Tunisian army to take control of Covid crisis as country grapples with healthcare system failures

Tunisian army to take control of Covid crisis as country grapples with healthcare system failures

Tunisia’s President Kais Saied has declared that the handling of the country’s Covid outbreak will be passed over to the army, as the state struggles with instability and a crumbling healthcare system.

On Wednesday, Saied told broadcaster Al Arabiya that the Tunisian “Military Health Department will take over the management of the health crisis in the country.” The president was visiting a vaccination center in the country’s capital, Tunis, when he made the comments.

The decision comes after the health minister, Faouzi Mehdi, was fired from his post on Tuesday by Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi. The PM accused the health minister of being responsible for the country’s “criminal” Covid situation, and stated that there was ”an extraordinary level of dysfunction at the head of the health ministry.” 

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The North African country’s healthcare system was declared “collapsed” on July 8 by Health Ministry spokesperson Nisaf Ben Alaya, due to the “catastrophic” shortages of beds, oxygen supplies, and medical staff.

Tunisia’s military has recently been deployed to mass-vaccinate populations in regions with high Covid infection rates, as well as those with a low inoculation rate. The president has said the armed forces would use helicopters to deliver vaccines to mountainous regions.

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At present, some 913,000 of Tunisia’s 12 million people – a meagre 8% of the population – are fully vaccinated, according to the news outlet AllAfrica. Limited vaccine supplies are partially to blame for the sluggish vaccination rate, as Tunisia is reliant on donations through the COVAX scheme and from other countries.

While Tunisia has been grappling with a recent surge in coronavirus infections, cases are showing a general decline from mid-July’s peak. Since the outbreak of the pandemic, the country has recorded more than 550,000 coronavirus cases and almost 18,000 deaths, according to figures compiled by Reuters.

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