BEIRUT: Around 5,500 Lebanese stranded abroad were returned to their country in the second phase of repatriation, Middle East Airlines Chairman Mohammed Hout said Sunday.
“We transported 5,500 passengers in 40 flights,” Hout told LBCI television station. The second phase of repatriation ended May 8.
Around 11,300 passengers are expected to return in the third phase, which will begin May 14 and end May 24.
Thousands of Lebanese have been stuck abroad due to coronavirus lockdown measures. The Foreign Ministry estimates that 20,000 citizens have registered to return.
Hout’s comments came after recent uproar that MEA was not following proper distancing procedures to prevent the spread of coronavirus.
A video circulating social media Saturday showed passengers on a May 8 flight carrying 185 expats from London sitting directly next to each other. MEA had previously said that the reason for the high ticket prices was that planes would return at half-capacity as there would insure social distancing between passengers.
Regarding the incident, Hout said “European safety laws are clear in terms of social distancing on the plane and [wearing a] mask is the only legal duty.
“The violation that occurred on the London plane is on those who took off their masks,” he added.
Hout said that passengers who had taken PCR exams and whose results returned negative prior to the flight would be seated next to each other.
A total of 14 positive coronavirus cases were detected on the May 8 expat return flights. Ten cases were detected among passengers on the flight from Moscow, two among passengers from Douala, Cameroon, and one each from the flights from Minsk and Kuwait.