Striving for Normality in a State of Emergency

Being plagued by overlapping crises, Lebanon has mastered the COVID-19 crisis so far very well. Phases of easing up are interrupted by phases of renewed lock-down to prevent a second wave of infections now. The researchers of the Orient-Institut Beirut, one of ten MWS institutes worldwide, report how the country and the institute are coping with the situation.

In a country like Lebanon, where crisis has been not the exception but rather the rule for quite a while now, resilience is a key trait of its people. Usually people are left alone to deal with crises since political forces are actively taking part in them. The appearance of COVID-19 coincided with the appointment of an interim coalition government of technocrats, ushered in by a popular protest movement which had taken down the old government at the end of 2019. The pandemic was a major challenge on top of the giant economic and political crises which this government is tasked to solve. It met the challenge swiftly and decisively early on with lock-down measures and close monitoring of cases, managing also to bring back safely into the country over 20 000 of its fellow citizens who were stranded abroad.

OI Beirut resident researchers and OI Beirut research fellows during one of the research colloquiums which bring researchers who want to be at the institute … Foto: privat

There was an immediate and widespread consensus in the population (and the political Opposition coalition) that the quarantine measures had to be followed, and against all odds Lebanese managed to keep their social distancing through the first 6 weeks of the crisis, thus being very successful, also in international comparison, in keeping the curve of infections and deaths at a very low rate (see curve below). Despite the severe economic crisis, inflation and unemployment, people stuck out the lock-down without the complaints on the infringement of individual liberties so widespread in Western countries. Social media were used creatively and innovatively to boost morale, and to organize help and support for the growing number of hard-hit families – despite all fractures in the society this is something that Lebanese are used to for decades.

Living in a country like Lebanon teaches us that normality is not a concept contradictory with life in crisis, but rather a certain resilient attitude in the face of difficulties. Since 10th of March 2020, the Orient-Institut Beirut (OIB)‘ s local, German and international staff jointly carried out numerous measures in order to maintain the safety and well-being of its employees while trying to efficiently manage productivity via remote work.

The 0IB IT team provided the staff with all the software and hardware tools in order to successfully set up their home offices. IT staff is part of the emergency team which, together with the directorate comes in on a regular basis to keep the institute going.

… together with researchers and fellows working from their home offices abroad and in Lebanon. Foto: privat

Especially important to the OIB research community is the Starleaf Video Conference Solution over the Cloud. Internal and external colloquia and meetings are being held on a weekly basis with this tool. The international part of our resident researchers and almost all our international visiting fellows have remained in Lebanon and continue their work, partly in home office, partly in the institute – following the rules of social distancing and wearing masks.

Since all personal interactions with our users of the library had to cease due to COVID19, our 0IB library team has focused from their home offices on follow-up projects of the inventory and other library tasks. The library remains in close contact with all exchange and acquisition partners, and further exchange and cooperation possibilities with local and regional institutions are being considered. In order to optimize the library services, the library team has collected numerous digital collections and online available sources and published them on the library’s homepage. Subscriptions to scholarly journals are being expanded or converted to online access. The institute’s own VPN access has been optimised, giving our researchers access to all network restricted internal media such as databases, e-books and online journals from their home Office.

According to scientists at TU Ilmenau/Fraunhofer, the spread of a virus in its early stages is exponential, and its characteristic factor is the daily rise in numbers, which can be converted into the duration necessary for a doubling of the cases. This factor can be estimated even if only a small percentage of the population are tested, if it can be assumed that the under-detection rate remains more or less stable. This factor is crucial in order to understand whether a diffusion can be curbed. The smaller this factor remains, the later the peak in infection numbers will occur, which might lead to a crash of the health system. With a factor of 1.02 simulations show a peak after about 1.5 years, i.e. at a time when a vaccine can be expected to be available. For this estimate the underdetection rate, i.e. the number of unrecorded cases, has no high significance. In this plot we see the factor of daily increase for several countries beginning of April. You can see that Lebanon had almost reached this factor already in April. Grafik: Prof. Dr. Gerald Schuller, TU Ilmenau/Fraunhofer

Until we can receive you again, to which we are looking greatly forward to, please enjoy this TV clip by Tele Liban which introduces our historical villa and luscious garden and offers you a journey through the history of this iconic Building.


Max Weber Stiftung

The Max Weber Foundation promotes global research, focused on the areas of social sciences, cultural studies and the humanities. Our research is conducted at ten institutes in various countries across the globe with different and independent fields of focus. Through our globally operating institutes, we are able to contribute to the communication and networking between Germany and our host countries or regions. By promoting academic dialogue and merging academic and non-academic employees from several countries with different cultural backgrounds, the Max Weber Foundation is able to strengthen the internationalization of research.

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