Lebanon begins partial lockdown amid spike in virus cases

A scouts band performs in honor of the victims of the last week's explosion that killed over 150 people and devastated the city, near the blast site in Beirut, Lebanon, Tuesday, Aug. 11, 2020. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana) (Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

BEIRUT – Lebanon on Friday began a two-week partial lockdown and nighttime curfew after coronavirus cases increased sharply following an explosion in Beirut that killed and injured thousands of people.

Confirmed cases of the virus have increased from 5,417 a day after the massive blast on Aug. 4 to more than 11,000 on Friday, leading officials to announce the lockdown.

On Friday, Lebanon’s Health Ministry tallied a record 628 confirmed new cases in the previous 24 hours, raising the total registered cases since late February to 11,580.

The pandemic has killed 116 people in the tiny country, which was successful in limiting the spread of the virus during the early months.

Many businesses were closed Friday morning in Beirut even though some sectors, including banks, groceries, book shops and pharmacies were allowed to open. Restaurants, night clubs, beaches and clothes shops are among the businesses ordered to close by the Ministry of Interior.

The country's top Sunni Muslim authority ordered all mosques closed and suspended prayers inside them around Lebanon until further notice.

Virus cases had already been on the rise since the beginning of July, when an earlier lockdown was lifted and Lebanon’s only international airport was reopened. At the end of June, Lebanon registered 1,778 cases. That number has since multiplied more than five times in seven weeks.

But the numbers shot up dramatically following the Aug. 4, explosion of nearly 3,000 tons of ammonium nitrate stored at Beirut's port. More than 180 people were killed, more than 6,000 injured and a quarter of a million people were left with homes unfit to live in. The blast overwhelmed the city’s hospitals and also badly damaged two that had a key role in handling virus cases.