IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

After the explosion, the virus: Lebanon faces COVID-19 lockdown after Beirut blast

"We are on the brink, we don't have the luxury to take our time," Lebanon's interim Health Minister Hamad Hassan said.
Image: A room in the Saint George hospital in Beirut's neighbourhood of Ashrafieh r
A room in the Saint George hospital in Beirut's neighborhood of Ashrafieh remains empty of patients more than a week after a massive blast in the nearby port heavily damaged the building.Patrick Baz / AFP - Getty Images

As Beirut continues to recover from the port blast that killed at least 178 people and injured thousands, hospitals and clean up efforts are now facing another hurdle: rising coronavirus cases.

Lebanon saw a record jump in new cases on Monday with 456 confirmed infections, according to Johns Hopkins University. It outpaces the previous day's spike of 439 new cases, bringing the total confirmed infections in the country to 9,337.

We apologize, this video has expired.

The country's interim Health Minister Hamad Hassan said that a two-week nationwide shutdown is necessary to curb the spread of the virus.

"We are on the brink, we don't have the luxury to take our time," Hassan told a press conference on Monday, according to the Khaleej Times newspaper.

The Aug. 4 explosion of ammonium nitrate that had been stored in the port for more than six years has largely destroyed and overwhelmed the city's health services.

Three of Beirut's hospitals were left "non-functional" according to the World Health Organization, while two others were partially damaged. Half of its 55 medical centers were also destroyed.

Nurses from the Saint George hospital clean one of the damaged rooms in Beirut's neighbourhood of Ashrafieh more than a week after a massive blast in the nearby port ravaged parts of the Lebanese capital.Patrick Baz / AFP - Getty Images

Intensive care units and specialty coronavirus beds set up in public and private hospitals are mostly full, Hassan told Voice of Lebanon radio earlier on Monday.

“We are all facing a real challenge and the numbers that were recorded in the last period are shocking,” he said. “Everyone must be on high alert and take the strictest prevention measures.”

Even before the blast, Lebanon was seeing rising coronavirus numbers amid a deepening political and economic crisis.

Roughly 220,000 people who had lost their jobs during the country's financial crisis that began in October, according to United Nations spokesman Stephane Dujarric.

In a statement on Monday, Dujarric said the number of people needing help is expected to rise. Another 70,000 people have been left unemployed due to the blast.

Piles of destroyed windows outside the Saint George Hospital in Beirut, Lebanon.Chris McGrath / Getty Images

Those figures don't take into account joblessness resulting from the pandemic, Dujarric added.

Roughly a quarter of a million people were also displaced by the explosion.

Emergency assistance is still being distributed and search and rescue efforts are still underway, with aid coming from the international community, Dujarric said.

Lebanon is not the only country losing ground in containing the coronavirus.

In France, officials on Monday confirmed more than 6,800 new infections were detected over the weekend, bringing the country's total cases to 219,029. Nearly 5,000 people have been hospitalized of which 384 are in intensive care.

Elsewhere in Europe, Italy — which saw among the highest death tolls earlier this year — tightened social distancing measures this week because of an uptick in cases.

South Korea also tightened social distancing rules on Tuesday as it reported a three-digit increase in cases for a fifth consecutive day.

Lauded for its efforts to mitigate the spread of the virus earlier this year, authorities are now scrambling to trace hundreds of members of a church congregation connected with the latest outbreak.

The Philippines’ health ministry confirmed 4,836 new infections on Tuesday, marking the seventh straight day of reporting more than 3,000 cases.

The United States continues to report the highest number of infections globally with 5.4 million confirmed cases and 171, 606 deaths, according to NBC News tracking. Worldwide, the virus has infected nearly 22 million and killed 774,379 people.

Reuters contributed to this report.

Annabel Coleman contributed.