Tunisians to celebrate Eid under lockdown from Sunday

Prime minister says health system in danger of collapse as case numbers mount

Elderly people wait to be vaccinated against Covid-19 at El Menzah sports hall in Tunisia's capital of Tunis. AFP
Elderly people wait to be vaccinated against Covid-19 at El Menzah sports hall in Tunisia's capital of Tunis. AFP

Tunisia’s Prime Minister on Friday announced a complete lockdown ahead of next week's Eid Al Fitr holiday to stem the rising cases of Covid-19 pushing the country’s healthcare system to the brink.

Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi said the week-long restrictions from Sunday were being imposed because there was real danger that "the health system will collapse".

The nationwide general lockdown from May 9 to 16 is set to grind the nation to a halt as businesses – including daily and weekly markets and popular supermarkets like Carrefour – are ordered closed and a strict 7pm to 5am curfew is put in place.

Mosques will also be closed, and inter-city travel banned.

At the end of April Tunisia cancelled school classes and imposed a strict quarantine for incoming travellers as case numbers mounted and intensive care wards filled.

New case counts continue to top 1,000 daily, with many more going unreported as testing in the country’s interior is limited. The health ministry said on Thursday that there were 2,684 patients admitted to public and private hospitals with Covid-19, which has claimed more than 11,200 lives in the country so far.

Despite rising infections, Mr Mechichi had hesitated to institute a strict lockdown like the one Tunisia imposed last year, saying the country could not afford it. Many in Tunisia agree.

Majdi, 45, a public sector worker, said he worried for businesses that rely on sales from the last week before the Eid holiday to break even for the year.

"Some businesses wait the whole year to work from the 27th day of Ramadan until Eid," he said. "A friend sold his motorcycle to get by until Eid, but what can he do now, set himself on fire? Did the state take him into consideration with this lockdown?"

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In Tunis on Friday many were rushing to finish shopping and other preparations for the end of Ramadan, before shops closed for the lockdown. Long lines at supermarkets and bakeries evoked the early, frantic days of the pandemic. Men pushed shopping carts loaded with drinking water or carried armfuls of baguettes.

Mohamed Salah Laabidi, 32, who sells cell-phone covers and keychains from a cart in Tunis's bustling centre, said a week's lockdown would be devastating for him and his family.

"My father passed away and now I'm in charge of my family, but with the lockdown I will be unemployed for the week and don't know how we will make ends meet."

Tunisia's economy shrank by 8.8 per cent last year in real terms, and the government started talks this week with the International Monetary Fund to seek a package of financial assistance in exchange for slashing subsidies on basic food staples like sugar, oil and flour.

When the government attempted to impose stricter measures last month, it was swiftly forced to moderate them after facing widespread opposition and the threat of mass protests.

Updated: May 7, 2021 08:09 PM

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