by Dana Halawi
BEIRUT, Feb. 25 (Xinhua) -- For Nabil Omeirat, a 60-year-old taxi driver in Lebanon, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has delt a heavy blow to his income.
Prior to COVID-19 and the collapse of the Lebanese Lira (L.L.), Omeirat made 30,000 L.L. a day, about 20 U.S. dollars calculated at the old official rate of 1,500 L.L. per one U.S. dollar, but now he can only earn 10,000 L.L. a day, equivalent to around 1 U.S. dollar when calculated at the current market rate.
"Ever since the start of COVID-19 in Lebanon, I've been depending on my daughter, who earns as little as 400,000 L.L. a month, for support given the lockdown and the absence of passengers during the pandemic," the father of four told Xinhua as he parked his car on the side of a street in Hamra, an area once bustling with tourists and shoppers.
"As you can see, Beirut's streets are empty. No one is asking for our service now," he lamented.
Lebanese authorities have, for the past year, imposed several periods of lockdown in order to curb the number of COVID-19 cases in the country. Many workers in different sectors have lost either their jobs or a big part of their income.
Taxi drivers were among the most affected since they rely on a daily income for survival.
The Lebanese government has lately reduced some of the lockdown measures in the country and allowed drivers to resume work, but passengers are rare these days, according to Marwan Kheir, a taxi driver in his 50's.
"Most people are staying at home these days to avoid being infected with the virus in light of the continuous increase in the number of deaths from COVID-19," Kheir told Xinhua.
Kheir reminisces about the not-so-distant past when Lebanon received millions of tourists yearly, keeping thousands of drivers busy all year long.
"We need a miracle to get over with this virus and be able to work regularly again," he said.
Ibrahim Boukhari, vice president of Syndicate of Public Taxi Drivers in south Lebanon, told Xinhua that taxi drivers in Lebanon have already suffered from several difficulties and the pandemic exacerbated their misery.
"Today, it is hard to find passengers, and taxi drivers can only carry two passengers at one time instead of four in light of the coronavirus rules imposed by authorities," Boukhari said, adding that this affects drivers' income.
Boukhari noted that the biggest challenge facing drivers, besides COVID-19, is the Lebanese central bank's imminent plan to lift subsidies on gasoline soon which, according to some studies, may raise the price of 20 liters of gasoline from around 30,000 L.L. to 90,000 L.L.
The price of gasoline has been increasing gradually for the past couple of months while taxi drivers kept their fare fixed.
Boukhari said the Central Bank of Lebanon should make an exception by keeping subsidies on gasoline only for taxi drivers at least.
The dire situation of taxi drivers in Lebanon prompted several protests by the sector's workers in demand for increased support by the government.