Tunisia tightens coronavirus restrictions , hospitals near capacity

Beds in intensive care units in Tunisian public hospitals are about 80% full as COVID-19 cases surge, while many Tunisians are frustrated at the slow pace of vaccinations.

Thursday 08/04/2021
A general view shows a empty street in Sidi Bou Said, an attractive tourist destination near Tunis, April 1, 2021. (REUTERS)
A general view shows a empty street in Sidi Bou Said, an attractive tourist destination near Tunis, April 1, 2021. (REUTERS)

TUNIS – Tunisia will extend its nighttime curfew hours and will prevent all gatherings and weekly markets to curb the rapid spread of the coronavirus pandemic, as intensive care units near maximum capacity in most hospitals, the government said.

The curfew will start 7:00 p.m. to 5:00 a.m. morning starting Friday. Its most tangible consequence would be to prevent  extended family and friends to get together for fast-breaking dinners.

Tunisia also will impose quarantine for all visitors who need to show COVID-19 tests upon arrival, the government spokeswoman Hasna Ben Slimane said.

Beds in intensive care units in Tunisian public hospitals are about 80% full as COVID-19 cases surge, the Health Minister Faouzi Mehdi said.

Tunisia has an estimated 500 ICU beds in public and private hospitals but health experts note that a lack of intensive care doctors could prove even more damaging, particularly in rural and interior regions where the shortage is most acute.

Since the outbreak of the pandemic, Tunisia has recorded 263,000 coronavirus cases and 9,039 deaths. 

On Thursday, the country approved Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine, the health minister said, and will soon receive 1.5 million doses of the vaccine under an African Union plan.

Tunisia also intends to buy further doses directly from the company to speed up its vaccination campaign, as it seeks to vaccinate 5 million people by the end of the year.

Many Tunisians are frustrated at the slow pace of vaccinations. “At this pace, the last Tunisian will be vaccinated in 2030. By then we would have lost throusands of lives,” wrote mockingly Tunisian academic Kais Mabrouk in the magazine Réalités.

The authorities blame the delay on global snags. Some analysts attribute it to late orders and political instability.

Earlier on Tuesday, Tunisian Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi excluded the possibility of imposing a nationwide lockdown, reported the Tunis Afrique Presse (TAP).

“It is not possible to impose a general lockdown in Tunisia because of the socio-economic difficulties,” Mechichi was quoted by the TAP as saying.

“We cannot prevent certain categories of the population from working,” Mechichi added.

Underscoring the need to respect the health protocols, in particular social distancing and wearing masks, Mechichi called on all Tunisians to register on the EVAX platform to receive vaccine jabs.

The coronavirus pandemic severely impacted the Tunisian economy. In 2020, the country’s real gross domestic product (GDP) declined significantly by 8.8 percent.