Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Pharmacies and gas stations close due to shortages in Lebanon

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BEIRUT (AP) – Lebanon’s pharmacies closed their doors Friday in protest of severe supply shortages as motorists searching for fuel queued for hours in front of gas stations since dawn.

The two-day strike called by pharmacists over a lack of medicines, gasoline and even infant milk is the latest sign of Lebanon’s economic and financial collapse, which appears to be out of control amid complete political inaction by the country’s leaders.

Entire blocks have come to a halt across the country, causing massive traffic jams on small streets and highways as motorists queue outside gas stations. Fuel shortages also threaten to shut down power generators, which are the main source of electricity for most Lebanese.

Fights broke out between customers at some stations, as some insisted on filling plastic gallons. Many stations were closed, saying they had no gasoline to offer.

“The situation is unbearable,” said Rabie Alkajk, a Beirut resident who was among a group of young people who closed a main street with garbage containers and other road blocks on Friday. “Pharmacies are closed. There are no medications, no baby milk. They are hiding it until the subsidies are removed. The gas stations are closed. There is nothing, ”he yelled.

Lebanon is grappling with an unprecedented economic and financial crisis that has caused the local currency to lose around 85 percent of its value since October 2019. Banks have cracked down on withdrawals and money transfers, preventing that people can access their savings in the midst of skyrocketing inflation.

With its foreign exchange reserves running low, the Central Bank has been saying for months that the government will not be able to maintain subsidies, including drugs and fuel, leading to panic shopping and hoarding at home and in warehouses. That has exacerbated the shortage.

The Lebanese crisis is rooted in decades of corruption and mismanagement by a political class that has thrived in a sectarian system of sponsorship networks.

The country’s healthcare system has been one of the hardest hit, with some hospitals performing elective surgeries, labs are running out of test kits, and doctors have warned in recent days that they could even run out of anesthesia for operations.

On Thursday, hospitals said they could be forced to stop kidney dialysis treatment starting next week.

Pharmacists say the shortage affecting everything from chronic disease medications to pain relievers and baby formula is increasingly putting them at odds with customers and patients. They accuse distributors of hoarding products to sell them later at higher prices or on the black market.

“What should I do at home when my child needs milk or diapers? Tell him I don’t have the money to buy them? Even if I had, they are all closed! Alkajk said.

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