Tunisia further relaxed its COVID-19 containment measures today by allowing some businesses to reopen. Hairdressers, beauty salons, clothing retailers, second-hand clothes shops (but not market stalls), and small to medium malls are permitted to resume activities.
The North African country began a staged deconfinement on May 4, and in a positive sign for its anti-coronavirus efforts, reported no new cases or deaths from COVID-19 yesterday, May 10.
Nevertheless, health officials again warned that Tunisia is “not immune” from a potentially devastating second wave of COVID-19 if safety measures are cast aside too soon.
The Tunisian Ministry of Health confirmed in a statement that no new cases of COVID-19 were identified and no new fatalities from the disease appeared on May 10. Of the 1,032 cases of COVID-19 identified in Tunisia to date, 287 cases remain active, 700 patients have recovered, and 45 people have died from the virus.
Health authorities detected the bulk of confirmed cases in the governorate around the capital Tunis (232 cases) and neighboring Ariana (99), plus the date-producing region of Kebili (106) in southern Tunisia. Health authorities still hold concerns about virus clusters in the Greater Tunis, Kebili, and Medenine areas.
The positive news comes as the country is slowly emerging from a nationwide lockdown that began on March 22. An increasing number of businesses and sectors have been allowed to get back to work since May 4, but high-risk places like large shopping centers and weekly street markets must wait until the second phase of the strategy begins on May 24 to reopen.
Immuno-compromised citizens, those over 65, children under 15, and pregnant women are excluded from the deconfinement and still required to stay in self-isolation.
Despite easing some restrictions and low numbers of new cases, COVID-19 task force member Dr. Jalila Ben Khelil said the war against coronavirus is not over. Authorities are encouraging citizens to remain vigilant and continue to implement social distancing, hand-washing, and other COVID-19 precautions to prevent a second wave of the disease from plunging the country into a new lockdown.
In an interview with Al-Monitor, Tunisian anaesthesiologist Mohamed Ghedira praised his country’s virus response, saying “even with its limited financial resources, there has been a strong determination of medical and paramedical staff and a tremendous mobilization of civil society.”
“Despite a health system weakened by structural problems, Tunisia was able to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic in an exemplary manner,” the doctor from the coastal city of Monastir said on May 10.
World Health Organization (WHO) representative in Tunisia Yves Souteyrand echoed today Health Minister Abdellatif El Mekki’s April 29 warning, saying Tunisia is not immune from a second wave of the virus, despite strong efforts to contain the country’s outbreak.
“The development of indicators on the epidemiological situation in Tunisia during the second half of May and more precisely from May 20, must be monitored very carefully to decide on the risks of a second wave of Coronavirus in the country,” Souteyrand told the Tunisia Africa Press Agency (TAP).
“Due to a lack of resources, the Tunisian health system will not be able to cope with a strong (second wave of) epidemic, hence the need to continue to break the virus transmission chains and to develop a strong activity to identify positive cases,” he continued.
Souteyrand told TAP, “we are not immune,” adding that if WHO’s recommended COVID-19 measures are not respected, the virus could spread further, and it would take seven days to two weeks for new cases to become apparent due to the virus’s incubation period.
It remains to be seen if Tunisians will continue to respect sanitary measures and keep the pandemic at bay or if the staged deconfinement will prompt a dangerous second wave of infections.