BEIRUT (AP) — Dozens of doctors, nurses and medical staff gathered outside the Central Bank in the Lebanese capital Beirut on Thursday after declaring a two-day general strike to protest rapidly deteriorating economic conditions .
The strike was declared by two unions of health professionals – the Beirut and North Doctors’ Unions and the Private Hospital Owners’ Union – who said they could no longer support the Central Bank’s policies which allowed banks to impose random capital checks and other restrictions.
During the strike, which ends on Friday, only emergency cases and dialysis patients would be admitted to hospitals, the unions said.
Lebanon’s medical sector, which until a few years ago was among the best in the Middle East, is on the brink of collapse, barely surviving the country’s unprecedented economic and financial meltdown.
The crisis that began in October 2019 saw the local currency lose more than 90% of its value to the dollar, wiping out wages and savings. The difficulties have led to the emigration of thousands of doctors and nurses and the closure of many pharmacies, as well as serious shortages of medicines and medical equipment.
A number of hospitals have warned that they will have to close because they can no longer pay their expenses or pay the salaries of their employees.
“Hospitals are going to close because there’s no way they can continue. We have to pay in cash when we don’t have access to cash,” said Suleiman Haroun, head of the private hospitals union, who joined the protest in Beirut along with a few hundred other colleagues.
He blamed central bank policies for destroying the sector.
Meanwhile, the Lebanese pound continued to hit new lows against the dollar, which was selling at around 35,600 pounds on the black market on Wednesday. The Lebanese currency was pegged at 1,500 pounds to the dollar for 22 years until the crisis erupted at the end of 2019.