27 August 2009

* Number of swine flu cases 'likely to be in thousands'

The number of people in Lebanon diagnosed with the A(H1N1) virus has risen to 600, Health Minister Mohammad Jawad Khalifeh said on Wednesday, adding the real number of cases was probably much higher. The real figure was likely closer to 2,000-3,000 but had not been diagnosed “because not everybody gets a laboratory test,” Khalifeh told reporters after a meeting with Education Minister Bahia Hariri to discuss swine flu prevention in schools. 
The minister said schools would still open as planned this fall, with teachers receiving training on general health and flu symptoms. 
 
“It is not possible to delay or cancel school terms and no one in the world has taken these measures,” Khalifeh said, although Kuwait on Tuesday decided to delay the opening of foreign schools by two weeks until September 13. “This is a disease we live with, like all countries,” he added. 
 
Khalifeh said the Health Ministry had joined with officials from the World Health Organization and doctors across the country to monitor and respond to any outbreak of the virus in schools. Maternity units would also be monitored, he said, adding health officials were not anticipating a major national outbreak. 
 
Rather than examining students during the first semester, school doctors will instead check students on their first day back, Hariri said. 
When asked about a state of panic among parents, Khalifeh said fear of swine flu was “exaggerated” in Lebanon. “The issue doesn’t stir up chaos in other countries such as the US, France or Britain,” Khalifeh said, adding Lebanon would “take all the necessary precautions without having to bring the country to a halt.” 
 
The Health Ministry has previously warned against swine flu hysteria, saying most patients with swine flu fully recovered without requiring treatment or hospitalization. Khalifeh has nonetheless advised the Lebanese to uphold rigorous standards of hygiene, to avoid greeting each other with the traditional three kisses, and to wash hands frequently. “We hope that no child will be sent to school if they show flu symptoms,” Hariri said. 

Khalifeh said that while other countries in the world had ceased to conduct laboratory tests for swine flu, Lebanon was continuing “for statistical purposes.” No further deaths from the virus have been reported after a young man died on July 30. Elias Antoine Nihmatallah, 20, from Sighar village in Batroun, was Lebanon’s first swine flu victim, but already suffered from poor health as a result of Lymphoma cancer. 
 
In July, Khalifeh said swine flu vaccinations were expected to arrive in Lebanon by November or December, when the minister believes dropping temperatures will lead to a spike in infections. Health experts have also said the virus could mutate as winter and the ordinary flu season begin. So far, however, no mutation has taken place, Khalifeh said. 
Over half of all swine flu fatalities worldwide have been among young adults, a survey published by Eurosurveillance, the monitoring arm of the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control, found this week. The study of 574 virus deaths in 28 countries also deduced that obesity or diabetes further increased likelihood of death. 
 
“Most deaths [51 percent] occurred in the age group of 20 to 49 year olds, but there is considerable variation depending on country or continent,” the survey said, adding that children and the elderly were not as vulnerable to the disease as originally reported. 
Swine flu has killed over 1,800 people out of 182,166 diagnosed infections in 177 countries and territories worldwide, the World Health Organization said in its last update on August 21. 
The UN agency declared the virus a pandemic in June. Lebanon reported its first three swine flu cases on May. The Health and Education Ministries will meet again next Monday to follow up on swine flu prevention measures in schools.


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Lebanon Time-Line

Introducing Lebanon

Coolly combining the ancient with the ultramodern, Lebanon is one of the most captivating countries in the Middle East. From the Phoenician findings of Tyre (Sour) and Roman Baalbek's tremendous temple to Beirut's BO18 and Bernard Khoury's modern movement, the span of Lebanon's history leaves many visitors spinning. Tripoli (Trablous) is considered to have the best souk in the country and is famous for its Mamluk architecture. It's well equipped with a taste of modernity as well; Jounieh, formerly a sleepy fishing village, is a town alive with nightclubs and glitz on summer weekends.

With all of the Middle East's best bits - warm and welcoming people, mind-blowing history and considerable culture, Lebanon is also the antithesis of many people's imaginings of the Middle East: mostly mountainous with skiing to boot, it's also laid-back, liberal and fun. While Beirut is fast becoming the region's party place, Lebanon is working hard to recapture its crown as the 'Paris of the Orient'.

The rejuvenation of the Beirut Central District is one of the largest, most ambitious urban redevelopment projects ever undertaken. Travellers will find the excitement surrounding this and other developments and designs palpable - and very infectious.

Finally, Lebanon's cuisine is considered the richest of the region. From hummus to hommard (lobster), you'll dine like a king. With legendary sights, hospitality, food and nightlife, what more could a traveller want?

Introducing Beirut

What Beirut is depends entirely on where you are. If you’re gazing at the beautifully reconstructed colonial relics and mosques of central Beirut’s Downtown, the city is a triumph of rejuvenation over disaster.

If you’re in the young, vibrant neighbourhoods of Gemmayzeh or Achrafiye, Beirut is about living for the moment: partying, eating and drinking as if there’s no tomorrow. If you’re standing in the shadow of buildings still peppered with bullet holes, or walking the Green Line with an elderly resident, it’s a city of bitter memories and a dark past. If you’re with Beirut’s Armenians, Beirut is about salvation; if you’re with its handful of Jews, it’s about hiding your true identity. Here you’ll find the freest gay scene in the Arab Middle East, yet homosexuality is still illegal. If you’re in one of Beirut’s southern refugee camps, Beirut is about sorrow and displacement; other southern districts are considered a base for paramilitary operations and south Beirut is home to infamous Hezbollah secretary general, Hassan Nasrallah. For some, it’s a city of fear; for others, freedom.

Throw in maniacal drivers, air pollution from old, smoking Mercedes taxis, world-class universities, bars to rival Soho and coffee thicker than mud, political demonstrations, and swimming pools awash with more silicone than Miami. Add people so friendly you’ll swear it can’t be true, a political situation existing on a knife-edge, internationally renowned museums and gallery openings that continue in the face of explosions, assassinations and power cuts, and you’ll find that you’ve never experienced a capital city quite so alive and kicking – despite its frequent volatility.