Tunisia health minister sacked as virus cases soar

Tunisia health minister sacked as virus cases soar

Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi sacked Tunisia's health minister, the premier's office said, as spiralling coronavirus cases weigh on the North African country's swamped health system.

Faouzi Mehdi's sacking came days after the ministry's spokeswoman said the health situation was overwhelming, with the pandemic causing more than 17,000 deaths in a population of around 12 million.

Mechichi's office, which has overseen a fractious cabinet rocked by ministerial resignations and tensions with President Kais Saied, announced Mehdi's sacking in a brief statement without giving a reason for the move. It said Social Affairs Minister Mohamed Trabelsi would take over in a caretaker capacity, The AFP reported.

Mehdi had initiated a temporary opening of vaccination stations to all Tunisians over 18 for Tuesday and Wednesday to mark the Eid al-Adha Muslim festival. But that led to stampedes at some of the 29 vaccination centres, where jab stocks quickly ran dry.

The ministry announced it would continue the campaign over the coming days but then backtracked and restricted jabs to those aged over 40 on Wednesday to avoid a new rush.

The country's hospitals have faced oxygen shortages along with a lack of staff and ICU beds, pushing countries from Gulf states to former colonial power France and even cash-strapped Mauritania to send medical aid.

On Sunday, Tunisia reported 117 new coronavirus deaths and 2,520 new cases, bringing total recorded cases to more than half a million.

Since June 20, authorities have imposed a total lockdown on six regions and a partial lockdown in the capital.

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