Syria supplies Beirut with 75 tons of oxygen as President Bashar al-Assad responds to the country’s humanitarian demand.
War-torn Syria has pledged oxygen supplies to neighboring Lebanon as the two countries grapple with unprecedented economic hardship and an outbreak of coronavirus infections.
“We will provide Lebanon with 75 tons of oxygen in 25-ton increments per day for a period of three days,” Health Minister Hasan al-Ghabbash told reporters on Wednesday after a meeting with his Lebanese counterpart.
The shipment of oxygen, which will be delivered “immediately,” will not strain Syria’s supplies, al-Ghabbash said, adding that the first delivery arrived that day.
For his part, Lebanese Minister of Health Hamad Hasan told Lebanese channel Al-Manar TV that the shipment was a “direct gift” from Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who responded to the humanitarian request of country for oxygen.
“We have about 1,000 patients on life support in emergency rooms in Lebanon” and the oxygen supplies “are honestly enough to last today,” he added.
For Lebanon, Syria’s gesture comes at a time of political stalemate among rival groups deeply divided over Syria. Hasan is allied with the Iranian-backed Hezbollah group, which has been one of al-Assad’s main backers.
Lebanon has struggled with a surge in COVID-19 infections since early 2021, and a weeklong lockdown has only slightly reduced the numbers.
The World Health Organization (WHO) said intensive care unit beds are over 85% full in the country of six million people, including more than one million Syrian refugees.
Since last year, Lebanon has recorded nearly 445,000 infections and 5,850 deaths.
But the situation is also critical in Syria, where people grapple with a healthcare system battered by 10 years of conflict and dependent on foreign aid as al-Assad’s government faces mounting Western sanctions.
WHO officials said hospital beds were at full capacity in the capital Damascus and infections were at their highest in a lack of testing capacity.
The WHO told Al Jazeera in October last year that there was less than three beds available per 10,000 people – three times less than international standards. According to a United Nations report released in March last year, 70% of health workers have left the country since the war began in 2011.
Syria and Lebanon are also witnessing an unprecedented collapse of their local currencies.
A vaccination campaign began in Lebanon last month with more than 970,000 people registered and around 156,000 doses already administered.
The Syrian government launched its vaccination campaign Last week.
The WHO said on Tuesday it will also oversee the vaccination rollout in Syria, which is expected to begin in April with the goal of vaccinating 20% of the population by the end of 2021.