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Coronavirus politicized in Lebanon as some blame Iran

February 22, 2020 GMT
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Wahida Ghalayini, head of the nursing department, speaks to journalists at the quarantine department at Rafik Hariri University Hospital in Beirut, Lebanon, Saturday, Feb. 22, 2020. Lebanese Health Minister Hamad Hassan said all people traveling from Iran to Lebanon will be tested for the new virus that started in China before boarding flights to the Arab country after a woman tested positive earlier this week upon her return from Iran. (AP Photo/Bilal Hussein)
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Wahida Ghalayini, head of the nursing department, speaks to journalists at the quarantine department at Rafik Hariri University Hospital in Beirut, Lebanon, Saturday, Feb. 22, 2020. Lebanese Health Minister Hamad Hassan said all people traveling from Iran to Lebanon will be tested for the new virus that started in China before boarding flights to the Arab country after a woman tested positive earlier this week upon her return from Iran. (AP Photo/Bilal Hussein)

BEIRUT (AP) — Some in Lebanon are casting blame on Iran, the supporter of the country’s powerful Hezbollah group, after the country’s first case of the new virus was discovered on a flight from the Iranian city of Qom this week.

The existence in Lebanon of the new virus that first emerged in China has been politicized by some in Lebanon’s deeply divided population.

Many Lebanese who support an Iran-backed coalition led by Hezbollah have remained silent on the issue of the virus, while some supporters of rival groups supported by the west blame Iran for the introduction of the virus into the country.

The first case of the new coronavirus was reported in Lebanon when a 45-year-old woman tested positive after flying from Qom on Thursday. The woman is in good health at a Beirut hospital, according to Health Minister Hamad Hassan.

The minister announced Saturday that all people traveling from Iran to Lebanon will now be tested for the new virus before boarding flights to Lebanon.

Hassan held a news conference Saturday at Rafik Hariri University Hospital, which has been equipped to deal with cases of COVID-19, the illness caused by virus.

Hassan said 11 people returning from Iran who were suspected of carrying the virus tested negative. He said two of the cases were people who came aboard the Iranian jet that arrived Thursday from Qom.

“As if what Iran is sending to Lebanon and the Lebanese is not enough so it sent us coronavirus,” said an editorial on the local MTV station. The station is a harsh critic of Iran and Hezbollah and the comment was an apparent reference to the weapons Tehran sends to the group.

The TV station also apparently referred to this week’s visit to Lebanon by Iran’s Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani who said Tehran is ready to help Lebanon as it experiences its worst economic and financial crisis in decades.

“Thank you Iran for allowing a jet carrying people infected with coronavirus to enter our airspace. Is this the way countries cooperate and is this the help that your promised Lebanon,” the editorial said.

The daily An-Nahar newspaper had a front-page photo of three people wearing masks outside the Rafik Hariri Teaching Hospital and a headline that reads: “Coronavirus panic in Lebanon and a scandal of Iranian flights.”

An-Nahar is also a harsh critic of Hezbollah and its Iranian backers.

Information Minister Manal Abdul-Samad said political divisions should not be allowed to be used in this case.