The Lebanese paramilitary group Hezbollah is marshalling its deep resources in the fight against coronavirus, using a corps of volunteers, doctors and facilities to carve out a prominent role in the crisis-riven state’s response.
The campaign is part of wider efforts by Lebanon’s sectarian parties that are scrambling to show they can help in this emergency.
Analysts say the political elite sees an opportunity to restore community standing that was tarnished six months ago during nationwide protests against corrupt governance and crippling economic troubles.
But the outsized effort by the Hezbollah, stands heads above the rest in its campaign.
On a media tour in Beirut given by Hezbollah officials on Tuesday the group rolled out one of two new testing centres, a fleet of ambulances — many equipped with ventilators — and an entire hospital re-purposed for coronavirus patients, just part of what it described as a nationwide response.
“The goal is to reduce the pressure on the ministry (of health), hospitals, and the state,” said Hezbollah official Hussein Fadlallah. “We have a volunteer team of over 25,000.” Lebanon, a country of roughly 6mn ravaged by a financial crisis that has drained its hard currency and sunk the Lebanese pound, has recorded 479 coronavirus cases and 12 deaths.
Health officials warn that its healthcare system is ill-equipped to rein in an aggressive outbreak that could quickly draw down supplies decimated by the months-long dollar shortage. “Hezbollah and the rest of the political establishment...see the coronavirus crisis as an opportunity to provide services and present themselves as the parties protecting their communities,” said Mohanad Hage Ali, a fellow at the Carnegie Middle East Center. “Hezbollah is in the lead.”
Long described by its critics as “a state within a state” because of its powerful military force and provision of health and social services, Hezbollah has become more deeply involved in government affairs in recent years.
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