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Coronavirus: Tunisian hospitals struggling to cope with rise in COVID-19 cases

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Tunisian authorities have warned that hospitals are struggling to cope with an influx of Covid-19 patients and urged residents to respect anti-virus measures to avoid another lockdown.

“If we don’t manage to flatten this curve, which is really going up, we risk being overwhelmed,” Dr Hechmi Louzir, spokesman of the scientific committee for the fight against COVID-19, told AFP.

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“The capacities of the Tunisian health system have not yet been saturated but we are starting to have some problems” in greater Tunis and the coastal city of Sousse, he said, warning of “a lack of human resources” in intensive care units.

Louzir said 345 COVID-19 patients were hospitalized, and 120 of them required oxygen support, as of October 1.

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Tunisia, which had virtually contained the pandemic at the end of June, recording some 1,000 cases and 50 deaths, lifted most of the restrictions over the summer.

But the number of confirmed cases has now reached 20,000, including nearly 300 deaths.

A nurse takes a blood sample from a man before a COVID-19 test at a military hospital in the town of El-Hamma, in Tunisia’s southwestern Gabes governorate, August 26, 2020. (AFP)
A nurse takes a blood sample from a man before a COVID-19 test at a military hospital in the town of El-Hamma, in Tunisia’s southwestern Gabes governorate, August 26, 2020. (AFP)

On Friday, Health Minister Faouzi Mehdi said field hospitals were to be set up in several cities to help manage the rise in cases but also called for vigilance in respecting health protocols.

“The rigorous application of the measures taken by authorities is necessary but we are counting on the sense of responsibility of citizens,” he said.

Obligatory mask-wearing in enclosed public spaces was imposed in early August but has been widely ignored by the public and many officials until recently, prompting many Tunisians to call for stricter enforcement of measures.

Read more: Tunisia imposes curfew in two southern towns to counter renewed coronavirus outbreak

Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi has ruled out a nationwide lockdown such as was imposed in the spring so as not to put further pressure on Tunisia’s beleaguered economy, but localized lockdowns are on the table.

A curfew was imposed Thursday in the coastal regions of Sousse and Monastir and some areas around Sidi Bouzid, in the interior of the country, with the suspension of weekly markets and the closure of venues.

Health workers have protested in recent days to demand more protective equipment.

“The poor public health situation stops us from working properly,” said Othman Jallouli, a trade union leader from the General Health Federation.