Tunisia is reportedly extending its virus curfew and banning demonstrations as the coronavirus infection in the country has rapidly surged in recent days following a week of protests and rioting over economic troubles.
Commencing on Monday, the government is deciding to forbid travel between regions and has urged all people over 65 to stay at home as part of stricter safety measures as announced Saturday by Tunisian Health Ministry spokesperson Nissaf Ben Alaya.
Tunisia has reported 103 virus-related deaths on Thursday, the highest figure to date in the country of 11 million people. It also has among the highest rates in Africa. Local media reports cite doctors describing hospitals that are already too full to accept more virus patients.
On Saturday, a few hundred protesters gathered on the central Tunis thoroughfare Avenue Bourguiba demanding the release of those arrested during a clash with police the past week. Human rights groups say some 1,000 people were detained and dozens ordered jailed for vandalism and theft.
The protesters denounced what they say are broken economic promises from the government in the country that unleashed the Arab Spring uprisings exactly a decade ago.
According to the new virus rules, gatherings will be prohibited in public areas until Feb. 14 and the country's existing 8 p.m.-5 a.m. curfew will also be extended till then, said Ben Alaya.
Restaurants and bars will remain closed but takeaway will be allowed. Schools and universities can resume studies Monday but many classes will run online.
Ben Alaya threatened “drastic measures” against violators, saying the country is “at a critical juncture” in its battle against COVID-19.
The scientific committee responsible for advising the government on the pandemic has recommended a strict lockdown on weekends, the director of the Pasteur Institute in Tunis, Hachemi Louzir, told official news agency TAP. But the government steered clear of that in Saturday’s announcement as it tries to balance health concerns with economic troubles. The country was already in a protracted financial crisis that has been worsened by the pandemic.
Tunisia has registered 6,092 virus-related deaths and about 193,000 cases.