By Timour Azhari
BEIRUT (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – A judge on Wednesday ordered Lebanon’s health ministry to give a COVID-19 vaccination to an 80-year-old man within 48 hours or be fined, saying the department had violated the principle of equal access by allowing lawmakers to jump the queue.
Joseph al-Hajj took legal action after lawmakers caused widespread public anger in Lebanon last week by getting early vaccinations, arguing that he had priority access to the vaccine according to the country’s vaccination plan.
Judge Carla Chawah said the ministry’s decision to vaccinate lawmakers had violated al-Hajj’s right to health and life because he had priority in the national plan being aged over 75 unlike some of the lawmakers.
The World Bank, which is funding part of Lebanon’s COVID-19 vaccination campaign, threatened to suspend finances after a Thomson Reuters Foundation correspondent reported lawmakers were to be vaccinated at the nation’s parliament last week.
The judge, sitting in the urgent matters court, said in a ruling seen by the Thomson Reuters Foundation that the ministry’s decision posed “an imminent threat to the plaintiff” and were “a clear violation” of his “essential rights”.
She said the ministry wold have pay a fine of Lebanon pounds 10 million ($6,500) a day for every day over the 48 hours.
Lebanon’s caretaker health minister Hamad Hassan could not immediately be reached for comment.
Lebanon began its COVID-19 inoculation drive on Feb. 14 and has secured enough vaccines for about half its six million population.
Hassan previously defended his decision to vaccinate lawmakers as a “sovereign decision” and said he had done it out of appreciation for their work.
Hassan’s comments and pushback by other politicians added to anger in Lebanon, where decades of state waste and corruption have triggered a financial meltdown.
Two weeks into an inoculation campaign marred by the row over queue-jumping by lawmakers, officials and human rights groups are concerned that some 500,000 migrants in Lebanon could be left out.
(Reporting by Timour Azhari @timourazhari; Editing by Belinda Goldsmith; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org)