Tunisia braces for a third wave as Ramadan begins

WHO warns of a third devastating wave of COVID
Doctors treat COVID-19 patients in a gymnasium set up as a resuscitation room in Tunisia.

AFP/FETHI BELAID  -   Doctors treat COVID-19 patients in a gymnasium set up as a resuscitation room in Tunisia

Tunisia, which has seen a sharp increase in the number of COVID-19 positives and deaths in recent days, is facing a third complicated wave with the start of the holy month of fasting, or Ramadan, which begins next week.

A month of abstinence during the day but also of excessive consumption during the night, which normally means a rise in prices and is characterised by visits and family gatherings, with a high rate of mobility in the country.

A tradition that does not fit with the serious epidemiological situation in the North African nation, as the director of the National Observatory of New and Emerging Diseases, Nissaf ben Alaya, pointed out.

"The epidemiological situation in Tunisia is very dangerous. The indicators for the spread of the virus have deteriorated significantly," she said, quoted in local press today.

According to her data, the number of infections has shot up by 22% in recent weeks while the mortality rate is 75.3 persons per 100,000 inhabitants.

Personal médico tunecino se prepara para entrar en la zona de pacientes con coronavirus en la unidad de cuidados intensivos del hospital Ariana Abderrahmen Mami en la ciudad de Ariana, cerca de la capital tunecina
AFP/FETHI BELAID - Tunisian medical staff prepare to enter the area of coronavirus patients in the intensive care unit of the Ariana Abderrahmen Mami hospital in the city of Ariana, near the Tunisian capital.

The culprit is the so-called "British strain", which according to Ben Alaya has caused thousands of hospital admissions in 17 provinces and 95 municipalities, already overcrowded with patients.

According to health ministry statistics, 1,709 cases were detected last Saturday, 3 April, and there were 1,480 hospital admissions, 352 in intensive care units and 111 on ventilators.

Accelerating the pace of vaccination

In view of this rise, Ben Alaya stressed the need to accelerate the pace of vaccination and complained about the flexibility in the application of restrictions and border control.

According to official figures, since the vaccination campaign began in mid-March, only 80,000 of the country's 11 million inhabitants have received the doses.

In accordance with the established protocol, the first to receive them are the chronically ill and front-line health workers, although the latter have not been inoculated with the 98,400 AstraZeneca doses that will arrive as part of the COVAX international solidarity mechanism due to doubts about their effectiveness, Alaeddine Rouissi, deputy director of the National Union of Health Professionals, told the press.

Fotografía de archivo Mezquita Malek Ibn Anas en Cartago, cerca de la capital Túnez
AFP/FETHI BELAID - Archive photo Malek Ibn Anas Mosque in Carthage, near the capital Tunis

Tunisia has received several shipments of vaccines in the last month: first 30,000 doses of the Russian Sputnik V, which kicked off the campaign, 200,000 from China's Sinovac and 93,600 from Pfizer-BioNTech, making it the first country in Africa to receive the German-American vaccine.

The North African country also plans to receive an additional 1.3 million doses by June through the African Union initiative, mostly from AstraZeneca, and is negotiating with international laboratories to reach five million vaccinated by the end of 2021.

The health ministry recalled on Tuesday that the vaccination is being implemented according to national priorities and through the digital platform "EVAX", which has already registered more than 500,000 people who will receive a text message with their medical appointment.

Una enfermera sostiene un frasco de la vacuna rusa contra el coronavirus Sputnik V COVID-19 durante en una clínica de vacunación en un hospital de la capital de Túnez, el 13 de marzo de 2021
AFP/FETHI BELAID - A nurse holds a vial of the Russian vaccine against the Sputnik V coronavirus COVID-19 during a vaccination clinic at a hospital in the Tunisian capital, 13 March 2021.

According to official figures, the total number of confirmed infections exceeds 257,000 and the number of deaths is 8,890, the vast majority since the opening of the borders in June 2020, when the number of positive cases was only 1,200 and the number of deaths was around 50.