Tunisian health minister fired over Covid-19 wave

Tunisian Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi fired Health Minister Faouzi Mehdi on Tuesday, Mechichi’s office said, amid a surge in coronavirus cases in the North African country.

The ministry said earlier this month that Tunisia’s health system had “collapsed” under the weight of the pandemic, which has killed more than 17,000 in a population of about 12 million.

Mechichi’s office announced Mehdi’s resignation in a short statement, without giving a reason for the move.

It said Social Affairs Minister Mohamed Trabelsi would lead the ministry in a temporary capacity.

Mehdi had started a temporary opening of vaccination stations for all Tunisians over 18 for Tuesday and Wednesday, sparking a stampede.

The ministry finally restricted access to vaccination to people over 40 on Wednesday to prevent another stampede.

Mehdi’s resignation is another example of instability in a government that has seen several ministers resign over tensions with parliament and the presidency.

On Sunday, Tunisia reported 117 new deaths from the coronavirus and 2,520 new cases, bringing the total number of recorded cases to more than half a million.

Health Ministry spokeswoman Nissaf Ben Alya said on July 8 that the health situation was “catastrophic” and told a local radio station that “unfortunately, the health system has collapsed”.

Some bodies of Covid victims have been in rooms next to other patients for up to 24 hours, as there were not enough staff to organize their transfer to overcrowded morgues.

The Health Ministry’s Facebook page said that dedicated field hospitals set up in recent months are no longer sufficient.

Following Ben Alya’s announcement, the government of war-torn neighboring Libya said it had decided to close their common border and suspend air links with Tunisia for a week.

Countries from the Gulf States to former colonial power France and even poor Mauritania have sent medical aid.

Since June 20, authorities have imposed a total lockdown on six regions and a partial lockdown in the capital.

Tunisians have experienced a decade of political instability and economic crisis since their 2011 revolution that overthrew dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, causing vital public services to crumble.


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