BEIRUT, April 5 (Reuters). Several Lebanese flights stranded abroad due to coronavirus barriers arrived in Beirut on Sunday. This was part of a trial run to see if thousands who wanted to come home could be safely returned without exacerbating the country’s outbreak.
Their return became a problem after the powerful spokesman for the parliament, Nabih Berri, threatened to suspend support for the government if they did not act quickly and demand other top figures to act immediately.
The debilitating financial crisis in Lebanon, including stringent capital controls, has made the Lebanese people stuck abroad more difficult and severely restricted their access to cash. The government has promised to facilitate the transfer of overseas students.
Prime Minister Hassan Diab said on Sunday to reporters at Beirut International Airport that about 21,000 Lebanese have signed up for flights back to Lebanon.
Four flights on Sunday from Riyadh, Abu Dhabi, Lagos and Abidjan will return around 400 passengers, according to airport sources. They will be tested for coronavirus at the airport and quarantined in hotels until the results are available.
“Hopefully this cloud, the cloud that represents the health situation with corona, will pass quickly and infections are minimal for Lebanese at home and abroad,” said Diab.
Lebanon has registered 527 coronavirus cases and 17 deaths. Health officials warn that many facilities are poorly equipped to cope with a severe pandemic outbreak given a month-long dollar shortage that has disrupted supply chains.
Lebanon said on Sunday that it would tighten the blocking measures to curb virus infection and limit the movement of cars, trucks, and motorbikes to three assigned days a week. It also closed most companies and curfewed them overnight.
(Reporting by Eric Knecht editing by Mark Heinrich)