Tunisia’s prime minister, Hichem Mechichi, has dismissed the country’s health minister, Faouzi Mehdi, on Tuesday, July 20. This was following the mishandling of the COVID-19 pandemic as cases once again begin to surge in the country. The prime minister also criticized the health minister for the lack of oxygen supply in hospitals as well as the vaccine shortage.
Vaccination was opened on Eid for people over the age of 18, which resulted in stampedes at various locations due to non-availability. The health ministry has since reversed the decision, restricting the availability of vaccines to those over 40.
The prime minister in a statement called the decision to make the vaccines accessible to all a “populist decision” which “threatens the health of Tunisians.” Mechichi added that Mehdi had been alerted about the possibility of lack of oxygen, but the appropriate actions had not been taken.
The country has also been facing shortage of other essential medical supplies and personnel. Tunisia has so far recorded a total of 556,000 COVID-19 cases and 17,000 deaths. According to reports, only 940,000 Tunisians — approximately 8% of the total population — have been fully vaccinated. The total population of the country is roughly 12 million. Six regions in the country have been in complete lockdown since June 20 while capital Tunis has been placed under partial lockdown.
The health ministry at the beginning of this month issued statements warning about the collapse of the healthcare system under the weight of the pandemic. Health ministry’s spokesperson, Nissaf Ben Alya, on July 8, described the COVID-19 situation in the country as “catastrophic.” On its Facebook page, the ministry said that the field hospitals set up to attend to the new cases were also proving to be insufficient.
Following the statements by the health ministry, neighboring Libya announced the closing of the border along with the suspension of flights. Several neighboring countries as well as former colonial power France have sent humanitarian, medical aid to Tunisia to help tackle the current surge in COVID-19.
The minister of social affairs, Mohamed Trabelsi, has been appointed as caretaker health minister until a new person is chosen.