Tunisia struggles to cope with surge in Covid-19 cases

At Charles Nicolle Hospital in the Tunisian capital, the emergency department is full of patients sharing oxygen in rooms and even hallways.

After Tunisia successfully contained the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic last year, it is struggling with a virus resurgence, with intensive care units overflowing and doctors overburdened by a rapid rise in cases and deaths.

“Doctors are exhausted as the number of patients exceeds the hospital’s capacity,” Ahmed Ghoul, a nurse at Charles Nicolle, told Reuters. “Even the morgue was full and we couldn’t find a place for them.”

Tunisia recorded 157 deaths from the coronavirus on Tuesday, the highest daily death toll since the start of the pandemic. In total, about 17,000 deaths and 500,000 infections with the coronavirus have been reported.

“We are suffering, we are in dire need of oxygen, it (the demand) has surpassed the supplies we have,” said Dr Rym Hamed, chief of Charles Nicolle’s emergency department.

Official fears that the already weak health care system would collapse under the pressure led President Kais Saied to appeal to the international community for help.

That emergency call is now being answered.

Arab countries promised aid earlier this month. A Qatari field hospital has already arrived and planes from Egypt, Algeria, the UAE and Turkey landed this week loaded with emergency medical aid and vaccines.

Saudi Arabia promised to send 1 million doses of vaccine and important medical aid and Morocco to send 100 intensive care beds. France said it would send medical aid and about a million doses of vaccine to its former colony, while the United States also pledged 500,000 doses of vaccine.

The latest aid brings the number of vaccine doses donated to Tunisia to more than 3.3 million, where vaccinations lag far behind many countries. So far, only 750,000 people have been fully vaccinated out of a total of 11.6 million inhabitants.

For many, help can’t come soon enough.

“My mother is in critical condition,” said a woman named Laila outside another hospital in Tunis. “Oxygen is not available… people die every day for this reason.”


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