Arab countries pledge aid as Tunisia struggles with Covid pandemic

Tunisia recorded 189 deaths on Friday, the highest daily toll since the pandemic began last year

File photo: A man receives a coronavirus disease vaccine at a vaccination centre in Tunis, Tunisia, April 26, 2021.  Reuters

Several countries promised to help Tunisia fight the coronavirus on Friday as the north African country recorded its highest daily death toll since the pandemic began, putting its health care system under severe stress and depleting oxygen supplies.

President Kais Saied said in a statement that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman had pledged to send vaccinations and whatever medical equipment Tunisia needed.

Libya also pledged to send medical aid, the president's office said in a separate statement. Officials and local media said that Kuwait, Turkey and Algeria had promised to help.

Qatar had already sent a military plane with a field hospital on board, including 200 medics and 100 respirators. Egypt soon followed with plane-loads of assistance.

"Two Egyptian military planes arrived on Saturday at the military base in El Aouina, carrying various medical equipment, quantities of medicines, breathing monitoring machines and oxygen concentrators," read a statement by the Tunisian presidency office.

"It reflects the deep and solid relations between Tunisia and Egypt, as well as the values of solidarity that exist between the two brotherly countries and peoples," the presidency added.

After successfully containing the virus in the first wave last year, Tunisia is now grappling with a rise in infections. Government scientific advisors had proposed a six-week national lockdown to stop hospitals from being overwhelmed, but the government decided the economy could not sustain more damage.

That decision was partially amended last week when the government imposed a lockdown in some cities, measures that still fell short of what scientists recommended.

Further lockdowns for would risk piling on more damage to the vital tourism sector, which has already witnessed catastrophic losses since the start of the global health emergency.

Tunisia recorded 189 deaths on Friday, the highest daily toll since the pandemic began last year. It reported 8,500 new coronavirus cases.

"We are in a catastrophic situation ... the health system has collapsed, we can only find a bed in hospitals with great difficulty," health ministry spokesperson Nisaf Ben Alaya said.

"We are struggling to provide oxygen ... doctors are suffering from unprecedented fatigue," she said. "The boat is sinking."

The total number of coronavirus cases so far in Tunisia has climbed to around 480,000, with more than 16,000 deaths.

Vaccinations lag far behind other countries. So far, only 715,000 people have received two doses out of a total of 11.6 million residents.

The president's office said last week that the United States pledged to donate 500,000 vaccination doses.

Updated: July 11, 2021, 11:19 AM