The many gutted buildings in downtown Beirut are not the only ones to have been blown away by the terrible explosion on Tuesday. Something much more intangible has been catapulted into the second, or even the third plan, to the point where not many people are talking about it: the fight against Covid-19.
Lebanon, which has more than 5,400 coronavirus cases and 68 deaths since February, had been facing a clear resurgence of cases for several days before the explosion. More than 180 new cases of coronavirus had even been identified on July 29, a record. While the government had already imposed widespread containment in the country in the spring, the restrictions had recently fallen in order to mitigate the already significant economic losses before the pandemic. The country was also to begin this Thursday a new partial confinement, finally retoked after the disaster.
4000 injured in one day
Two days after the explosion, health measures are no longer really relevant, given the chaos in hospitals.
“I was a doctor during the civil war in Lebanon, but this explosion is one of the most tragic events I have ever experienced,” sighs Firass Abiad, head of the Rafik Hariri university hospital in Beirut. As soon as this doctor felt the massive shock wave that ravaged his neighborhood, he rushed to the emergency room of the largest public hospital in the Lebanese capital. “It was chaos and panic… Our hospital is used to simulating catastrophic situations, but to be honest, we never thought we could ever have taken care of 4,000 injured people simultaneously. "
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For Dr Abiad, the risk of an increase in cases is real but re-containment is not a realistic solution. “Many of us have experienced power cuts and water shortages. From a practical point of view, it is difficult for people to stay at home. "
"Impossible to respect the distances"
“It is essential that we do not forget the barrier gestures. But I understand that it will be very difficult to ask an emotional population to respect health measures, ”explains Aria, coordinator of Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) in Lebanon. “Whole neighborhoods have been destroyed, and several thousand find themselves living in shelters for the homeless, I think it will be almost impossible to respect the distances. "
What is the right strategy to adapt when a country faces a double disaster like in Lebanon? For Patrick Lagadec, expert in crisis management and author of the book “Women and statesmen grappling with crises and ruptures in a chaotic universe”, no country has the keys to this problem.
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“It is too early to analyze the effectiveness of the authorities' response. They are overwhelmed by a double problem in an already fragile situation, a torn social base and a world in great difficulty in the face of the pandemic ”, estimates the expert.
Separate the injured and contaminated
And if the situation ever unfolds in France, are we ready? “France is prepared, but the question is rather how quickly can the emergency plan be put in place? Asks a former government crisis manager, who did not wish to be appointed. “For Lubrizol, it took a long time to understand what really happened and it could be the same if ever we have a similar situation in Beirut in France. "
For this former official, the greatest risk of transmission of Covid-19 in this kind of disaster, are the people "who may be infected and will want to help the injured in the first hours, who have a very weak immune system. ". "The other risk is a saturation of hospitals, and doctors will have to sort out those they will save and those they will let die", estimates our source. A transfer of patients to other regions of France in order to relieve congestion in hospitals, as we have seen during confinement, would according to him be the most suitable and most realistic solution. The expert also advises to separate the patients of the coronavirus and the injured in order to avoid a spread.
But in France as in Lebanon, if such a catastrophe were to occur, “the barrier gestures will obviously be impossible to respect, because the priority will be to help the wounded. He also gives a recent example of the evacuations in Martigues (Bouches-du-Rhône) in the grip of spectacular fires, which have also relegated barrier actions to the background.
Explosions in Beirut: ammonium nitrate at the heart of the "triangle of fire"