Tunisia erupts into chaos as healthcare system takes strain from COVID-19

Protests by thousands over struggling economy and mishandling of pandemic lead to dismissal of government.

With the COVID-19 pandemic devastating the country’s economy and the healthcare service overwhelmed by a recent dramatic surge in new cases, the North African country erupted into violent demonstrations on Sunday. Thousands of largely young people defied restrictions across several cities and brazed the scorching heat to demand the prime minister and his government step down for mishandling the pandemic. Their pleas prompted the president Kais Saied to dismiss the government late on Sunday, a move celebrated by protestors across Tunisia and which others have labelled a coup. Ironically, the now-fired Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi dismissed the country’s Health Minister Faouzi Mehdi just a week ago after chaotic scenes showing stampedes at vaccination centres emerged.

Earlier in the month, the health ministry had sounded alarm bells that the country’s health system had “collapsed” as cases reached historic highs and the country scrambled for live-saving supplies. The situation has also been worsened by the slow pace of vaccinations, with only about 15% of Tunisia’s 12 million population said to have received at least one dose of a vaccine. More than 18,000 of its people have already succumbed to the virus so far. Furthermore, it also does not help that the pandemic’s toll comes while the country’s fragile economy is still struggling to recover from the crippling 2011 revolution - a factor many have long believed could create a crisis. Assistance has come from a variety of corners, with countries such as France, China, the United Arab Emirates and Algeria jointly offering millions of doses.