threat of the pandemic across the globe and some places lack hospitals and the minimum basics of health care,” Berri said.
The issue of Lebanese locked in coronavirus-endemic countries in Europe and Africa has raised a lot of controversy. While many political parties have called for their return to Lebanon, the government insisted they could not be repatriated before April 12, at the end of the extended lockdown period. In a television interview on Thursday, Foreign Minister Nassif Hitti said nationals would not be allowed to return to Lebanon unless they test negative for the virus. “We will allocate aircraft to return them to their homeland after securing a PCR examination, and subjecting them to it,” he stated.
Prime Minister Hassan Diab explained the government’s position, saying: “Nobody can be excluded before the end of the specified public mobilization for two reasons: First, protecting people who wish to return from the possibility of being infected on the plane and transmitting the infection to a large number of people; second, preventing the spread of the virus in the country, because a large part of our infections were transmitted by inbound travelers.”“In all cases, we are studying the means to bring them back home, and we will work to develop a clear vision before April 12,” he added. Berri called on the government to hold an urgent meeting to review the issue. “Isn’t the attempt to steal their deposits via capital control enough? You are asking them to submit requests to embassies, but they are not seeking citizenship. They are Lebanese or rather the Lebanese,” Berri affirmed. He also noted that the expats are “willing to bear all the financial and medical burdens of their return.”

Industry raw materials are available until now,' reassures Huballah
NNA/March 29/2020
Minister of Industry, Imad Huballah, indicated Saturday that the necessary raw materials for the industry are secure until the present moment, adding that industrialists were asked to provide the government with a list of their needs in this regard, in order to secure the needed liquidity from the Central Bank so they can purchase them. Huballah continued to state that "the factories that produce medicines, food and basic materials will open in full capacity as of next Monday, following the permission given to other industries to operate in the coming period, with emphasis on the obligation to adhere to the announced preventive and protective measures."“In these circumstances, we will need additional quantities of the necessary livelihood consumables that the factories will provide, and the government supports the industrial sector to continue production,” the Minister assured.
He disclosed herein that "a scientific committee will be formed next week to supervise initiatives related to the manufacture of artificial respiratory devices, in cooperation with the Premiership, the Ministry of Health and Universities." Referring to the issue of the Lebanese stranded abroad, Huballah said: “The decision in the government is taken to ensure their return, with the cabinet taking into account that their return requires more precautions, and this is what we are doing, with the assurance that said return will be as soon as possible.” He reiterated the government’s conviction that it is its duty to preserve its citizens, take care of them and ensure their safe return, while protecting the passengers on board the returning aircrafts. Touching on the “Capital Control” issue, Huballah explained that “the project is not a priority if its goal is not to improve the position of depositors, but to improve the position of banks at the expense of depositors,” highlighting herein the need for "controlling what is going on in banks and protecting depositors."

Lebanon reads its way through quarantine

Salma Yassine/Annahar/March 29/2020
With the overabundance of isolation that we’re currently subjected to, reading has become a privilege that is encouraged and inevitably fought for.
BEIRUT: A plethora of the Lebanese have taken reading as a safe harbor and a mindful escape, thus reviving it in times of quarantine.
The COVID-19 pandemic invaded the globe, coercing people into the confinement of their own homes. People in quarantine have found solace in nurturing hobbies, shifting to novel lifestyles, and accommodating to the radical aspects of the online realm. Amidst the chaos of adapting to the rigidity of virtual productivity and the lack of physical human interaction, a wide range of quarantined individuals rekindled their relationship with the art of reading in hopes of defeating isolation and lonesomeness. A colossal fraction of the Lebanese belong to this sample, for they have found refuge within the written word. The latter is quite astonishing, since it transgresses the pre-existing notion that people of the Levant are not ardent readers, and this is based on grounded reasons. “Lebanese people aren’t avid readers because of the stress they are subjected to every single day. We have to think about the country’s situation, our financial instability, meager healthcare sector, the neglected senior citizens and oppressed migrant workers, and simply, our basic human rights to the point that enjoying a book has become a guilty pleasure,” Serena Younes, an avid reader, noted for Annahar. “I asked a member of my family, who was a devoted reader, why they stopped and they told me that they felt they can be doing something productive instead of enjoying a book.” Marianne Azar who is an MSc in Psychology of Language student at The University of Edinburgh stated that another reason behind the declination in reading Arabic books in particular is that they do not resemble our reality.
“If there were books in Lebanese Arabic, I'm sure they would attract more readership. At this moment, reading in Modern Standard Arabic is a bit challenging because it is neither intuitive nor familiar and it fails more often than spoken languages at striking a recollection of real life events, which would have succeeded if written in the colloquial language," she said. She elaborated further that reading might be misunderstood as choosing to withdraw yourself from socializing, because there isn’t much respect and tolerance for alone time, the ideal time for reading, in our society. Yet, with the overabundance of isolation that we’re currently subjected to, reading has become a privilege that is encouraged and inevitably fought for. Dana Hodeib Eido, an instructor of English Language and Literature at the Lebanese American University, believes that the art of reading has been lost because the former is perceived as a burdening academic duty. This idea is enforced in some schools and reinforced in some homes. She, however, has adorned her household with a different aura. “I have read to my kids every night since they were almost two. Prior to that, I had introduced them to interactive picture books and they used to love them. Growing up to reading happening at home, they now perceive books as fun and interesting, an activity that is done with smiles," she said. "In my family, the tooth fairy brings books and a good deed is rewarded with a nice story time. And recently, quarantine granted us an additional space to devour more books.”
As a brave initiative, Halabi Bookshop was one of the pioneering bookstores that offered delivery services in a sanitary manner all across Lebanon since the beginning of the pandemic. However, due to the aggravation of the situation, delivery services in Lebanon were banned except for food products.
“It is very assuring that people are still reading in uncertain times. People with limited income are still willing to pay for books, which reflects eagerness for a reading culture being embraced; reading has become a necessity that people are in need of and asking for. Thus, I was still opening the bookshop for an hour or two, despite the haunting threat of the virus, to cater to these requests. This sign of yearning for books defies the misconception that has stained the Lebanese when it comes to reading,” Lana Halabi, the co-owner of Halabi Bookshop, noted for Annahar.

The Latest English LCCC Miscellaneous Reports And News published on March 28-29/2020
News Alert: FDA authorizes 15-minute coronavirus test

CNN/March 29/2020
Federal health officials on Friday green-lit a point-of-care coronavirus test that can provide results in less than 15 minutes, using the same technology that powers some rapid flu tests.
Teased by Vice President Mike Pence in a Thursday press briefing, the new diagnostic could accelerate testing in the United States, allowing for rapid results in doctors’ offices. But shortages of critical equipment used to collect patient specimens, such as masks and swabs, could blunt its impact.
The US Food and Drug Administration authorized the test for emergency use, signaling that federal regulators were satisfied with the test’s validation data and believe its benefits outweigh any risks, such as false positives or negatives. The test’s maker, Abbott, said it expects to deliver 50,000 tests per day beginning next week.

More than 600,000 Coronavirus Cases Recorded Globally
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/March 28/2020
More than 600,000 cases of the new coronavirus have been officially recorded around the world since the outbreak of the epidemic, according to an AFP tally at 1045 GMT on Saturday. There were 605,010 cases of infection with 27,982 deaths in 183 countries and territories.
The United States had 104,837 cases of which 1,711 were fatal. Italy had the highest number of deaths at 9,134 and a total of 86,498 cases.
China, the epicentre of the outbreak, had 81,394 cases and 3,295 deaths.
The figures represent only a fraction of the number of infections as many countries only carry out tests on suspected cases if they are hospitalised.

Trump Signs $2 Trillion Recovery Plan as U.S. Virus Cases Skyrocket
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/March 28/2020
President Donald Trump signed into law Friday the $2 trillion rescue plan to salvage a US economy crippled by the novel coronavirus, on a day the nation's total count of COVID-19 cases surpassed 100,000. Trump's signature brings an end to a dramatic, weeklong legislative saga on Capitol Hill and triggers the distribution of millions of relief checks of up to $3,400 for an average American family of four. Hours earlier lawmakers in the House of Representatives united to green-light the mega-plan as the number of recorded deaths from the virus hit 1,693. "I want to thank Democrats and Republicans for coming together and putting America first," Trump said. "This will deliver urgently needed relief to our nation's families, workers and businesses. That's what this is all about."Trump signed a separate order late Friday allowing the Pentagon to bring former troops and members of the National Guard back to active duty to help the military combat the virus, the Washington Post said, citing a Pentagon spokesman. The president also took the long-called-for step of invoking the Defense Production Act to compel auto giant General Motors to quickly honor its commitment to making ventilators, machines crucial to keeping critically ill coronavirus patients alive but which are in short supply in hospitals. "GM was wasting time," the president said. Nationwide the number of coronavirus cases surpassed 104,000. The need for medical supplies is acute in New York state, the US hotbed of the epidemic where 44,635 infections have been confirmed. The death toll there increased Friday to 519 -- up from 385 the previous day -- but Governor Andrew Cuomo expressed optimism that the increase in the hospitalization rate has slowed. Cuomo announced the creation of temporary hospitals at large facilities in each borough of New York City -- including at a horse racing track in Queens -- modeled on an already-constructed space in Manhattan's Javits Center. The national rescue bill pumps $100 billion into hospitals and health facilities in critical need of medical gear like personal protective equipment and intensive care beds, creates a $500 billion loan reserve for large corporations including airlines, and provides $377 billion in grants to small businesses.It also dramatically expands unemployment assistance, aid that will cushion the blow for a staggering 3.3 million people who filed jobless claims in the week ending March 21.
Americans 'can't wait'
"Our nation faces an economic and health emergency of historic proportions due to the coronavirus pandemic, the worst pandemic in over 100 years," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told colleagues shortly before the chamber passed the measure.Several lawmakers including top House Republican Kevin McCarthy  hailed the bill as a critical lifeline for workers and small businesses. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin pledged a speedy distribution of checks. "Americans need that money now, they can't wait for government to take three or four or six months like we normally do," Mnuchin said on Fox Business Network, adding he expected direct deposits of the cash to arrive in three weeks. US stocks sank Friday despite the legislative breakthrough. The Dow Jones Industrial Average slid 4.1 percent, the broad-based S&P 500 shed 3.4 percent and the tech-rich Nasdaq tumbled 3.8 percent. The Senate had passed the huge bill earlier this week. The vote in the House was notable for the implementation of social distancing rules that prevented lawmakers from all gathering on the floor, leading to unprecedented scenes of members sitting in the upper galleries to allow for sufficient spacing. With the House in recess this week, leaders had wanted a quick voice vote requiring just a few members present. But Republican Thomas Massie, who opposed the bill, threatened to stall the measure. Ultimately the House defeated Massie's maneuver and passed the legislation but not before Trump savaged his fellow Republican on Twitter as a "third rate Grandstander."Pelosi said the $2 trillion rescue plan -- the third and by far largest coronavirus legislative measure -- will not be the end of government assistance to battered communities."We must advance a fourth bill to address continued needs," she said, noting that state and local governments would need "vastly more" funding to address the crisis.

China Virus Epicentre Eases Travel Restrictions after Lockdown
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/March 28/2020
Trains packed with thousands of passengers arrived in Wuhan Saturday as the Chinese city that was Ground Zero for the global coronavirus pandemic partly reopened after months in lockdown. Returnees, some wearing two face masks, latex gloves and protective suits, were greeted at the railway station by staff in similar anti-virus gear -- a grim reminder that while the city was emerging from isolation, it was still far from normal. "As the train neared Wuhan, my child and I were both very excited," a 36-year-old woman told AFP. She and her daughter had been away from her husband for nearly 10 weeks. "It felt like the train was moving faster than before, and my daughter said the driver must know we really want to go home. "She rushed towards her father, and watching them from behind I couldn't help but cry," she added. Wuhan, where the contagion was first detected late last year, was placed under lockdown in January, with residents forbidden to leave, roadblocks ring-fencing the city's outskirts and drastic restrictions on daily life.  With the outbreak deemed under control, rules have been eased to allow people to enter the city and many trains had been fully booked days in advance. Restrictions on residents heading out of Wuhan will not be lifted until April 8 when the airport will also reopen for domestic flights. Travellers were allowed to leave the train station on Saturday after showing a green code on a mobile app to prove they are healthy.
Those who had been overseas were herded to reception desks to be tested for the virus as China battles to control infections brought from abroad. A woman told AFP she was finally able to return to Wuhan after a cancelled flight two months ago left her stranded in the southern city of Guangzhou. Elsewhere in China long lines of travellers queued up at train stations to board high-speed services back to the city. Passengers in Shanghai had their temperatures checked by staff in goggles and masks after boarding. Wuhan is the last area of Hubei province to see overland travel restrictions lifted, though some highways leading into the city had already reopened during the week. "It almost feels like returning to an alien land, because I haven't been back for more than two months," Gao Xuesong, a worker in Wuhan's auto industry, told AFP.
Zero cases, not zero risk
Wuhan has paid a heavy price for the outbreak, with more than 50,000 people infected and more COVID-19 deaths than any other city in China -- with three more reported Saturday. More than 2,500 people are still hospitalised with the disease, including nearly 900 "severe" cases.
Wuhan initially struggled to contain the outbreak, but numbers have fallen dramatically in recent weeks.  Official figures show there have been fewer than 20 new cases across the province in the past fortnight. Life in the city is slowly returning to normal. Most of the subway network restarted on Saturday, while some shopping centres will open their doors next week. Banks have reopened and bus services resumed but residents have been warned against unnecessary travel, especially those over 65. A study this week found the lockdown in Wuhan succeeded in stopping the fast-spreading virus in its tracks -- but cautioned against opening up the city too soon. Communities were still blocked off Saturday, with streets mostly quiet. "The sound of my suitcase wheels rolling seemed exceptionally loud," one Weibo user wrote after returning to the city. A tattered sign dated January 23 -- the day Wuhan ground to a halt -- hung on one shopfront, announcing the closure of all branches for a week. More than two months later it was still shuttered. Liu Dongru, of the Hubei Health Commission, warned Friday that although parts of Wuhan had been reclassified as "low-risk" areas, work to control the virus needed to continue.
"Zero reported cases does not equal zero risk," he said.

UN panel calls for halt to Syria fighting as coronavirus strikes
AFP, Geneva/Saturday 28 March 2020
Warring parties in Syria must stop fighting “to avoid further catastrophe,” UN investigators said on Saturday, as the first cases of the COVID-19 epidemic are recorded in a country already torn apart by nine years of war.
The UN fears large numbers of preventable deaths may follow although Damascus has reported only five cases of the novel coronavirus so far. “Syrian civilians now face a deadly threat in the form of the COVID-19 outbreak, one that will strike without distinction and that will be devastating for the most vulnerable in the absence of urgent preventative action,” said Paulo Pinheiro, chair of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria. The parties must heed calls for a ceasefire or face a “looming tragedy,” Pinheiro said, adding: “Anything short of that will likely condemn large numbers of civilians to preventable deaths.” The conflict has left more than 380,00 dead and the World Health Organization says Syria’s health system has been acutely weakened. Just 64 percent of hospitals and 52 percent of primary healthcare centres that existed before 2011 are functioning, and 70 percent of the country’s health workers have left. The commission noted that “much of this situation is a result of pro-Government forces systematically targeting medical facilities.” “Nurses, doctors and medical volunteers have been attacked, detained and disappeared by parties to the conflict,” the statement said. “All attacks on medical providers, facilities, hospitals, and first responders must cease immediately.”The 6.5 million displaced Syrians still living in the country are particularly threatened by the spread of the virus, including one million mainly women and children in the camps of Idlib province along the Turkish border. The camps offer limited access to water in a region where dozens of hospitals have closed because of the fighting.
Rights groups have also warned of a health disaster in overcrowded prisons.

Pentagon orders preparations to ‘destroy’ pro-Iran Kataib Hezbollah in Iraq: Report
Ismaeel Naar, Al Arabiya English/Saturday 28 March 2020
The US Department of Defense has ordered its military commanders in Iraq to prepare for potential operations to destroy the pro-Iranian Kataib Hezbollah militia group, according to sources who spoke to the New York Times. According to the report, several unnamed officials said top US commander in Iraq Lt. Gen. Robert P. White wrote a memo in which he advised the Pentagon against such plans, saying that it would divert resources from fighting ISIS and risk jeopardizing current deals with the Iraqi government that allow US troops to operate in the country. The report about the supposed Pentagon orders comes more than a week after the US-led coalition said it would redeploy hundreds of troops in Iraq to new bases in the country or to bases in different countries, according to coalition and US officials, with one calling it a “historic” move. Kataib Hezbollah is a hardline pro-Iran faction within the Iraqi Popular Mobilization Units (PMU) militias. In January, the Iraqi parliament voted to oust all foreign forces from the country after a US drone strike in Baghdad killed top Iranian general Qassem Soleimani and the PMU militia’s deputy chief, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis. Since then, there has been an escalation in tensions between the US and pro-Iranian militias in the region, especially in Iraq. Earlier this month, at least 18 Katyusha rockets were fired at a military camp Taji in Iraq, killing one 26-year-old British soldier and two American personnel. The Pentagon blamed Kataib Hezbollah for the attack.

Coronavirus: Iran president credits foreign ministry for campaign to lift sanctions
Yaghoub Fazeli, Al Arabiya English/March 28/2020
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani praised Wednesday a campaign calling for US sanctions against the Islamic Republic to be lifted amid the coronavirus pandemic, saying that the foreign ministry was the entity that launched it. The campaign was launched by the Washington-based NGO National Iranian American Council (NIAC) and a group of Iranian Americans – but Rouhani credited his foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif. “The foreign ministry has launched a very good movement to influence public opinion to say no to sanctions,” President Rouhani said on Wednesday. “The goal is to release our frozen funds in various countries, and good steps are being taken in this regard,” Rouhani added. NIAC has been repeatedly accused of lobbying on behalf of the Iranian regime, working against the interests of the Iranian diaspora in the US whom it claims to represent, and coordinating with Zarif.
Coronavirus has killed 2,378 and infected at least 32,332 in Iran as of Friday. Nine Members of Congress, including Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Representative Ilhan Omar, Senator Bernie Sanders, and Senator Elizabeth Warren have also signed a letter asking President Donald Trump’s administration to lift sanctions on Iran as the country grapples with the pandemic.
Using coronavirus to lift sanctions
Iranian Americans opposing the Islamic Republic have responded by pointing out that sanctions against the regime do not target import of humanitarian aid into Iran, and that sanctions relief will only strengthen the regime, rather than help ordinary Iranians. “The Islamic Republic is using the deaths from coronavirus as a pretext to break sanctions and get cash – not medicine – to send to Hamas, Hezbollah, and Bashar al-Assad,” US-based Iranian activist and journalist Masih Alinejad tweeted. Iranian American activist Reza Behrouz posted a video on Twitter explaining why he opposes easing sanctions against the Islamic Republic. “Sanctions have had zero role in the outbreak of COVID-19 in Iran ... the outbreak was entirely a consequence of the regime’s malign incompetence and criminal negligence,” Behrouz said. High ranking Iranian officials, including Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and head of the IRGC Hossein Salami have recently said that they will not accept any US help to combat coronavirus. Iran also expelled on Tuesday a team of doctors from international humanitarian group Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders), who came to the country to treat coronavirus patients, and rejected their plan to set up a field hospital in Isfahan, one of the country’s worst-hit provinces.

Former Iran deputy speaker Mohammad Reza Khatami infected with coronavirus
Yaghoub Fazeli, Al Arabiya English/Saturday 28 March 2020
Former Iranian deputy speaker of parliament Mohammad Reza Khatami has been infected with coronavirus, the semi-official Tasnim news agency reported on Saturday. Khatami has been hospitalized after contracting the virus, Tasnim reported. A prominent figure in the reformist faction in Iran, Khatami was among supporters of the Islamic Revolution who occupied the US embassy in Tehran and took 52 US diplomats hostage in 1979. Khatami was the deputy speaker of parliament from 2000 to 2004. He is the younger brother of former president Mohammad Khatami. At least 17 Iranian regime figures have died from coronavirus and 12 others have been infected since the beginning of the outbreak in the Islamic Republic, according to reports by state media outlets. As of Saturday, 2,517 in Iran have died from the virus, and there are 35,408 confirmed cases.

Coronavirus: Iran death toll rises to 2,517, total cases reach 35,408
AFP, Tehran/Saturday 28 March 2020
Iran announced Saturday that 139 more people had died from the novel coronavirus, raising the official death toll to 2,517 in one of the world’s worst-affected countries. Health ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour told a news conference that 3,076 more cases had been confirmed in the past 24 hours, bringing the total number of infections to 35,408. “The condition of 3,026 of those hospitalised is critical in one way or another,” he said, adding that 11,679 patients have recovered and been discharged from hospital. Jahanpour said that 57 million Iranians had been screened for the virus. He said the data received had been “significant” and had helped with early detection and intervention. Iran has imposed strict new containment measures, after weeks of public appeals largely failed to deter hundreds of thousands taking to the roads to visit family for the Persian New Year holidays. They include a ban on intercity travel by road with offeners via roads and fining and impounding violators’ cars. The restrictions, which will remain in force at least until April 8, include a ban on all intercity travel by road.

Over 80 inmates escape prison in Iran’s Kurdistan after riots over coronavirus
Yaghoub Fazeli, Al Arabiya English/Saturday 28 March 2020
Over 80 prisoners escaped from a prison in Iran’s Kurdistan province on Friday following riots amid growing concerns about the spread of coronavirus in the prison, according to the semi-official Fars news agency. Prisoners rioted in a prison in the city of Saqqez Friday evening and more than 80 of them were able to escape, Fars reported. While Fars did not say what instigated the riots, they are believed to have been due to growing concerns among inmates about the spread of coronavirus in the prison. Several other prisons in Iran have witnessed riots in the past few days due to fears of the spread of the virus in prisons. Iran temporarily freed about 85,000 prisoners in response to the coronavirus epidemic. Hundreds of prisoners of conscience however remain jailed in Iran, rights group Amnesty International pointed out in a letter to head of the judiciary Ebrahim Raisi on Thursday.
Iran must “immediately and unconditionally” release these prisoners amid fears over the spread of coronavirus in Iranian prisons, Amnesty said. As of Saturday, 2,517 in Iran have died from the virus, and there are 35,408 confirmed cases.

Coronavirus: Iraqi Shia cleric blames gay marriage for coronavirus
Yaghoub Fazeli, Al Arabiya English/Saturday 28 March 2020
Iraqi Shia political leader Muqtada al-Sadr blamed the legalization of same-sex marriage for causing the coronavirus pandemic. “One of the most appalling things that have caused this epidemic is the legalization of same-sex marriage,” al-Sadr said in a post on his Twitter account on Saturday. “Hence, I call on all governments to repeal this law immediately and without any hesitation,” he added. Followers of al-Sadr were criticized after hundreds congregated inside a mosque and chanted “coronavirus has terrified you,” despite government measures imposed to stop the spread of the outbreak.
Iraq imposed a nationwide lockdown last week that ends today as part of measures to fight the coronavirus. As of Saturday, 42 in Iraq have died from coronavirus, and there are 506 confirmed cases, according to the Iraqi health ministry. Thirty countries worldwide, most of them in Europe, have allowed for same-sex marriage, according to research from Pew Research Center.

UK looking for options to repatriate citizens in Iraq: British embassy
Tamara Abueish, Al Arabiya English/Saturday 28 March 2020
The British Embassy in Iraq is working on finding options to repatriate its citizens visiting Iraq who were unable to leave after flights were suspended to curb a coronavirus outbreak. “We are working to identify possible options for [British] nationals visiting Iraq, who were unable to leave before the suspension of passenger flights,” the embassy said on its official Twitter page. Iraq has reported a total of 458 cases of coronavirus and 40 deaths. A nation-wide lockdown was imposed in the country, which was extended until mid-April. Iraq’s civil defense has been enforcing a night curfew by patrolling the streets of Basra and broadcasting messages to encourage people to stay home. In the UK, health officials confirmed 14,543 cases and a total of 759 deaths.

Coronavirus: Turkey suspends trains, limits domestic flights
Reuters, Ankara /Saturday 28 March 2020
Turkey halted all intercity trains and limited domestic flights on Saturday as part of measures to contain a fast-growing coronavirus outbreak, as the number of cases jumped by a third in a day to 5,698, with 92 dead. President Tayyip Erdogan called on Friday for a “voluntary quarantine” in which Turks stay at home except for shopping or basic needs. Announcing new measures to contain the virus, he said all international flights were stopped and that intercity travel would be subject to a governor’s approval. Turkish Airlines CEO Bilal Eksi said domestic flights would only operate from Ankara and Istanbul to certain big cities as of midnight Saturday. He said passengers would need to receive permission from the governor’s office after 1400 GMT. “As of Saturday 23:59, our domestic flights will be carried out from Istanbul Airport and Ankara Esenboga Airport. Our domestic flights list will be prepared and announced during the day,” Eksi wrote on Twitter. Turkey’s state railways authority also said all intercity trains had been halted as of Saturday until further notice. In a notice detailing the travel restrictions, the Interior Ministry said all citizens must remain in the cities they reside and would only be allowed to leave with a doctor’s note, in the event of the death of a close family member or if they have no accommodation. It said citizens would need to apply to the Travel Permission Council, tied to the local governor’s office, to travel. All bus terminals will be equipped with medical personnel to carry out regular checks on workers and passengers, it added. Separately, the Health Ministry announced on Friday that all resignations were suspended for there months. It said all health personnel in the public or private sector were barred from resigning in that period to meet the needs of hospitals, clinics and other health centers.
The rate of infections in Turkey has outstripped many other countries in the last two weeks, with 2,069 more cases in the last 24 hours, the country’s health minister said on Friday.

Iranian Diplomats Instigated Killing of Dissident in Istanbul, Turkish Officials Say
Asharq Al-Awsat/Saturday, 28 March, 2020
Two intelligence officers at Iran's consulate in Turkey instigated the killing last November of an Iranian dissident in Istanbul who criticized Tehran’s political and military leaders, two senior Turkish officials told Reuters. The accusation is likely to strain ties between Turkey and Iran. Masoud Molavi Vardanjani was shot dead on an Istanbul street on Nov. 14, 2019, a little over a year after the Turkish officials say he left Iran. A police report into the killing, published two weeks ago, said Vardanjani had an "unusual profile". It said he worked in cyber security at Iran's defense ministry and had become a vocal critic of the Iranian authorities. According to the report, Vardanjani had posted a message on social media targeting Iran's Revolutionary Guards in August, three months before he was shot dead. "I will root out the corrupt mafia commanders," the post said. "Pray that they don't kill me before I do this."
Reuters was unable to independently confirm either Vardanjani's position at the Iranian defense ministry or his social media posts.
No one at the Iranian embassy and consulate in Turkey responded to calls on Friday seeking comment on Vardanjani's background or death. Asked about possible Iranian government involvement in the killing, a spokeswoman for Istanbul's police said the investigation was continuing and declined to comment further. A week after the killing, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo described it as "another tragic example in a long string of suspected Iran-backed assassination attempts" of Iranian dissidents. He did not elaborate further. Turkish authorities did not publicly accuse the Iranian government of involvement at the time. But the two senior Turkish officials said that the Turkish government would now raise Vardanjani's killing with Iran and one of them said that Turkish prosecutors were also following the case. The suspected gunman and several other suspects, including Turks and Iranians detained in the weeks after the killing, told authorities they had acted on orders from two intelligence officers at the Iranian consulate, the first official said. "It was reflected in the testimonies of the arrested suspects that these two Iranians, carrying diplomatic passports, had given the order for the assassination," he said, identifying the two men by their first names and initials. The second Turkish official said evidence including the suspects' statements suggested "Iranian nationals played a serious role in both instigating and coordinating" the killing. Both of the Turkish officials said Ankara would soon deliver a formal response to Iran over Vardanjani's killing and the role they said was played by officials with diplomatic passports.
Vardanjani was on the radar of the Iranian authorities. Two Iranian security sources said he had defied a warning from the Revolutionary Guards not to cooperate with Turkish firms on drone projects, without giving details. They said he had also approached the United States and European states to work for them, although Reuters could not corroborate this. One of the Iranian sources said he had published documents online that he had either hacked or obtained from contacts in Iran and had ignored requests to contact the Iranian embassy in Ankara, instead meeting Americans and an Israeli diplomat. The source gave no details on the documents or his meetings. The second Iranian source also said that Vardanjani had been warned about his contacts with foreign diplomats. Relations between Turkey and Iran have been tested by the war in Syria, where they back opposing sides. Turkey has been particularly angered by the role of Iranian-backed fighters in a Syrian regime offensive against opposition factions backed by Turkey in Idlib, a Syrian province just over Turkey's southern border, launched not long after Vardanjani's killing.
Roadside killing
A joint investigation by Istanbul police and Turkish intelligence reviewed more than 320 hours of footage, searched 49 premises and spoke to 185 people, the police report said. Video footage broadcast on Turkish television after Vardanjani's killing showed a gunman running past two men as they walked in central Istanbul's Sisli neighborhood at 10 pm on Nov. 14 last year. The gunman fired several shots at one of them, who fell to the ground while his companion took cover. The Turkish officials said the companion walking with Vardanjani had struck up a friendship with him after he arrived in Istanbul from Tehran in June 2018 and had passed information about him to Iranian intelligence. The morning before the killing, the companion, whom the police report and Turkish officials say was named Ali Esfanjani, went to the Iranian consulate. He later met the gunman to discuss details of the operation, the officials said.
The police report describes Esfanjani as the leader of the team that carried out Vardanjani's killing. Esfanjani was spirited across the border into Iran three days later by an Iranian smuggler, the first Turkish official said, showing a copy of a bus ticket he had used under a fake name to get to Turkey's eastern border region of Agri. *Reuters could not confirm Esfanjani's whereabouts.

The Latest LCCC English analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on March 28-29/2020
The Era of the Coronavirus Agreement

Mohamed Orabi/Asharq Al Awsat/March 28/2020
Whenever we go about discussing the spread of a virus or a pandemic, we always fall back on standard analyses, mostly revolving around questions of whom is responsible?... In order to avoid being held captive to conspiracy theories, let us discuss the issue analytically.
This kind of threat makes us resort to the concept of unconventional security; for this is a threat to states’ national security… It does not threaten us militarily or with a familiar kind of war. We could say that this a similar kind of threat to illegal migration and terrorism, as the coronavirus presents us with new hypotheses to problems which could not be solved with political borders.
In light of the overlap of this crisis with a series of regional and international conflicts (political, economic, social and commercial) globally, we should focus our efforts on understanding the consequences of the spread of the COVID-19 disease.
First: immediate consequences
The danger posed by the novel coronavirus called for necessary cooperation between states and, at the same time, brought emerging grudges among nations to light. For in light of the degree of tension on social media and the speed at which news and information spread, the media around the world focused on tensions, and their coverage revolved around the following:
· Precautionary measures adopted by governments
· The publics’ reaction to measures and procedures.
· International efforts to find a cure.
On the one hand, the coverage revealed many shortcomings that foreshadow humanitarian catastrophes - their consequences may last for years - some of them are racist, and the others deal with the citizens of countries with the highest rate of casualties selectively, without taking the gravity of the situation and the humanitarian aspect of the situation.
On the other hand, some states are coordinating among each other to overcome the crisis. Since it is global, implementing the most successful policies for confronting this crisis is necessary, as the situation has become disastrous and it does not differentiate between the citizens of one state and another, and we cannot know its real extent at this time.
The coronavirus question will initiate a before and after evaluation which may be humanitarian to some extent and may lead us to rise above some problems, especially chronic regional conflicts; in the sense that some narrow political goals may be reconsidered because there is a greater threat endangering all of our lives.The current humanitarian situation compels that all of us put our ideological disagreements and temporary interests aside and concern ourselves of the others’ lives, as they will become useless if we are not able to stand up to this to our survival.
Second: the distinctive and deep-rooted implications
Most of the measures that have been applied in countries across the world foreshadow an economic collapse that may put an end to the difference between rich and poor countries, and a new economic system based on partnership, cooperation and coexistence may appear in turn.
The expected degree of competition to obtain a drug that proves its effectiveness in clinical trials, may lead to a decrease in arms spending in the coming period, with more devoted to scientific research, medical services, and food security for the peoples of the world.
International institutional mechanisms will be modernized because of this disaster, becoming more intertwined and thereby contributing to the protection of human life all over the world. It will also be a golden opportunity to reformulate its regional and international agenda.
Also, some precautionary measures taken by some countries may put negative pressure on other countries, as the strict measures of some countries warn of punishment for those in violation of these measures, and this becomes more stringent when the matter becomes internationalized. The roles of committees that investigate and study whether or not the measures are effective or harmful to others will become more prominent.
Bridges of communication between nations and governments will emerge, giving a glimmer of hope on resolving their conflicts and uniting to confront the problem.
There are those who may take advantage of the world's preoccupation with the existential issue to implement their plans on the ground, in such a way that we come out from the coronavirus disaster to find changes, and the “American initiative” may be presented as an example of this prediction.
In sum, then, we are facing a reformulation of more accurate concepts that put more emphasis on the protection of human life. This is what international institutions were unable to enforce, with their occasional biases in the face of humanitarian intervention in which they prioritized the interests of the factions… "Stillness is the pinnacle of safety" in the dilemma we are faced with, and every inaction could be crucial in the crisis that the whole world is facing.
Everyone, so far, has been preparing to use their legislative, constitutional and legal tools and authority, such as quarantine, isolation and others in this vein. Nature has also put a limit to our transgressions against it and has prohibited our daily practices, on all levels, until further notice.
Egypt's former Minister of Foreign Affairs

The ups and downs of our new ‘virtual’ lives

Yossi Mekelberg/Arab News/March 28, 2020
Throughout the long, cold, damp winter, we Londoners have been waiting for the sun to come out so we could stroll in the beautiful parks or venture beyond to the rolling green hills of the British countryside. And as if to spite us, now that the government has ordered a lockdown to fight the coronavirus pandemic, one sunny day is followed by another. As we wait for this nasty disease to slow down, to stop disrupting routines, claiming the lives of the more vulnerable and wreaking havoc on our economy, most of us have adapted to the relatively solitary lifestyle required of us, and shifted much of our activity online.
I must make a confession before I sing the praises of technology and how it is helping us to survive these dangerous days: I have never been a fan of distance learning, which I see as at best a complementary tool to what is done in class. For me, teaching politics and international affairs to cohorts of students from around the world should take place while sharing the same physical space and discussing, debating and even arguing some difficult issues, eyeball to eyeball. This is not always easy or pleasant, especially when biases and prejudices surface. However, disagreements and preconceived ideas can be a learning tool if approached sensitively, and this cannot be done remotely.
Nevertheless, last week, when all our teaching migrated to the online world, I was grateful to be able to “virtually” meet my students, who were already scattered across several continents. In a short space of time academics and students have discovered the power of teaching and learning technologies, but also the human side of staying in touch, interacting with and supporting each other despite these most challenging times. My virtual class went well, apart from a few technical hitches, and the level of engagement and the thirst for more of it while we are all locked down was heartwarming.
No, I am not converted, and I can’t wait to see my students back in class (minus their smartphones) instead of encountering them on camera; but to be able to continue teaching online is a prime example of how technology, and especially information technology, can not only enable us to maintain activities that were abruptly cut short, but also stimulate our innovation and creativity genes. This may not only keep our societies and our mental state intact, but also create opportunities, especially for those who are unemployed, for people to release their entrepreneurial talents and reap the benefits long after COVID-19 is consigned to history.
For most of us who are not used to working from home, this is a new reality in which much can be accomplished without stepping out of the house
Zumba, pilates or yoga classes on Zoom or Skype cannot properly replace the gym, but they can maintain physical and mental health, not to mention the livelihoods of those who run them. Shopping online has also been given a boost, especially as most non-essential stores have had to close and certain goods have disappeared from the shelves of those that remain open. Here there is both an opportunity and a danger. As convenient as shopping online is, and currently essential, there is a danger that it may contribute to the increasingly rapid demise of the traditional high street. The extortionate prices demanded by some online sellers for coronavirus-related items, from food to hand sanitizers and even home fitness equipment, are a salutary reminder of what the retail world will look like if giants such as Amazon take an even larger share of the market, and governments remain indifferent to the threat.
It is not only online shopping and distance learning that have been enhanced by the pandemic. For most of us who are not used to working from home, this is a new reality in which much can be accomplished without stepping out of the house, as long as the Wi-Fi is not playing up. Many have done this for years. Some miss the office banter, even the occasional drama, but with less time spent on commuting (also a blessing for the environment) and without the social distractions of the office, work can be done more quickly and efficiently. Microsoft Teams and Slack have become the new arenas for committee or boardroom meetings and communication between teams. Their ease of use can lead to unnecessary and irrelevant exchanges and communication saturation, but otherwise they have proved to be useful tools that have increased rather than hampered camaraderie.
There are obvious dangers in moving our lives online, especially for children and adolescents as they develop their social skills. Notoriously, there is also the threat of being tracked by government, business and criminal elements; it is a bonanza for cyber-predators, and as we increase our online presence those who would manipulate us or limit our liberties are being presented with endless opportunities.
In the meantime, social media is thriving and connecting us with our loved ones — especially the elderly and those with underlying health problems for whom physical encounters are life-threatening — while it entertains us with humorous takes on being quarantined, and provides useful advice on preventing the spread of coronavirus while we debate online how best to contain the pandemic. Just imagine Mothers Day under lockdown without social media, or what life in times of pandemic would have been (as it once was) without iPlayer, Netflix and Amazon Prime.
Information technology is not our coronavirus savior, or any kind of panacea, but it makes dealing with the outbreak more bearable, keeps some of the economy going, keeps us in touch with one another, and keeps us informed and entertained in isolation. It also helps us resist the temptation to break the lockdown. At times like this we should give thanks for the small mercies that technology offers, but without ignoring the dangers that it also presents to ourselves and our societies.
*Yossi Mekelberg is professor of international relations at Regent’s University London, where he is head of the International Relations and Social Sciences Program. He is also an associate fellow of the MENA Program at Chatham House. He is a regular contributor to the international written and electronic media. Twitter: @YMekelberg

The G20 extraordinary summit
Basil M.K. Al-Ghalayini/Arab News/March 28, 2020
Unlike World War I and World War II, where allied armies were fighting against different enemies, World War III has allied armies against a single microscopic enemy that is killing thousands of humans across the globe. The whole world is on the same side, fighting the coronavirus disease (COVID-19).
During their special video conference called on Thursday to discuss the crisis the leaders of the G20 major economies committed to funding all necessary measures to stop the virus’s spread. Since the inception of G20 summit, which was triggered by the 2008 crisis, this is the most united summit to date.
King Salman chaired the meeting, telling his fellow leaders that they have a pivotal role in countering the pandemic’s economic and social impact. In his opening remarks, he said: “The impact of this pandemic has spread to reach the global economy, financial markets, trade, and global supply chains, hampering growth and development and reversing the gains accomplished in the previous years.”
The leaders pledged to inject more than $5 trillion into the global economy to limit job and income losses from the coronavirus and “do whatever it takes to overcome the pandemic.”
A few days before the summit, finance ministers and central bank governors from the G20 economies had an emergency virtual meeting to discuss the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic on the global economy and to work toward a joint response. The objective of the meeting was to consolidate efforts to support the containment of the virus, the maintenance of medical systems and the development of drugs and vaccines.
The impact of the outbreak on supply chains and consumer demand will likely push the global economy into recession this year. Governments across the world have taken multiple actions to slow the spread of the pandemic, including strict nationwide lockdowns.
In my opinion, this virtual summit was a timely move. King Salman is the chairman of the G20 for this year, and virtual meetings are taking place with other G20 world leaders to tackle this common health threat to their peoples and to find speedy economic solutions.
*Basil M.K. Al-Ghalayini is the chairman and CEO of BMG Financial Group.

Stay home and help save the world as well as yourselves

Jonathan Gornall/Arab News/March 28, 2020
As the number of cases of COVID-19 increases exponentially around the world, it might seem insensitive to talk about the possible upsides of the virus, but upsides there most assuredly are.
One of the biggest social changes taking place as companies and individuals follow the advice of their governments to self-isolate and stay away from the office is the sudden and unprecedented uptake of homeworking, of which the advantages are becoming more obvious every day. We can only hope that, when the threat of COVID-19 has finally faded, companies around the world will have fundamentally and permanently changed the way they work, to the benefit of their staff, their bottom lines — and the environment.
Startling satellite images have emerged showing significant improvements in air quality over countries that have imposed strict quarantine measures — such as China and Italy — and thereby slashed the use of cars and other polluting vehicles. The sudden and dramatic fall in air travel is disastrous for many airlines but it is also certain to be contributing to the fight against global warming. Despite borders being closed and the cancellation of flights, conferences and other events around the world, international working relationships are still somehow managing to function.
Perhaps many will come to realize that sending staff off to expensive, time-consuming international conferences is not only bad for the environment, but is often little more than an excuse for a pointless junket in some far-flung exotic destination.
Many executives and politicians prize face-to-face contact and handshakes, persuading themselves that only by looking their opposite number in the eye can they truly judge them.
However, business will continue to be done without the personal touch which is clearly best avoided for now and, in the long run, may seem far less important. The tools to support homeworking have been around for years and are excellent. With platforms such as Skype or Zoom, conferences or one-to-one meetings can be conducted easily and effectively from virtually anywhere. Documents and more can be easily shared via Google Docs and other applications and multi-user project collaboration is easy with the likes of Microsoft’s Office 365 suite.
Endless studies have shown that homeworkers generally perform better than their office-bound colleagues. Perhaps many will come to realize that sending staff off to expensive, time-consuming international conferences is not only bad for the environment, but is often little more than an excuse for a pointless junket in some far-flung exotic destination.
Jonathan Gornall
The problem has been that too many companies are reluctant to trust their staff to behave like grown-ups and remain stuck in a nine-to-five work model rooted in the previous century.
This makes no sense from all kinds of perspectives, not least the cost to companies of renting or buying vast amounts of office space just so that managers can count the number of jackets on the backs of chairs.
As a freelance journalist I have been a home worker for years, with social contact during my working day limited to the occasional visit from the postman or an Amazon delivery driver and interviews conducted with subjects all over the world, via Skype, Zoom, WhatsApp or the good old-fashioned telephone. Guessing that each tele-conference-goer normally spends at least 30 minutes traveling about 25 km to and from work each day by car, I figure that working from home has saved them a total of 50 hours of pointless, unproductive travel in just a single week.
Clearly, gaining those hours — equivalent to a 10 percent boost in workforce — would be a tremendous advantage to an employer.
For an employee, the time not spent traveling could be spent on improving that all-important work-life balance.
I know many parents who travel to work by train or car every day. They leave early and get home late and see their children only at the weekend.
And then there’s the impact on the environment. Using standard international emission tables, I calculated that by not driving to and from work, 10 people alone would be saving more than 4,000 kg of carbon dioxide a year.
To put this in perspective, a flight from Dubai to JFK airport in New York produces about 1,700 kg of carbon dioxide per passenger, while each person in the UAE accounts for the production of about 23,000 kg every year. No one now is in any doubt that COVID-19 is one of the most serious threats to human life the world has seen for a long time. But what is also certain is that this too will pass.
When it has, for our own sake and for the sake of the planet, let us hope that we will retain the invaluable lessons it has taught us about the way we live our lives.
• Jonathan Gornall is a British journalist, formerly with The Times, who has lived and worked in the Middle East and is now based in the UK.

This region is ill prepared for the tsunami that is coming
Hafed Al-Ghwell/Arab News/March 28, 2020
Just as the coronavirus is more dangerous to people with underlying medical conditions, the Middle East and North Africa faces a crisis caused not by the coronavirus alone, but also by their already existing economic, social and political fragility. Combined with the new reality sweeping the world, they form a “perfect storm” that threatens the region in ways that are more dangerous than anything it has faced for decades.
Throughout the region it is hard to find a single country that one can honestly say is strong enough to face what is about to happen. Country after country has been struggling for years with fundamental challenges; civil wars in Iraq, Syria and Libya, major debt crises in Lebanon, Egypt and elsewhere, overburdened budgets and great poverty in Egypt and Morocco, countries that depend on foreign aid, tourism and investments, such as Jordan, Morocco, Tunisia and Egypt — even oil-rich economies are facing budget constraints as oil prices collapse because of over supply and slowing economic activity.
In the face of this storm, governments throughout the region have some immediate concerns, many of which carry within them the seeds of deeper challenges to come soon if this global crisis persists.
Thousands of Arabs seek medical care in Europe, the US and elsewhere every year because healthcare systems in almost all Arab countries are weak, and incapable of handling a pandemic. These fragile healthcare systems will be put under enormous additional pressure as more cases of COVID-19 are diagnosed. Combined with travel bans preventing anyone from leaving their own countries, and increasing difficulty in procuring medical equipment and medicines as supply chains stall, this is a real ticking bomb.
Another pressing issue will be how the region copes with inevitable shortages of food and medical supplies. Much of the region, if not all, depends heavily on imported goods, not only in the medical sector but also food and basic necessities. This dependency will be increasingly difficult to overcome as the global supply chain comes under intensified pressure and is interrupted, in some parts at least, for the foreseeable future. The lack of any long-term food security will be exposed and there will be major shortages.
The old traditional ways of obtaining hard currency and help in financing government budgets — foreign aid, international loans, tourism, foreign direct investment, transfers and remittances from expats, or even exporting labor to other countries — will no longer work. As countries around the world close their borders, take their own strict economic measures, increase their own debt and set their own economic incentive packaging to minimize the impact of the crises on their own people and labor forces, it will be more difficult for developing countries to find help.
All resources need to be focused on these efforts to prevent a temporary health crisis from becoming a major economic, social, and political tsunami that will overwhelm governments in the region.
There is a weak underlying foundation to much of the region’s political and economic systems, with oppression, corruption, top-down decision making and lack of freedom of information and debate all serving to deny both governments and societies the proper tools to address weaknesses in the system and reach consensus on how to tackle these challenges in a unified manner. This lack of the proper tools of governance means that as economic and social pressure builds, the chances of uprisings will increase, exposing the region to another potential cycle of revolts and chaos.
The region’s top priority at the moment, in the face of these challenges, is to do anything it can to stop the spread of COVID-19. All resources need to be focused on these efforts to prevent a temporary health crisis from becoming a major economic, social, and political tsunami that will overwhelm governments in the region.
The second priority is to strengthen social safety nets for the most vulnerable in society; those who have no financial capacity to withstand even a short-term disruption to their incomes. This should include a combination of fiscal policy tools as recommended by the International Monetary Fund, such as a mix of targeted policies on hard-hit sectors and populations, including tax relief, government fees and cash transfers, and reprioritizing spending within the existing fiscal budgets, tight as they may be.
Historical evidence suggests that developing countries with much less global connectivity, such as those in the Arab world, tend to feel the full impact of such global crises a little later than more globalized economies. With that in mind, the Arab world is well advised to scale up its combined response to the pandemic much more quickly than it is doing now. The full force of this storm is yet to come.
The only real protection only from the disease and from its consequences is to reduce the level of its penetration and spread. The region will simply not be able to protect itself from the cascading wave of political, economic, and social earthquake that is coming, if it fails in doing this.
* Hafed Al-Ghwell is a non-resident senior fellow with the Foreign Policy Institute at the John Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies. He is also senior adviser at the international economic consultancy Maxwell Stamp and at the geopolitical risk advisory firm Oxford Analytica, a member of the Strategic Advisory Solutions International Group in Washington DC and a former adviser to the board of the World Bank Group. Twitter: @HafedAlGhwell