Tunisian intensive care units are rapidly filling up while a majority of Tunisians are not aware of the gravity of the situation.
Rabat – Tunisia is facing a “critical” COVID-19 situation, Minister of Health Faouzi Mehdi said on Wednesday. A rise in infections has intensive care units (ICU) rapidly filling, and COVID-19 patients now occupy four out of five beds in intensive care units, according to the minister.
Tunisia’s health minister warned that 60% of Tunisians are not grasping the gravity of the COVID-19 situation and continue to avoid wearing masks in public. After a promising first response to COVID-19, the national epidemic has lingered and is now spreading through community transmission.
The WHO made community transmission a prime concern in the guidelines it issued in February to prepare public health systems to anticipate such “large-scale” transmission. But Tunisia’s ministry of health can only do so much, said Minister Mehdi. The ministry has an obligation limited by the available means and cannot guarantee results, he stated.
While Tunisia’s Ministry of Health is doing “everything in its power” to limit the spread, officials are attempting to convey the seriousness of the situation to citizens. The health minister told newspaper Al Maghreb that the government is investigating whether the country will need a new national lockdown during upcoming school holidays.
Tunisia’s Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi contradicted those remarks in a statement cited by Reuters on October 21. A new lockdown would be too costly to Tunisia’s economy, according to Mechichi, as COVID-19 measures already caused a doubling of the state’s fiscal deficit amid a shrinking economy.
With Tunisia now in stage four of its national COVID-19 epidemic, many hold out hope that a vaccine could bring relief.
The head of Tunisia’s Pasteur Institute, Hechmi Louzir, told Tunisienumerique that the government is following vaccine developments closely. Louzit indicated that through the WHO and World Bank, Tunisia expects to acquire COVID-19 vaccines as soon as they are available. They would first distribute the vaccines to the elderly as soon as they reached the country.
Hopes of a COVID-19 vaccine might not come to fruition in time for Tunisia. With ICU beds rapidly filling up the country is struggling to cope with the strain on public health facilities. Tunisia has so far recorded 52,399 cases and 983 deaths, according to WHO data. The government has imposed curfews in the capital Tunis, but appears reluctant to impose a new national lockdown.