Tunisia reopens its economy despite hospital strain

TUNIS – Tunisian authorities plan to reopen the economy next week amid a public crackdown on viral restrictions, even as hospitals across the country struggle to find enough oxygen to treat a still high number of COVID patients- 19.

Tunisia closed shops and restaurants and banned all sporting and cultural events last week as the prime minister warned the health system was at risk of collapsing. Houses of prayer have also been closed – including for the Eid al-Fitr holiday marking the end of the holy month of Ramadan which begins on Thursday.

But while Tunisia is currently reporting the highest number of new COVID-19 deaths per capita in Africa, the public is frustrated and some small business owners or market traders have defied the new lockdown.

The government announced on Wednesday evening that it would go ahead with plans to reopen from May 16 and promised further aid to businesses and the poor.

A national curfew, which currently begins at 7 p.m., will be pushed back to 10 p.m. from Sunday, government spokeswoman Hasna Ben Slimane said on Wednesday. Mosques, restaurants and schools will reopen if they respect social distancing and other virus protection measures. Visitors to Tunisia will still need to be quarantined upon arrival.

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In a televised address, Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi pledged, among other aid, interest-free loans to small businesses and young entrepreneurs.

Dozens of people with the virus still die every day, and more than 11,600 have died in total, in a country of 11 million people. The country currently has the highest per capita daily death rate in Africa and one of the highest overall death rates in the region, according to Our World in Data.

Oxygen is lacking in Tunisian hospitals as demand has increased sevenfold since before the pandemic, Health Minister Faouzi Mehdi said last week. Neighboring Algeria recently delivered an oxygen supply to neighboring Tunisia and other shipments from Europe.

Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

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