BEIRUT (Al Jazeera) – Merchants and business owners in Lebanon plan to defy a coronavirus lockdown, saying they can no longer afford to keep their shops shut amid a deepening economic crisis that has plunged more than half of the population into poverty.
"We will not be able to keep our stores closed for another day due to the terrible economic situation,” said Nicolas Chammas, chairman of the Beirut Traders Association, which requested the Ministry of Interior to allow the return of commercial business activity.
"We asked the government to weigh the economic costs as it did the health risks,” Chammas told Al Jazeera.
Also on Tuesday, Tony Rami, head of the syndicate of restaurant, cafe and club owners, announced that they too would defy the lockdown order.
"We will not close our doors after today, nor will we pay a single penny before there is a new country that knows how to invest our money,” he said in a televised news conference.
"Civil disobedience has become an acquired and legitimate right. Our losses are estimated at $1bn,” he added.
Starting on August 21, Lebanese authorities imposed a 17-day lockdown to stem the spread of the coronavirus pandemic after the number of confirmed infections spiked in the wake of a massive explosion that ripped through Beirut on August 4.
To date, Lebanon has officially registered 13,255 COVID-19 cases and 126 related deaths.
Authorities have also enforced a daily curfew from 6pm to 6am and banned all social events, with bars, restaurants, clubs and gyms ordered to remain closed.
However, the airport, grocery stores and pharmacies have been allowed to operate while aid and relief work in areas affected by the explosion - which killed some 200 people, wounded thousands and left about 300,000 homeless - have been exempt from the coronavirus-related restrictions.