Lebanese forces on the front lines of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis, tasked with enforcing quarantine measures and restrictions on public gatherings, are protecting themselves with equipment provided by the US.
The personal protection equipment (PPE) kits include masks, gloves and hand sanitiser, and are provided as part of the ongoing co-operation between the Lebanese and US militaries, according to military sources.
Before the schools were shut down, Lebanese forces distributed 20,000 US-provided hygiene kits containing a toothbrush, toothpaste, hand sanitiser and water bottle to students, according to a Lebanese Army Command source.
"We also received, in March and April, 17,000 medical masks, 120,000 pairs of medical gloves, 10,000 bottles of hand sanitiser and 19,000 awareness and risk-prevention pamphlets on the coronavirus," he told Al-Mashareq.
These were distributed to the military's operational units, the source said.
The military's medical units meanwhile received 2,000 medical masks, 97,000 pairs of medical gloves and 1,091 medical gowns, he said.
The PPE will "help Lebanese army soldiers protect themselves from the risks of the coronavirus, especially since they come in direct contact with citizens", he said. "They protect both soldiers and citizens from getting infected."
The PPE is "of high quality and manufactured to military medical specifications", the source said, noting that the gear supplied to military medical units is "critical, because the sector needs support to respond to the coronavirus crisis".
"The US Army, which contributes to our training, armament and equipment, is showing the extent of its partnership with us and its commitment to support us," he said, noting that "the US itself is fighting this virus and is facing a shortage of this equipment".
"Yet despite all this, they are providing assistance to the Lebanese army, which is tasked by the government, as are other security forces, with enforcing the decision to impose restrictions on public gatherings," he said.
High-quality medical supplies
At the onset of the health crisis, "the Lebanese army began preparing to respond to this health emergency situation, and military workshops began producing masks for the soldiers", said Lebanese security expert Naji Malaeb.
"But the quantity produced is not sufficient for all the military and security forces involved in enforcing the decisions of the government and the Supreme Defence Council," he told Al-Mashareq.
This includes monitoring and enforcing the quarantine, monitoring those who are known to be infected, and controlling traffic on the busiest streets and in the most densely populated neighbourhoods, he said.
The PPE supplies the US military provided are "beneficial" and "contributing significantly to protecting army soldiers from the risks of the coronavirus and consequently the risks of its transmission to citizens", Malaeb said.
The supplies "are of very high quality and specifications, produced by US military enterprises", he said, noting that "they cannot be compared with other products manufactured for profit in other countries, such as China".
China has made billions of dollars exporting masks and other protective equipment to fight the coronavirus pandemic. But a host of countries have complained about receiving substandard or faulty medical products from it.
Education and prevention
Protection against COVID-19 is a "very important concern for the Lebanese army", said journalist Suzanne Barbari, who writes about health issues.
The Lebanese military has been engaged in fieldwork that involves monitoring compliance with home quarantine, she told Al-Mashareq.
The assistance the US has provided to the army "is very important", she said, noting that these high-quality supplies "cannot be compared to other products on the market that do not meet health and preventive requirements".
The inclusion of educational pamphlets is equally important, she added, "because any malfunction or misuse exposes the users to health risks".
The US-made PPE "helps the army fight the coronavirus without fear and protects its soldiers, citizens and the country".