'Not like other years': Coronavirus dampens Eid al-Adha in Libya

COVID-19 pandemic affecting livestock market, other businesses, as residents prepare to mark holiday amid restrictions.

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    Misrata, Libya - The coronavirus pandemic is changing the way people in Libya, like all Muslims around the world, are celebrating the annual Eid al-Adha festival. 

    Eid al-Adha, or the festival of sacrifice, marks the end of the Hajj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia. This year, the festival will be celebrated in most countries on Friday, July 31.

    In Libya, the festival is usually spent with relatives and friends who gather to eat together. But lockdown restrictions in the North African nation, which reported its first case of coronavirus in March, has forced many to be alone in the holiday.

    "This year isn't like the others. We will have to take precautions and everyone is worried. Instead of extended family, we will be spending Eid with our immediate family," Ashraf Alserati, a Misrata resident, told Al Jazeera.

    Libya has so far reported 3,222 coronavirus cases and 71 related deaths, according to the National Centre for Disease Control. Almost 600 people in the country have recovered.

    Eid al-Adha preparations amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, in Misrata
    A vendor sells knives at a market in the run-up to the Eid al-Adha celebrations in Misrata [Ayman al-Sahili/Reuters]

    The pandemic is testing Libya's healthcare system, already fragmented and stretched from years of conflict since the overthrow and killing of longtime leader Muammar Gaddafi in 2011. 

    The oil-rich country is split between the internationally-recognised Government of National Accord in Tripoli and a rival administration in the east affiliated with Khalifa Haftar, a renegade military commander who in April 2019 launched an ultimately unsuccessfully offensive to wrest control of the capital.

    The World Health Organization considers Libya a high-risk country for COVID-19, while the United Nations has warned that the spread of coronavirus could be "truly catastrophic" for the internally displaced people (IDP) and close to 700,000 refugees and migrants in the country.

    Even before the arrival of the new coronavirus, the Global Health Security Index report had warned that Libya was among the 27 countries "most vulnerable to emerging outbreaks".

    'Difficult position'

    The health crisis, along with rising prices, has drastically slowed down business activity in the lead-up to Eid al-Adha, a lucrative time for cattle herders.

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    "Before, buying a sheep was a family occasion. Now, the father comes by himself," said Abdulhamid Alseid, a sheep farmer and seller. 

    "Because of COVID-19, it's harder to import wheat and food, so it's more expensive. That's also had an impact on the market."

    Small business owners, selling handmade traditional items are also feeling the virus's effects, while the increase in prices of basic commodities has made matters worse for many struggling families.

    "This year, residents are in a difficult position," Sleiman Bayou, a Misrata resident, told Al Jazeera.

    "Many fathers are going to be embarrassed in front of their families because they can't afford a sheep," he added.

    "Many are displaced because of the fighting, we are dealing with coronavirus, and the prices are really expensive. For many, the sheep costs them three to four months of salary."

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera News