The AIB reopens in chaos: a first test day and many “flaws”

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The reopening of Beirut International Airport, after three and a half months of closure due to confinement, was to be the occasion yesterday for the airport authorities to exhibit the health security measures, announced loudly the day before, for the arrival of the first passengers. The seriousness of these measures will depend on the evolution of the coronavirus pandemic in Lebanon. But the test day, which saw the presence of the two ministers of Health, Hamad Hassan, and of Transport, Michel Najjar, and an impressive number of journalists, started in the most total chaos. A chaos fueled by the anger of the journalists reduced to follow the ministers in their crowds with no load, to meet the arriving travelers, but prevented from photographing the flagrant breaches of the distance or even from interviewing the travelers. Result, the tone is raised, the security forces of the airport strongly jostled cameramen and journalists who stubbornly persisted, despite the reluctance of some travelers. Cameras and cameras were even thrown to the ground and smashed by security agents. In response to this attack on their freedom of expression and the exercise of their functions, the reporters directed towards the exit loudly described the airport security officers as “chabbihas” (thugs in the pay of power) , announcing at the same time their decision to boycott the ministers.

The airport will now handle around 2,200 passengers daily. A risk of an upsurge of the pandemic if the measures are not respected. Photo João Sousa

“Agglutinated like flies”

In the free zone of the arrivals hall, business class travelers are already waiting for their luggage. The first commercial flight to land on the tarmac since the night of March 18, the plane from Dubai landed half an hour ago. It is the first of a series of flights mainly from Arab countries. And already, the lucky ones have completed their formalities. Behind his mask, Rami, a young Lebanese consultant living in Dubai, has just left the duty free shop where the dollar is counted at 8,000 Lebanese pounds with a 20% discount at the cash register. He is impatient to join his parents whom he has not seen since February. “I used to come and see them every weekend,” he says. To do this, the young man complied with the recommendations of the Lebanese authorities. He did a screening test in Dubai 48 hours ago, and a second on his arrival in Beirut. “My parents are old and at risk, so I will submit to about fourteen before approaching them,” he promises, expressing his desire to spend the summer in Lebanon. As for the measures taken at the AIB, he observed that they went off without a hitch. Except that he regretfully notes the slowness of the formalities which are always carried out in writing, with papers and pencils. “What are we waiting for to computerize everything?” ” he asks.

In front of the baggage carousel, Lara is waiting for her suitcase. This Dubai resident has barely set foot on Lebanese soil to visit her sick father when she already pours out her grievances against the local authorities. “Not only am I afraid of coming to Lebanon because of the ambient disorder, but I was forced to take out new insurance on my arrival, when I am fully covered by my international insurance, even in the event of Covid-19 She scolds, visibly irritated.

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Behind these first arrivals, the lines are already stretching. Passengers, including many families with children, hurry like flies at counters, without respecting the standards of distance, to register for PCR tests, take the test, and then check the conformity of their health coverage. And this before going to the control of the General Security, where the instructions are more strict. No one calls them to order. The floor is however lined with stickers reminding passengers of the sacrosanct rule of distancing of at least one and a half meters. But we have to reckon with the indiscipline of the Lebanese and the laxity of the authorities. It must also be said that wearing a mask is mandatory, a generally respected instruction, apart from a few people who sometimes pretend to catch their breath or adjust their mask… under the mouth.

If the vast majority of newcomers take their pain in patience, like Raquel, 32, interior designer, who says “his happiness to come and breathe the air of his country for a few weeks of vacation”, others n do not hesitate to display their exasperation. Like this chemistry researcher, anxious to preserve her anonymity, who, losing her nerves, accuses the officials in a jumble of having made her pay 100 dollars for a screening test when she had just done it in Dubai, and not to respect the distancing. “The worst part is that I was not even given a receipt for my test,” she accuses. Also go see the people clumped together like flies, waiting to take the test. This is madness ! “

On the floor of the baggage carousel, the call to respect distancing measures. Photo João Sousa

Measures to improve, promises AIB management

It was in this feverish atmosphere, to say the least, that the incident that angered the journalists took place. An incident which was immediately denounced by the two unions of Lebanese press editors and press photographers. The latter indeed accused, in press releases, the airport services of having resorted to “muscular measures” and “force against journalists who were only doing their job”. The first inviting the management of the airport “to apologize”, the second demanding “an investigation”.

In an attempt to excuse the excesses of security elements, the head of the airport security service, General Georges Doumit, contacted by L’Orient-Le Jour at the airport exit, accused the press of being at “The origin of the disorder”. “Things went smoothly during the repatriation flights. Why, today, in the presence of the press, did things go wrong? ” he asks. “Why have some journalists called our security agents chabbiha? “He adds, denouncing” the refusal of some journalists to respect the privacy rights of travelers “.

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For its part, the airport’s general manager, Fady el-Hassan, recognized “the flaws” of this test day. “These are only the first commercial flights after a long closure. We had two consecutive flights (from Dubai and Dammam) and therefore a rush of arrivals, ”he explains to the OLJ, without commenting on the attacks on journalists. “We have implemented health and safety measures which we will assess at a meeting to be held shortly. We will then be able to improve the reception of passengers, so as to better respect the physical distance, and everything will go back to normal, ”he promises.

Despite calls for a boycott, the two ministers spoke to the press. The Minister of Health recalled that “the airport and health teams now have to deal with some 2,200 arriving travelers per day, a number that they handled in one week during the confinement period”. For his part, the Minister of Transport invited the press “to convey a global image, without going into details, because it is important not to give Lebanese who want to return the impression that their country is not at home.” live up to its responsibilities ”… Except that in this pandemic period, the health emergency cannot be taken lightly.

The reopening of Beirut International Airport, after three and a half months of closure due to confinement, was to be the occasion yesterday for the airport authorities to exhibit the health security measures, announced loudly the day before, for the arrival of the first passengers. On the seriousness of these measures will depend the evolution of the pandemic of …

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