Hezbollah deploys medics, hospitals against coronavirus in Lebanon

BEIRUT (Reuters) - The Lebanese paramilitary group Hezbollah is mobilizing some 25,000 people including frontline medics and readying hospitals as part of a plan to help confront the coronavirus in Lebanon, it said on Wednesday.

FILE PHOTO: A scooter driver gets his temperature taken before going out with an order, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Beirut, Lebanon March 18, 2020. REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir

“It is a real war that we must confront with the mindset of a warrior,” Sayyed Hashem Safieddine, head of the Shi’ite group’s executive council, said. “Our role is to complement the government apparatus and not to stand in its place,” he said, presenting Hezbollah’s plan on its al-Manar TV.

Lebanon has recorded 333 coronavirus cases so far. Six people have died from the respiratory disease. The government, formed with backing from Hezbollah and its allies, has declared a medical emergency.

Hezbollah is a Shi’ite Islamist group designated a terrorist organization by the United States. Founded by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards in 1982, it forms the spearhead of a regional military alliance backed by Tehran and has fought for years in Syria in support of President Bashar al-Assad.

Hezbollah picked the current minister of health and his predecessor, reflecting growing influence in government.

Hezbollah is deploying 1,500 doctors, 3,000 nurses and paramedics and 20,000 more activists in its plan, Safieddine said. “Frontline Islamic Resistance medics are taking part in this plan,” he said.

Hezbollah had dedicated a Beirut hospital it owns to treating coronavirus patients, rented four disused hospitals, prepared 32 medical centers across Lebanon and laid plans for three field hospitals if needed. It has also rented hotels to be used for quarantine, Safieddine said.

The weak state faces its coronavirus outbreak at a time of unprecedented financial crisis. The government declared this month it could not pay foreign currency debts and the local currency has sunk by some 40% since October.

Safieddine said government hospitals would be supported through supplying volunteer medical and nursing teams.

Work would be in line with World Health Organisation and Health Ministry protocols, he said.

“Managing crises and managing wars ... are not that different.”

The plan includes monitoring those confirmed to be infected with the virus to ensure compliance with guidelines and following up on those in quarantine or isolated at home.

Lebanon’s first recorded coronavirus case was a woman who had returned from Iran, which has the fourth largest number of confirmed cases.

Safieddine said Hezbollah had monitored 1,200 people who had returned from Iran including pilgrims and 220 students who had been studying at Qom, a center of Shi’ite learning.

Reporting by Tom Perry and Laila Bassam; Editing by Peter Cooney