The World Bank has threatened to suspend finance for Lebanon’s coronavirus vaccine rollout amid allegations members of parliament “skipped the line” and were inoculated without registering in advance.
Dr Abdul Rahman Bizri, head of the committee supervising the Lebanese vaccine campaign, signalled he would resign and said he was not informed that MPs and parliamentary staff had received the vaccine on Tuesday.
If the World Bank does pull its funding, it would deal a crushing blow to Lebanon as the country has struggled to contain Covid-19 while limping through an unprecedented economic crisis.
The World Bank said last month it had approved $34m to help pay for vaccines for Lebanon that will inoculate more than 2 million people, around a third of a population that includes a million Syrian refugees. The country’s vaccination campaign began on Valentine’s Day and Lebanon has so far received nearly 60,000 shots of the Pfizer-BioNTech jab.
“Everyone has to register and wait for their turn!” the World Bank’s regional director Saroj Kumar Jha tweeted, using the hashtag “No Wasta”, an Arabic term meaning that people should not be using nepotism, power or influence.
He added that the World Bank “may suspend financing for vaccines and support for COVID19 response across Lebanon!!”
“I appeal to all, I mean all, regardless of your position, to please register and wait for your turn.”
Lebanon’s financial collapse is anchored in corruption, which has brought the Mediterranean nation to bankruptcy, with the local currency losing 80 per cent of its value over the last year, and food prices in some cases quadrupling.
The mishandling of the country’s finances even sparked an uprising in October 2019.
According to state media, Adnan Daher, parliament’s secretary-general, denied that 16 legislators had jumped the line, which prioritises medical workers and residents who are at least 75 years old.
Another MP said current and retired lawmakers over 75 years old, as well as some administrative staff, were getting vaccinated in the parliament hall. “What’s the big deal? They’re over 75 and registered,” he told Reuters.
However, TV networks were not present.
Dr Bizri, who heads the vaccination committee, is expected to hold a news conference later on Tuesday to announce his resignation.
Mr Jha, the World Bank official, said the vaccinations in parliament were not in line with the plan agreed and would be considered a breach of the terms and conditions.
Lebanon has recorded more than 356,000 coronavirus cases and more than 4,300 deaths since the first case was registered in February last year.
It is in the grip of a crippling round-the-clock curfew and lockdown as cases surged after the authorities lifted restrictions during the Christmas and new year period.