“Since they announced the lockdown I have been sick with worry, yesterday I could not sleep.”
These were the words of 40-year-old Micha Kalfayan, shoe shop owner and sole provider for her 76-year-old mother and 54-year-old brother. Living all together in Geitawi, Kalfayan has been the family’s only source of income since her brother lost his job four years ago.
But Thursday, her small shop will have to shut down for 25 days in abidance with the government’s latest lockdown measures, throwing Kalfayan into anxiety as to how she will manage to put food on the table for her family and pay her bills.
Speaking to The Daily Star at her shop the day before the start of Lebanon’s fifth coronavirus-induced lockdown, Kalfayan’s dialogue was broken with sporadic sighs as she confessed to sleepless nights over how she would continue to support her family amid Lebanon’s tumultuous economic and social deterioration.
“Business is very bad; from the revolution to corona. And now we are closing again and I have to pay the rent. I have lost four months’ work over the last year.”
Hassan Diab’s caretaker government Monday announced the implementation of a country-wide lockdown, beginning Thursday until Feb. 1, in an attempt to curtail the recent alarming surge in cases of COVID-19. Measures include strict curfew hours from 6 p.m. to 5 a.m., with a significant decrease in working hours for many sectors and the threat of penalties for breaking rules.
Health experts in Lebanon have warned of an approaching wave of virus cases following the easing of regulations during the December holidays season. Just last week, Petra Khoury, head of the National Committee to Combat Covid-19 told AFP that intensive-care units in Beirut hospitals were 90 percent full. As a result, patients have to be urgently transferred to hospitals across the country.
A record-breaking number of 4,166 coronavirus cases was registered Wednesday, a stark jump from Tuesday’s 3,620 positive cases.
But the decision to lock down has drawn criticism as it comes at a time when Lebanon is suffering from the worst economic crisis since the 1975-90 Civil War, which has caused a steep decline in the value of the Lebanese pound and tripled the price of daily foodstuffs, while accelerating job losses and plunging half the population below the poverty line.
As such the negative impact of the lockdown measures on businesses will push many citizens further into despair. As well as this, Lebanon’s banking crisis, which has caused an acute US dollar shortage and seen customers’ life savings disappear, have turned to more people to “cash-in-hand” employment and a daily wage.
Kalfayan admitted she has resorted to borrowing money from a friend to cover the bills for her shop and home, but it fills her with shame. She explained that people cannot afford to buy shoes anymore, citing the economic troubles paralyzing the country. “I see people with broken shoes – but khalas people don’t have money and they need to eat or buy medicine.”
Kalfayan is not alone in her worries about how she will support her family in the coming weeks.
In Zarif, Abbas Hassan has been running a mechanic shop for the past 30 years. Speaking to The Daily Star as he sat outside working, he expressed his frustration at the news of another lockdown that might harm his earnings, and the subsequent decline in living conditions for his family, already swamped in Lebanon’s multitude of crises.
“There is no money, no money, I cannot take it anymore. I have no other income but this store.”
He has four children between the ages of 4 to 12 and with his wife, they are totally reliant on him to provide a roof over their heads and food on the table.
Hassan said he cares about corona and takes precautions, but conceded that a lockdown was not the solution to the health crisis, and instead we should learn to “live with corona.” Lebanon’s depreciating standard of living and rising poverty rate is just as deadly as the virus, he believed.
“There is no difference between poor people and people with corona. Both will lead to the same.”
Across the world, nations such as the UK and Germany are too imposing further lockdowns as the growing strength of the virus, alongside the detection of a new variant has caused spiraling cases and deaths, placing immense pressure on hospitals and health care workers alike, exhausted from 10 months of handling the pandemic.
But where in other countries governments have been propping up their economies by subsidizing those unemployed and unlocking emergency funding, the Lebanese government has failed to offer any financial assistance.
For 29-year-old bartender Hakam al-Saady, the repeated closure of Beirut’s nighttime venues will once again cause not just him but his mother instability.
“My mother lives alone in the mountains and I support her financially for food every month. But this month, both of us will struggle,” he told The Daily Star.
Saady works at a bar in Mar Mikhael, one of the most severely hit areas in the explosion in the Beirut Port in August last year, when 2,750 tons of haphazardly stored ammonium nitrate detonated. The blast killed over 200 people, injured thousands, and caused an estimated $350 million worth of damage, according to the World Bank.
As a result of the blast and coronavirus regulations, the bar has been out of action for much of the past year, so Saady has had to look elsewhere for income.
“They [the government] don’t support the people, they don’t care for employees,” he berated.
He believes the lockdown will not have the desired impact due to many sectors remaining open, allowing free movement of people in the day time. Saady also referred to Lebanon’s declining quality of life while rising cost of living as a greater concern than the threat of the coronavirus.
“What is the difference to people dying of being poor to dying of Corona? People will die either way,” he concluded.