Rising pandemic toll leads to weeklong lockdown in Tunisia |
TUNIS – Tunisia has ordered a partial lockdown from Sunday for the week-long Eid al-Fitr holiday, warning that any further increase in coronavirus infections could lead to the collapse of the health system which is already due struggling to cope with COVID-19 cases.
The health ministry has already instructed public hospitals to postpone all elective surgeries and cancer operations by one month.
Prime Minister Mechichi warned of possible oxygen supply shortages if sufficient imports are not guaranteed.
Tunisia imported additional quantities from neighboring Algeria. Egypt dispatched two military planes with oxygen shipments to the small North African nation.
Announcing the measure on Friday, Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi said Tunisia was going through “the worst health crisis in its history”.
Mosques, markets and non-essential businesses will be closed under the new restrictions, which come as Muslims mark the end of the holy fasting month of Ramadan, Mechichi told reporters.
“Healthcare facilities are at risk of collapsing,” Mechichi said, adding that doctors were being taken to extremes, with around 100 people a day dying from Covid-19.
More than 500 people are currently in intensive care, an unprecedented number that has forced doctors to set up field hospitals, and the North African country is struggling to meet the demand for oxygen.
Under new rules, travel will be banned between regions, gatherings and celebrations banned, and a 7:00 p.m. to 5:00 a.m. curfew will be imposed.
Tunisians are encouraged to leave their homes only for what is strictly necessary, said government spokeswoman Hasna Ben Slimane.
Critics of the government complained about the authorities’ lack of firmness in enforcing restrictions in the face of blatant manifestations of public laxity and overcrowding of public transport and post offices.
There were also complaints about the lack of vaccine supplies and problems that disrupted immunization campaigns.
The Mediterranean country, with a population of around 12 million, has recorded more than 300,000 cases of coronavirus and more than 11,200 deaths.
As cases multiply and intensive care services fill up, Tunisia has already suspended classes, imposed a mandatory quarantine and extended a nighttime curfew.
Mechichi had previously rejected another lockdown after one Tunisia imposed last year, saying the country could not afford it.
Tunisia’s economy shrank 8.8% last year in real terms, and the government this week began talks with the International Monetary Fund to seek a package of financial aid.
When the government attempted to impose tougher measures last month, it was quickly forced to moderate them after facing widespread opposition and the threat of mass protests.