Lebanon (MNN) — Another nationwide shutdown begins tonight in Lebanon to stem a second wave of coronavirus infections. Lockdown measures will reportedly be in place from tonight to Monday morning. See our full Lebanon coverage here.
According to The National, the decision came after health officials announced 11 new cases yesterday. It represents a “sharp increase” in a country where infections have largely been contained so far. Heart for Lebanon’s Tom Atema says Gospel opportunities arise as Lebanon’s circumstances become more difficult.
“The crisis is deep and people are questioning their faith. They demand answers, which gives us an opportunity to step in and say, ‘Let me tell you about Jesus’.”
Lebanon’s growing crisis
Lebanese officials took early action in March to avert a COVID-19 outbreak, but these preventative measures deepened pre-existing pain. The number of Lebanese living in poverty skyrocketed in April; the rate stands at 45-percent today, while unemployment is up to 35-percent.
Just over a week ago, Lebanese officials started easing restrictions to get an already-struggling economy back on its feet. “The economic consequences of containing the virus are proving more harmful than the virus itself,” Firas Abiad, director-general of the Rafik Hariri University Hospital in Beirut, said on Twitter.
“They defaulted on their bonds in March [and] they don’t have a backup financial system. They don’t have money in the bank,” Atema adds.
“COVID-19 has spun a country that was already broken into a huge tailspin. Most economists will tell you that 50-percent of the Lebanese population will need humanitarian aid by the end of 2020.”
On Friday, authorities allowed churches and mosques to partially reopen while keeping schools closed until May 28. “The government started opening up the country with the hopes that it would all be open by June 1,” Atema says.
“All the numbers [of new infections] were down to almost one or two cases per day…until about Wednesday of last week.”
Problems arose when thousands of Lebanese who had been stuck abroad by travel restrictions came home. Although officials told returnees to self-quarantine, Atema says few people followed these orders. As a result, COVID-19 infections “started spreading; first in the south of Lebanon, and now it’s pretty much throughout the country,” he says.
“[By] Monday morning it (the lockdown) will be lifted, if everything goes good, and people can start the reopening process for the second time.”
The silver lining
Things look dire in Lebanon, but praise God for the “silver lining” He’s provided. “When in times of crisis, people pay more attention to their faith and that’s true in Lebanon now. Not just with the Syrians or the Iraqis, but also with the Lebanese,” Atema explains.
As believers share their faith, “people are responding,” he adds.
“In my research, I have never read about a time in the last 145 years where this part of the world, the Near East, has been this open to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”
Header image depicts believers distributing aid to needy families. Photo courtesy of Heart for Lebanon.