Pandemic worsens in Algeria as oxygen shortages worsen

Despite procurement of doses, the Algerian-led vaccination campaign is progressing slowly
Tiendas de campaña instaladas durante una campaña de vacunación contra la enfermedad del coronavirus (COVID-19) que se está llevando a cabo fuera de las mezquitas, después de las oraciones del viernes en Argel, Argelia, 9 de julio de 2021 PHOTO/REUTERS

PHOTO/REUTERS  -   Tents set up during a vaccination campaign against coronavirus disease (COVID-19) being conducted outside mosques after Friday prayers in Algiers, Algeria, 9 July 2021.

The health situation in Algeria has been critical for weeks, with a significant increase in the number of positive cases and deaths. According to the Ministry of Health, in the last 24 hours there have been 1,537 new infections and 28 deaths, bringing to 168,668 cases, 4,189 deaths and 113,707 recoveries since the beginning of the pandemic. Given the significant increase in positive cases and the number of deaths in hospitals, the lack of oxygen to help patients with respiratory difficulties is one of the most serious problems facing the Maghreb's most populous country. 

Despite these measures, some hospitals lack oxygen due to stock management and distribution problems. Volunteers have started to distribute free oxygen cylinders in Blida, near Algiers, one of the prefectures most affected by the pandemic. A private industrial gases company has decided to dedicate part of its factory in Blida to the production and filling of medical oxygen cylinders. In front of the factory, citizens of all ages wait in the hope of getting at least half of their oxygen prescription. The cylinders are free, but rationed to help as many families in need as possible. "Even if it's by ration, it allows us to relieve what we can," Farouk Touileb, a 36-year-old ambulance driver, told AFP.

Médicos argelinos administran una dosis de la vacuna COVID-19 a personas frente a la mezquita El-Kebir en la capital Argel, el 9 de julio de 2021 AFP/RYAD KRAMDI
AFP/RYAD KRAMDI-Algerian doctors administer a dose of COVID-19 vaccine to people in front of the El-Kebir mosque in the capital Algiers on July 9, 2021.

According to health specialists interviewed by AFP, who wished to remain anonymous, "the industrial production of medical oxygen in Algeria amply covers hospital needs", even in times of COVID-19. "But the tensions (in supply) are due to poor management of the distribution circuit and a failure to anticipate the needs arising from the third wave" of the pandemic. And the large public hospitals have not benefited from a forward-looking plan to restart or purchase medical oxygen generators, the same sources stress.

For his part, Prime Minister and Finance Minister Aimen Benabderrahman announced measures to ensure the availability of oxygen in hospitals in the face of a worrying increase in positive cases in the country since the second week of August. "The sharp increase in the demand for oxygen has led us to take decisions and take measures to support this production," Benabderrahman told state television before recalling that "national production fluctuated between 400,000 and 420,000 litres". Similarly, Benabderrahman noted that the Algerian state will import 15,000 oxygen concentrators, of which 1,800 have already been received and another 750 are expected to arrive in the coming days.

Tebboune que ordenó el lanzamiento inmediato de una operación a gran escala para mantener y renovar la infraestructura y los equipos de oxígeno en los hospitales informó que se esperaba la llegada el domingo de un primer lote de 1.050 concentradores de oxígeno para uso personal y se recibirán un total de 9.000 concentradores durante las próximas dos semanas AFP/ RYAD KRAMDI
AFP/ RYAD KRAMDI-Tebboune who ordered the release of oxygen equipment in hospitals

Despite the acquisition of the doses, the Algerian vaccination campaign is progressing slowly, with only 3.5 million doses having been inoculated since the start of the vaccination operation launched at the end of January in the Maghreb country of 44 million inhabitants. Faced with this situation, the authorities have opted to impose restrictions limited to a total of 35 wilayas - administrative regions - including Algiers and Oran, with a curfew from 8pm to 6am. The provinces affected - more than half the country - include the capital Algiers. 

Benabderrahman reported that the Algerian state has so far purchased more than 9 million doses of Russian (Sputnik), Swedish-British (Astra Zeneca) and Chinese (Sinovac and Sinopharm) vaccines and will receive an additional 9 million doses in August. Another five million doses will be received in September while the local production unit of the Chinese vaccine Sinovac in Constantine (west) with 2,500,000 doses per month is expected to come on stream in mid-September. 

AFP/RYAD KRAMDI -Trabajadores municipales desinfectan la estación de autobuses de Kherroubae, en Argel, para combatir la expansión de la COVID-19
AFP/RYAD KRAMDI -Municipal workers disinfect the Kherroubae bus station in Algiers to combat the spread of COVID-19.

Algerian authorities also announced the readjustment of partial containment schedules in almost the entire country, accelerating the pace of vaccination and raising the level of firmness to the highest point in the implementation of these measures to try to cope with the pandemic. In particular, they banned access to beaches along most of the country's coastline and all gatherings, including wedding celebrations, will be banned, while cafes and restaurants will limit their sales activities and can only provide take-away services. In addition, it involves the closure of vehicle sales markets, sports halls and cultural centres, as well as the suspension of urban and rail passenger transport during weekends.