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Lebanese parliament approves law paving way for vaccine deal

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BEIRUT, Jan 15 (Reuters) - Lebanon's parliament on Friday approved a law that paves the way for the government to sign deals for coronavirus vaccinations as it battles a steep increase in infections.

Lebanon said in mid-December it was expecting to sign a deal for supplies of Pfizer-BioNTech's COVID-19 vaccine and hoped to receive the first batch eight weeks after that.

But the country, now struggling with a severe spike in infections that has overwhelmed hospitals, hit a legal stumbling block that has so far prevented it from finalising the agreement.

Friday's law would give Pfizer-BioNtech, and any other company that provides vaccines to Lebanon, protection from any future liability claims for two years.

The law includes a clause that points to the Lebanese health ministry as the only entity responsible for compensation.

Lebanon is under a three-week lockdown that ends on Feb. 1 and a strict 24-hour curfew until Jan. 25 after lax measures over the Christmas and New Year's holiday period led to a spike in cases.

Caretaker Health Minister Hamad Hassan has previously said the ministry secured about 2 million doses of Pfizer-BioNTech's COVID-19 vaccine, to cover 20% of the country's nationals, but the government is yet to announce a starting date for a national vaccination programme.

On Friday Hassan tweeted thanks to parliament for approving the law. He has been hospitalised since Wednesday with coronavirus but is in stable condition and working from his hospital bed.

Lebanon recorded a total of 237,132 cases and 1,781 deaths since the start of the pandemic to Thursday.

The latest spike in infections has hit hard as the medical system was already battered by a severe financial crisis, which caused supply shortages, and August's port explosion, which damaged major Beirut hospitals. (Reporting By Maha El Dahan, Editing by William Maclean)