Minister of Information, Manal Abdel Samad Najd, and Minister of Public Health, Hamad Hassan, held a work meeting and joint press conference at the Ministry of Information on Saturday afternoon, to shed light on the Coronavirus issue and the necessary and responsible awareness needed in this regard.
Attending the meeting were: Civil Aviation Director General Fadi Hassan representing the Minister of Public Works and Transport; Advisor to the Prime Minister for Health Affairs and Social Security, Petra Khoury; Secretary-General of the Supreme Council for National Defense, Major General Mahmoud al-Asmar; Information Ministry Director General, Hassan Falha; President of the National Council for Audiovisual-Media, Abdul Hadi Mahfouz; National News Agency Director, Ziad Harfouche, and representatives of the audiovisual and written media outlets.
Abdel Samad began the press conference with a word on national responsibility, saying: "Now that the first infection with the Coronavirus has been detected in Lebanon, national responsibility requires us, politicians, media people, citizens, schools and universities, to deal with the emerging crisis with full awareness. At the same time, this awareness requires us not to panic and not to underestimate."
"In light of the double responsibility borne by the media in crises, we held a work meeting today with all the concerned, and there was consensus on the need to establish the awareness footprint of the media, in order to fully assume its national, professional and ethical roles," Abdel Samad added.
"We agreed that, what the citizen mostly anticipates in this circumstance, is the accurate medical information derived from its sources, i.e. the Ministry of Public Health and the World Health Organization, and periodic educational leaflets published in all media outlets, of all kinds, and across digital platforms," she said.
Abdel Samad continued to outline today's meeting guidelines, indicating that the attendees have stressed on the role of the Information Ministry and the National Media Council in this framework as being an "integrated, coordinating and guiding role, in cooperation with the media, to reduce the possible panic, shedding light scientifically and quietly on ways to prevent a virus, which can easily be eliminated with a little caution and a lot of awareness."
"Let us all join the national, media and health crisis cell, with its deanship: the Ministry of Information with its directorates, the National Media Council, Lebanon TV, the Ministry of Public Health with its medical apparatus, and the printed, audio, visual and digital media," declared Abdel Samad.
"The adoption of the National News Agency as a single and main source of information about Corona, wards off false and exaggerated news, and contributes to protecting health and social security, rather than rushing to spread the news without validation," the Information Minister corroborated.
Moreover, Abdel Samad disclosed that the conferees also agreed that it would be beneficial under the current circumstances, to intensify awareness programs and broadcast periodic instructions in all media outlets, to help everyone overcome the crisis. It was also decided to coordinate between the relevant ministries, such as the Information, Justice, Interior and Public Works Ministries, in order to keep pace with the arising situation; maintaining the need to move quickly to combat false news which causes panic in society, and to hold accountable all those who contribute to the circulation and promotion of incorrect/ fabricated news.
For his part, Public Health Minister Hassan referred to the "sensitive circumstance" we are going through, underlining the need "for everyone to adopt the greatest sense of responsibility."
He added: "Anxiety is permitted, but excessive panic is harmful to us all, including state institutions, ministries, and public administrations."
"Today, we conducted a field tour, which we began from the Rafic Hariri University Hospital, all the way to Sidon Governmental Hospital, and then to Speaker Nabih Berri's University Hospital in Nabatiyeh. We confirmed the readiness of the hospitals, and we followed-up on some cases that were promoted by the media yesterday, especially on social media and some television stations, and which were considered to be undocumented cases that might be the cause of virus spread. In this context, we affirmed that these cases are within control and have shown no disease symptoms, and are being followed-up periodically by the epidemiological surveillance unit in the Ministry of Public Health," stated Hassan.
"The reassuring news today is that we examined 11 cases in the laboratory of the Rafic Hariri University Hospital, and it was found that they do not carry the Coronavirus," the Health Minister asserted. "These cases had symptoms, some who came to report their conditions individually on their own, and others who were transferred to hospital in coordination with the Lebanese Red Cross, from some regions," Hassan went on, noting that "they had been visiting in Iran and some Arab countries."
"These cases reveal the great awareness in our society, since the patients were the ones to initiate contact with the Ministry," he said.
Hassan concluded by deeming this as "reassuring" and must be "accompanied by reliable and verified news, with a responsible media, so that we can live up to our hopes, our aspirations, and our national responsibility at this stage."
In turn, Minister Abdel Samad added to Minister Hassan's concluding statement, by saying that "this is a shared national responsibility, for we are facing a problem that concerns all of us, not just the government, and we have to stand together to reach solutions...Every party must play its role, whether in terms of awareness, prevention, or refraining from publishing, transmitting or circulating incorrect news before verification, because any news can harm society and affect social and health security."
Abdel Samad hoped for "great care and responsibility by all sides, and mutual benefit for all if we manage to overcome this crisis."
"We cannot say that it is impossible to prevent such a crisis in Lebanon, but we can say that we can mitigate its risks, and play a role in reducing its negative consequences, which can be reflected across society as a whole," she emphasized.
In response to a question, the Information Minister reiterated that the accuracy of news is more important than its speed. "We have to refer news to the Ministry of Public Health, the competent authority to verify its authenticity, which in turn refers it into the National News Agency, which circulates it to everyone. Accuracy remains the most important factor in this matter."
In turn, and responding to another question on the virus examination, Minister Hassan explained that "the examination is available, and the World Health Organization has provided us with the necessary materials in terms of number and quantity required, but not everyone wants to undergo this test, possibly for being costly...but we are talking here about health security, and when the examination is required and requested by the treating physician, we run it for free whenever necessary."
Asked about the other plane which is expected to arrive on Monday from Iran, Hassan explained: "The same measures will be taken, and they are adopted in all international airports; therefore, there is no need for any additional measures."