Arab countries pledge aid to Tunisia as pandemic worsens
TUNIS – Several countries promised to help Tunisia fight the coronavirus on Friday as the north African country recorded its highest daily death toll since the pandemic began, putting its health care system under severe stress and depleting oxygen supplies.
President Kais Saied said in a statement that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman had pledged to send vaccinations and whatever medical equipment Tunisia needed.
Libya also pledged to send medical aid, the president’s office said in a separate statement. Officials and local media said that Kuwait, Turkey and Algeria had promised to help.
Libya had announced Thursday the closure of its border with Tunisia for a week over pandemic-related concerns. In a phone call to Saied, Libyan interim Prime Minister Abdulhamid Dbeibah pledged the closure will be “temporary”.
Qatar had already sent a military plane with a field hospital on board, including 200 medics and 100 respirators.
After successfully containing the virus in the first wave last year, Tunisia is now grappling with a rise in infections. It imposed a lockdown in some cities starting last week, but rejected a full national lockdown over concerns about the impact on the economy.
Tunisia recorded 189 deaths on Friday, the highest daily toll since the pandemic began last year. It reported 8,500 new coronavirus cases. Tunisia’s death toll is one of the highest in the world.
“We are in a catastrophic situation … the health system has collapsed, we can only find a bed in hospitals with great difficulty,” health ministry spokesperson Nissaf Ben Alaya said.
“We are struggling to provide oxygen … doctors are suffering from unprecedented fatigue,” she said. “The boat is sinking.”
The total number of coronavirus cases so far in Tunisia has climbed to around 480,000, with more than 16,000 deaths. The real number of cases is thought to be much higher.
Vaccinations lag far behind other countries. So far, only 715,000 people have received two doses out, which is less than 6% of the total of 11.6 million population. The army has been deployed to help remedy to the situation but vaccines remain scarce.
The president’s office said last week that the United States pledged to donate 500,000 vaccination doses.
The Tunisian public places most of the blame on the authorities confused response to the pandemic which led to delays in vaccine orders. Lack of adherence by citizens to preventive measures is seen as making the situation worse.
The crisis has laid bare the fragility of the healthcare system all over the country, with meagre budgets and insufficient medical cadres. Hundreds of Tunisia medical doctors and paramedical staff have emigrated to Europe, Canada and the Arab Gulf during the last few years.