Tunisia's president orders military to manage virus crisis

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Virus Outbreak Tunisa (Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)
Virus Outbreak Tunisa (Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

Tunisi ’s president on Wednesday ordered the military to take over management of the national COVID-19 pandemic response, as the country fights one of Africa’s worst outbreaks.

Tunisia's military health service is to take on the task, President Kais Saied announced on regional TV network Al Arabiya.

Soldiers and military medics are already carrying out vaccinations in remote parts of Tunisia. On Tuesday, military trucks transported oxygen to regions in the center and northwest of the country where hospitals are suffering shortages.

Meanwhile, a new interim health minister was taking office Wednesday, after his predecessor was fired over a surprise decision to open vaccination centers to adults of all ages for the first time for the Muslim holiday Eid al-Adha this week.

Authorities were unprepared for the decision, which prompted confusion and chaos as crowds massed at vaccination centers. The president called it a “crime” to incite such gatherings just as the government is trying to discourage crowds and limit the spread of the virus.

Eid al-Adha, or the “Feast of Sacrifice,” is typically marked by communal prayers, large social gatherings, slaughtering of livestock and distributing meat to the needy. This year, Tunisian authorities restricted gatherings and reinstated a curfew in some regions where infections are high.

The country also closed some of its Mediterranean beaches in a new blow for the long-struggling tourism sector.

Overall, Tunisia has reported more deaths per capita than any African country and among the highest daily death rates per capita in the world in recent weeks. Foreign countries have been pouring in vaccines and other medical aid.

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