A representative of Lebanon’s hospitality sector said that service and tourism businesses would defy a newly reinstated coronavirus lockdown that has compounded the crisis-hit country’s economic woes.
“From tomorrow, we will open our doors,” said Tony Ramy, head of the syndicate of owners of restaurants, cafes, nightclubs and pastry shops.
“The arbitrary and demagogic decision to close down, whether partially or fully, does not concern us any more,” he said in a televised statement from a Beirut street heavily damaged by the huge 4 August explosion at the capital’s port.
An AFP photographer said dozens of people gathered in support of the announcement, some holding signs that read “Tourism is the pulse of Lebanon” and “For us, the state vanished with the blast”.
The declaration, made on behalf of a wider tourism body also representing hotels and seaside resorts, came four days after authorities imposed a two-week coronavirus lockdown to stem a string of record-hitting daily infection tolls.
Lebanon has registered 13,687 coronavirus cases, including 138 deaths.
Under the latest rules, malls, nightclubs, gyms, swimming pools, restaurants and coffee shops have been ordered to close.
Restaurants, coffee shops and pastry shops can deliver, but only between 6am and 6pm due to an overnight curfew.
Ramy blamed the government for the devastating explosion at Beirut’s port and the huge losses it has caused the tourism industry, which he estimated at around $1bn – including $315m for restaurants alone.
He called on the sector to engage in “civil disobedience” against the state by severing commercial ties with the government and depriving it of tax money.
“We will not pay a single penny until we have a new state,” he said.
The interior ministry responded that it would punish those who flouted the lockdown, and urged Lebanese to act in the public interest.
“The interior ministry … warns it will not be lenient in implementing what the laws stipulate for transgressors, from issuing fines to referral to the relevant judicial authority,” caretaker interior minister Mohammed Fahmi said, shortly before the country announced a record 24-hour coronavirus death toll of 12.
The Beirut traders’ association this week also said businesses wanted to reopen from Wednesday.
Authorities fear Lebanon’s fragile health sector would struggle to cope with a further spike in coronavirus cases, especially after some hospitals near the port were damaged or taken out of commission in the explosion.