The Tunisian government sank deeper into crisis on Wednesday over its handling of the coronavirus pandemic, after Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi sacked the Minister of Health amid skyrocketing cases in the country of ‘North Africa.
Mechichi, whose office announced Faouzi Mehdi’s dismissal in a brief statement Tuesday evening, criticized the minister’s performance, pointing to a critical lack of oxygen in Tunisian hospitals and a slow rollout of vaccines.
“There is an extraordinary level of dysfunction at the head of the health ministry,” Mechichi told health officials in images posted on his Facebook page Tuesday evening.
Tunisia faces an overwhelming Covid-19 workload that has claimed more than 17,000 lives out of a population of around 12 million.
Hospitals across the country have faced severe shortages of oxygen, staff and intensive care beds, and less than eight percent of the population are fully immunized.
Mehdi’s dismissal came a day after the start of the temporary opening of vaccination posts to over 18s, on the occasion of the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha.
# photo1 But that led to scrambles in some of the 29 vaccination centers, where stocks of jabs quickly ran out.
Mechichi called the program “populist” and “criminal”.
“Neither the head of government, nor the governors, nor the security services were aware” in advance, he declared.
But analyst Selim Kharrat suggested that Mehdi had been made a scapegoat.
“There have been conflicting decisions, restrictions have not been implemented and there has been a failure to think about the future,” he said.
– Third worst death rate –
Kharrat noted that the health ministry warned in May of possible oxygen shortages.
The oxygen concentrators sent from France in early June are not yet fully operational due to bureaucratic delays.
Meanwhile, Tunisia’s decaying healthcare facilities have been inundated with coronavirus patients.
In some cases, the bodies of victims were left lying in hospital wards next to other patients for up to 24 hours because there was not enough staff to organize transfers to overcrowded morgues.
According to Our World in Data, Tunisia currently has the third highest rate of daily Covid deaths per population in the world, after Ecuador and Namibia – although the World Health Organization has said it is more transparent with its data than many other countries.
The Tunisian crisis has pushed countries in the Gulf states to France, a former colonial power, and even to cash-strapped Mauritania, to send medical aid.
In early July, the government of neighboring war-torn Libya closed its shared border and suspended air links with Tunisia due to the increase in the number of cases.
# photo2 Tunisia has also struggled to launch its coronavirus vaccination campaign.
Tunisians have lived through a decade of political turmoil and economic crisis since their 2011 revolution that overthrew dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, leaving vital public services to collapse.
The country’s turbulent political class has been unable to form lasting and effective governments.
Since President Kais Saied was elected in 2019, he has been locked in a showdown with Mechichi and Speaker of Parliament Rached Ghannouchi, which has blocked ministerial appointments and crippled the state’s ability to tackle multiple economic issues. and social aspects of Tunisia.
“We have a head of government who uses his ministers as fuses, to absorb any public discontent,” Kharrat said.
“But how long can this last?”
© 2021 AFP