After a successful response to its first wave of infections, waning adherence to COVID-19 measures resulted in more than three thousand new cases in Tunisia.
Rabat – Tunisia has become a case study in the importance of COVID-19 measures as a few weeks of lax adherence has caused a resurgence of cases. The country managed to bring its first wave of infections under control in an impressive case of strong government measures and a public rallying together to fight the threat.
“We made efforts and we were able to achieve a victory,” former Tunisian Prime Minister Elyes Fakhfakh declared on June 14.
Tunisia’s stringent government lockdown and good adherence brought its caseload down to single digits. Tunisian COVID-19 efforts resulted in international praise as commentators started to speculate about a rapid rebound for Tunisia’s tourism industry.
Data from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation shows that at the time of Fakhfakh’s declaration of victory, roughly one in every four Tunisians wore masks. At the same time, individual mobility had dropped by almost half due to social distancing measures and lockdowns. With Tunisians staying at home, the virus was unable to spread.
The then-prime minister stated that Tunisians should take pride in their achievement as it appeared the country had limited its COVID-19 cases to roughly 1,000 with 49 deaths. From May onwards, the government started to gradually allow businesses to operate freely again and many hoped the crisis had been averted.
Unfortunately, that was not the end of Tunisia’s COVID-19 epidemic. After Fakhfakh’s speech, mask use dropped dramatically. In mid-August, mask use was below 5% while social distancing measures saw an adherence rate of only 15%.
As the public relaxed its adherence to preventive measures, Tunisia’s COVID-19 epidemic managed to slowly continue its spread, accelerating as the weeks went by.
On October 12, the country reported 1,297 new daily cases, eclipsing its total cases in June in a single day. Tunisia’s death toll has similarly increased dramatically, rising nearly ten-fold since June.
Currently, Tunisia has recorded 32,556 confirmed cases to the World Health Organization (WHO), and 478 citizens have died of COVID-19 complications.
The evolution of Tunisia’s COVID-19 epidemic provides a stark example of the need for citizens’ adherence to preventive measures.
Fellow Maghrebi countries Morocco and Libya have also seen a significant rise in cases. While war-torn Libya’s tentative ceasefire allows for some COVID-19 counter measures, Morocco could stand to learn the most from Tunisia’s case.
Warning to the region
In Morocco, the lifting of lockdowns similarly saw a gradual return to social activity, peaking around the Islamic holiday of Eid al Adha at the start of August. As social distancing rules were adhered to less and less, mask use dropped from a remarkable 70% in May to 45% at the end of July. With it came a resurgence of COVID-19, just as it had in Tunisia.
With cases rising in Morocco, the government has urged Moroccans to see preventative measures as a moral and patriotic duty. Mask use has somewhat increased to over half of the population. Morocco’s daily news cases have risen from several hundred a day, to several thousand.
Stringent government measures and citizens’ adherence is crucial in the fight against COVID-19.
While Tunisia provides a warning, the example of China shows that strict adherence can produce remarkable results. In China, citizens follow government instructions to the letter, and while this hampers their personal freedoms it has resulted in remarkable success.
China’s population of 1.4 billion people now records only a few dozen cases every day — according to official data — while the US, Brazil, Russia, and India see tens of thousands of cases.
Tunisia and China have shown that through solidarity and good adherence, the virus can be slowed down. The virus is likely to remain an issue for months or even years to come; only through good adherence can we stop the spread and see an economic recovery.