Tunisia on Monday ended a one-week COVID-19 lockdown, despite having the highest reported deaths per capita from the virus of any country in Africa.
COVID-19 cases in Tunisia were initially low last year, with a sweeping six-week lockdown involving the closure of borders and shutting down all nonessential commercial activity appearing to halt the spread of the virus.
However, since easing that lockdown, cases have increased, with daily reported infections and deaths now the highest in Africa, according to Our World in Data.
At least 11,899 of Tunisia’s 11.7 million people have died from the virus, with 327,473 people infected.
A big rally in support of the Palestinian cause went ahead in Tunis last weekend, although with most people wearing masks.
Vaccines have been available in Tunisia since March, but take-up is low amid widespread skepticism, even among healthcare workers.
Funding for health has been falling for years, economists said, with the decline accelerating dramatically after cash was diverted to strengthen domestic security as the Islamic State group became more powerful.
While Tunisia’s initial response to the pandemic might have won plaudits, it came at a cost that is shaping present policy.
Despite offers of tax relief and government loans, many Tunisians have found the economic burden of lockdown beyond them.
Much of Tunisia’s workforce is made up of day laborers who are not eligible for government schemes.
As in many countries, the economic pain of lockdown was seen as a greater risk than the virus, said Youssef Cherif, director of Columbia University’s Global Center in Tunis.
“This low public concern has led to an increase in cases and to thousands of deaths in the last few months,” he said. “Those who were directly hit, including my family, feel it, but those who were spared the grief and sorrow of this virus continue to live normally — until they are stricken.”
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