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EDITOR IN CHIEF- ABDULLAH BIN SALIM AL SHUEILI

Tunisia orders lockdown amid 'worst' ever health crisis

A Tunisian police officer controls a food shop, amid a general confinement imposed by the authorities in a bid to slow down a surge in coronavirus infections, in Tunis. - AFP
A Tunisian police officer controls a food shop, amid a general confinement imposed by the authorities in a bid to slow down a surge in coronavirus infections, in Tunis. - AFP

TUNIS: Tunisia ordered a partial lockdown from Sunday for the week-long Eid al Fitr holidays, warning that any further increase in coronavirus infections could overwhelm specialist care facilities.


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 Ramadhan, Mechichi told reporters.


"Health institutions are at risk of collapse," Mechichi said, adding that medics were stretched to the limit, with around 100 people a day dying of Covid-19.


More than 500 people are currently in intensive care, an unprecedented number that has required medics 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 prohibited, and a 7 pm to 5 am curfew imposed.


Tunisians are encouraged to leave their homes only for what is strictly necessary, government spokeswoman Hasna Ben Slimane said.


The Mediterranean country, with a population of around 12 million, has recorded more than 300,000 coronavirus cases and over 11,200 deaths. Tunisia's economy has lurched from one crisis to another since the country's 2011 revolution, with GDP estimated to have contracted by a record 8.2 per cent last year.


Mechichi had said several times in recent weeks that Tunisia is unable to afford to repeat the restrictions put in place in March 2020 at the start of the pandemic.


Meanwhile, doctors in Tunisia began a three-day strike last week halting a coronavirus vaccination campaign amid an increase in infections in the North African country. The strike halts work at public hospitals, except for emergency services.


The syndicate of doctors, pharmacists and dentists have been in a dispute with the Ministry of Health about finances, contracts and the amendment of the basic law of the profession.


The strike led to crowds at several health centres as people gathered to receive vaccination as planned, despite there being a lack of people to administer the doses.


The ministry called on the doctors to cancel the strike and continue negotiations with the ministry until they reach an agreement. It said vaccination is a priority as the country faces a third wave of coronavirus.


The strike will affect vaccination plans for some 40,000 people, the ministry added in a statement.


Since vaccinations began less than two months ago, around 415,000 people have received the coronavirus vaccine, including 101,000 who got two doses, according to figures by the ministry. - AFP


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