Mehdi’s sacking is another instance of instability in a government that has seen several ministers resign over tensions with parliament and the presidency. The ministry restricted access to vaccination to those aged over 40 on Wednesday to avoid a new rush. On Sunday, Tunisia reported 117 new coronavirus deaths and 2,520 new cases, bringing total recorded cases to more than half a million.
It said Social Affairs Minister Mohamed Trabelsi would head the ministry in a caretaker capacity. Mechichi’s office announced Mehdi’s sacking in a brief statement Tuesday, without giving a reason for the move.
Mehdi had initiated a temporary opening of vaccination stations to all Tunisians over 18 for Tuesday and Wednesday, leading to stampedes. The ministry said earlier this month that Tunisia’s health system had “collapsed” under the weight of the pandemic, which has caused more than 17,000 deaths in a population of about 12 million.
Following Ben Alya’s announcement, the government of war-torn neighbouring Libya said it had decided to close their shared border and suspend air links with Tunisia for a week. Several countries, from Gulf states to former colonial power France and Mauritania have sent medical aid. The health ministry’s Facebook page said special field hospitals set up in recent months are no longer enough.
Some bodies of COVID-19 victims have been left lying in rooms next to other patients for up to 24 hours because there was not enough staff to organise their transfer to overstretched mortuaries. Health ministry spokeswoman Nissaf Ben Alya said on July 8 the health situation was “catastrophic”, telling a local radio station that “unfortunately, the health system has collapsed.”
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