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Tunisia orders lockdown amid ‘worst’ ever health crisis

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Nurses clad in PPE (personal protective equipment) tend to an intubated COVID-19 coronavirus disease patient in an intensive care unit (ICU) at a hospital in the town of Gabes in Tunisia’s southwestern governorate of the same name on August 26, 2020. – The novel coronavirus outbreak in Tunisia, which had been contained by imposing strict measures early on, has seen a spike in cases since reopening borders in late June. It has put the spotlight on struggling health services in the southeast, with residents and doctors decrying a lack of equipment and medics in El-Hamma, some 500 kilometres (around 310 miles) south of the capital, making it one of the national virus epicentres. (Photo by FETHI BELAID / AFP)

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.

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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.

“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 7:00 pm to 5:00 am curfew imposed.

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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 percent 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.

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