By Natalia Roman Morte
Tunis, Mar 25 (efe-epa).- A year since it confirmed the first coronavirus case, Tunisia faces a major economic, political and social crisis that has pushed a precarious healthcare system to its limits and weakened the disadvantaged classes in a country hit hard by the pandemic.
“At first, we had a small Covid-19 wave and we managed the first phase really well to an extent that we spent six weeks with zero cases,” general manager of the country’s Pasteur Institute Hechmi Louzir tells Efe.
This time last year, just two weeks after a Tunisian citizen living in Italy was identified as the country’s patient zero, the government closed its land border, suspended international flights, banned all gatherings and reduced work hours for state employees, stopping an already fragile economy in its tracks.
However, social and economic pressure and a bid to save tourism, which represents 40% of the country’s GDP, led to a reaction with serious consequences.
The North African country reopened its borders and classified countries according to their risk levels using a color-coded alert system, which triggered a surge in viral infections, Louzir explains.
To add insult to injury, Tunisians did not follow the recommended health practices of wearing a face mask or respecting social distancing in a country that has so far recorded 246,000 infections and 8,500 deaths.
With 46% of the population earning a living in the informal sector, according to official figures, the lockdown was almost a choice between “starving to death or Covid-19,” according to Louzir.
“We were asked to explain the impact of the restrictive measures on the rate of infection, but we were unable. Then we were told ‘if we do not know their impact, why keep them?’” says Louzir, adding that Tunisia is currently going through a second wave with a regular but slow decline in infections.
The vaccination campaign that Tunisia kicked off on March 13 does not yet seem to be effective.