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Hit by war and oil blockade, Libya prepares for pandemic

MISRATA, Libya Both the warring factions in Libya have imposed lockdowns to guard against the coronavirus but fighting remains going on, compounding difficulties the country faces in preparing to combat the disease.

So far, testing has confirmed no cases there. But officials are worried about what may happen if and when it does.

“This is a health system that was close to collapse before you get the coronavirus, ” said Elizabeth Hoff, head of mission for the World Health Organisation in Libya.

Both the internationally recognized government in Tripoli, in the west, and a rival administration ruling from Benghazi in the east have imposed lockdowns, stopped foreign travel and promised resources for the health service.

The eastern-based Libyan National Army (LNA)has been trying to capture Tripoli since last year. Despite a ceasefire call by the United Nations last week to permit all sides to focus on finding your way through the pandemic, fighting has continued, with shelling reported by both sides.

Equipment for testing is limited, there clearly was very little protective gear and there is a severe shortage of medical workers, particularly in rural areas, Hoff said.

“There is a national plan, but funding has not yet been allocated for implementation, ” she said.

A blockade of oil ports by forces aligned with the LNA in eastern Libya has take off most revenue to the Central Bank of Libya in Tripoli, which funds state institutions and the salaries of public workers across the country.

A doctor in a medical center in Tripoli said she had not been paid since this past year.

The parallel central bank in Benghazi, setup by the eastern administration, said on Tuesday it paid salaries to government workers in east Libyan areas for the first time this season, but a health care provider said no money had arrived in his account.

Some medics in Benghazi had refused to work at a hospital over the lack of pay and sufficient protective gear, a doctor there said, but the problem was later resolved.

Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), an international medical charity working in Tripoli, said the newest bout of warfare had made things worse.

“Libya… is a high-risk country essentially due to the deficiencies of the Libyan healthcare system that has been further impacted by the latest armed conflict, ” said Joris de Jongh, MSF project coordinator in Tripoli.

In Misrata, a port city held by forces loyal to the internationally recognized government in Tripoli to its west, cleaning companies disinfected parks and public gardens.

Volunteers distributed face masks and gloves as people entered banks, where marks on to the floor showed where to stand to make sure a safe distance from others waiting in line.

“If we sit down and do nothing, waiting for the government, we won’t get any results, ” said Taher Alzarooq, a 55-year-old volunteer.