BEIRUT (AP) — Hundreds of people rallied in Beirut on Saturday to protest measures imposed against the unvaccinated, saying individuals should have the right to decide whether to be inoculated or not.
Vaccination is not compulsory in Lebanon, but in recent days authorities have cracked down on people who are not inoculated or don’t carry a negative PCR test.
Saturday’s protest by nearly 300 people in downtown Beirut came a day after the daily number of new coronavirus cases hit a record 7,974.
The protest came days after authorities imposed fresh restrictions — including the requirement of a vaccination certificate or negative PCR test for entry into restaurants, hotels and similar venues.
As of Monday, civil servants must either be vaccinated or take regular PCR tests to be able to go to work. Many civil servants cannot afford to pay for regular PCR tests, given Lebanon’s severe economic crisis currency crash.
“No to the dictatorship of vaccination,” read one banner carried by protesters.
Health Minister Firass Abiad criticized the protesters, saying that over 20,000 people were vaccinated on Saturday alone as part of a government campaign focusing on students and teachers. Educational institutions are to resume classes on Monday.
“Vaccines are not mandatory, and are free. They are offered to everyone, including refugees and foreign migrant workers,” Abiad tweeted. “Finally, vaccines save lives, but for some, ignorance is bliss.”
“An Omicron wave that started three weeks ago in turning into a Tsunami. The situation in hospitals and ICUs remains stable, capacity is being boosted,” Abiad added.
Lebanon, with has a population of six million including a million Syrian refugees, has registered more than 760,000 cases and 9,250 deaths since discovering its first COVID-19 case in February 2020.