Tunisia hopes for a normal summer season with end of confinement measures
TUNIS –Tunisia has declared victory over the coronavirus pandemic Monday, with President Kais Saied ordering an end to a curfew that was imposed in March to help slow the spread of disease.
The country, which has already reopened government offices, factories, shops, businesses, mosques, cafes and hotels after locking down nearly all normal business for months, has so far recorded slightly more than 1,000 cases with fewer than 50 deaths reported.
The success in controlling the pandemic is partly credited to the new government’s swift and proactive response to the early threats of the pandemic.
Nissaf Ben Alaya, a member of the coronavirus control committee and director of the National Observatory and New and Emerging Diseases said Monday that Tunisia has effectively gained control over the pandemic but “must continue to adhere to preventive health measures.”
The final phase of easing of restrictions on quarantine is now complete, according to the government, while authorities will fully open borders for international flights on June 27.
Tunisians hope the end of the curfew and confirment measures will usher in the real beginning of the domestic and foreign tourism season even though this summer’s edition of the two main international festivals, in Carthage and Hammamet, have been cancelled already.
The control of the pandemic amounts to a major victory for Tunisian Prime Minister Elyes Fakhfakh and his cabinet, sworn into office in late February.
Th e achieved results stand out in the country’s regional context as the pandemic caused thousands of deaths in European countries just across the Mediterranean.
Now the country will have to deal with the post-COVID-19 challenges, with experts warning that Tunisia is in a more precarious economic situation than a year ago when GNP growth was at about 1%. It is clearly in worse shape than a decade ago, when high unemployment helped trigger the 2011 uprising. The conflict in next-door Libya will continue to deprive Tunisian of trade and employment opportunities.
The Tunisian General Labour Union (UGTT) had already called on all national forces to rally their efforts and focus on the major problems and challenges facing the country, warning that the economic crisis could threaten more than 400,000 jobs and that the situation had been worsened by the COVID-19 crisis.
“The UGTT is aware of the precarious economic and social situation in the country,” UGTT Deputy Secretary-General Samir Cheffi said, calling on the various political stakeholders, national organisations and active forces in Tunisia to focus on “the burning issues of the country.”
Hopes for saving the economy will face an uphill struggle as Tunisia has forecast that its economy will shrink up to 7% this year, the steepest drop since 1956 independence. The forecast comes as the key tourism sector could be hit the hardest, losing up to $1.4 billion due to the pandemic.
The country also faces political challenges amid mounting tensions between the opposition and the Ennahda Islamist Movement, accused of meddling with Tunisia’s foreign policy agenda and seeking to expand control over state institutions.