Coronavirus fallout

Tunisia post-lockdown – should we stay or should we go?

Now that the COVID-19 crisis in Tunisia has abated, the government has lifted almost all restrictions. But the social consequences of the lockdown are still hitting the country hard. While social protests and strikes put pressure on the government, an increasing number of people are starting to see escape to Italy as the only way out. Sofian Philip Naceur reports from Tunis

The leaden weeks of COVID-19 lockdown are over, and life has returned to the streets. There is a tangible sense of relief over the end of the health crisis. Social distancing, hygiene and quarantine rules are still in place, but now that restrictions on movement and work have been relaxed, things are slowly getting back to normal. Cafes, restaurants and mosques have re-opened, travel within the country is allowed, and businesses are resuming operations. The curfew has been lifted, too.

The first half of June saw no new coronavirus infections for seven days in a row, but the authorities in Tunisia did register 22 new cases over the last week – though only four of those were locally-transmitted infections. All the others were found in Tunisians repatriated from abroad and staying in quarantine centres. The strict entry and quarantine rules seem to be working. In total, the authorities have counted 1110 coronavirus cases, and 49 deaths. Sixty-two known active cases remain.

Survived the first wave

The country has therefore survived the first wave of the pandemic – at least, for now. And thanks to the government’s proactive crisis management, Tunisia’s poorly-equipped health system was never in serious danger of collapse – even if the crisis did point up its glaring deficiencies. Prime Minister Elyes Fakhfakh put extensive restrictions in place early on, and in some cases made sure they were rigorously enforced. Despite some obvious nervousness from the authorities, the health crisis remained almost entirely under control.

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Tunisian prime minister Elyes Fakhfakh addressing parliament in Tunis (photo: picture-alliance/AP)
Victory over the virus: "The government has managed to curb the spread of the coronavirus," declared Tunisia's Prime Minister Elyes Fakhfakh in a recent television address. "The Tunisian people should be proud of their achievements and their contribution to this success"

In the light of these newly confirmed cases, however, there is still a need for caution – particularly since social-distancing and hygiene rules are certainly not always being followed across the country. While the previous capacity restrictions on public transport have been revoked, most cafes and restaurants are now operating just as they did before the crisis. Only a few businesses are heeding the advice to put out fewer tables and follow social distancing rules. Face masks are also being worn less frequently.

Hope for the tourism sector

The authorities are keeping a closer eye on the tourism and hotel trade, though the government still hopes to rescue part of the peak season and start to welcome tourists from Europe and neighbouring Algeria from July onwards. The borders are due to be re-opened on 27 June. And in an effort to make the relaunch of Tunisian tourism a success, the government is doing its best to prepare the industry for the new realities and is advertising heavily.

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