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Tunisia's tourism sector buckles under summer COVID lockdown measures

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FETHI BELAID/AFP or licensors


Barren and desolate. The streets of the Tunisian tourist landmark of Sidi Bou Said following the total lockdown imposed by authorities on six regions.

The sanitary precautions come in light of the North African country’s highest daily rate of new COVID 19 infections ever recorded since the onset of the pandemic.

On June 30, the rate of positivity exceeded 35%: 5,921 new cases in 24 hours, 116 deaths, the highest daily rate ever recorded since the beginning of the pandemic.

Walid Ayari, a waiter at Café des Délices waiter, observes the stark difference in activity.

"It is already July 10 and there are zero customers at the cafe, this is the first time it has ever happened. As soon as you arrive at Sidi Bou Said and see the city, you can hardly believe it. There is hardly anyone."

Coronavirus-prevention restrictions such as an 8 pm to 5 am nationwide curfew, postponement or cancellation of public events in all areas, tightening of health protocols and non-exceptional forbidden travel took effect on June 30.

Ramzi Guizani, a vendor in one of the affected regions.

"In the middle of July, a lockdown is imposed. Especially on a Saturday when people want to go out and shopkeepers are waiting for visitors to earn a living. Why? It's Saturday, whole families are waiting to be fed. The crisis has really taken off."

The measures have dealt yet another serious blow to Tunisia's tourism industry that employs 10% of the active population -- and via which the nation's officials were counting on reviving the economy as it contributes greatly to its annual GDP.

With 14,959 deaths, Tunisia has the worst record of the five countries that make up the Maghreb (Mauritania, Algeria, Libya, Morocco). While the situation seems to be under control in Algiers and Rabat, Tunis is experiencing the worst health situation.

The number of tests carried out in one day in Tunisia had never been so high: 16,050.

Several factors explain this outbreak: a limited vaccination campaign (the country is dependent on deliveries), less than 5% received the two doses, little respect for barrier measures, an unequal health system according to the regions, on the verge of collapse.

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