July 29 – August 04, 2020 | Press Review

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Photo: John S. on Flickr

August 04, 2020: Epidemiological situation at Tunis-Carthage Airport: Should we fear the worst?

Twenty-six cases of coronavirus contamination according to a latest updated assessment. The epidemiological situation at Tunis-Carthage International Airport worries both authorities and travellers. On Saturday 1 August alone, the Ministry of Health announced 16 new cases in this airport, while waiting for the results of the tests carried out. This caused concern among Tunisians, especially since there was beginning to be talk of an outbreak at the main border crossing and point of entry into Tunisia for millions of travellers.
If for the scientific commission for the fight against the coronavirus pandemic it is quite predictable to register imported cases with the opening of the borders, the security union of Tunis-Carthage calls for its immediate and temporary closure to avoid the worst.

How did this chain of contamination start and to what extent are the health authorities able to trace it while keeping Tunisia’s main airport operational? According to our information, this chain of contamination began at least ten days ago and first affected two Tunisair agents, who in turn transmitted the virus to more than twenty people according to an initial assessment. The contamination has also affected members of the airport staff and a woman in charge of the clean-up operations, it has been learned. Even if it is difficult to trace the source of contamination, the origin would be one of the Tunisian or foreign passengers coming from countries authorized to access Tunisian territory. These agents and employees have been isolated and placed in mandatory quarantine to prevent contamination in their home environments, and massive screening tests have been carried out. Indeed, the Office of Civil Aviation and Airports (Oaca) announced the launch of a large screening campaign for COVID-19 to perform diagnostic tests (PCR) to 3,000 airport agents with an average of 500 tests daily that will be performed randomly. In addition to these measures are daily disinfection campaigns and the obligation to wear masks in all departments of the airport for all travellers and visitors.

For more information (in French), please consult the following link.

August 04, 2020: Tunisia is ready for a possible second wave of COVID-19

The head of the government’s management of current affairs, Elyes Fakhfakh assured, on Tuesday, August 4, 2020, that the epidemiological situation in Tunisia was under control, especially since most of the recorded cases are incoming cases coinciding with the arrival of more than two hundred thousand passengers in Tunisia. Fakhfakh also said that the national commission for the fight against COVID-19 will closely monitor the health situation in the country during this month of August and is also ready for a possible second wave in September and October. Thus, the resigning head of government indicated that the next strategy is based on cohabitation with the pandemic while giving greater support to preventive measures and applying the health protocol more rigorously. It was also a question of alerting citizens to the slackening of their response to this virus without falling into panic. An updated official report shows 1,565 confirmed COVID-19 cases spread over the 24 governorates. 51 deaths but also 1225 recoveries have been recorded nationwide.

For more information (in French), please consult the following link.

August 03, 2020: A second battle is brewing in Tunisia

Let us be clear, the reopening of Tunisia’s borders on 27 June 2020 was inevitable for economic reasons, particularly to try to save the tourist season, but also for social reasons, to enable our nationals living abroad to return to their country and reunite with their families. But in recent days, however, an event has taken place that could show the limits of the measures taken at this reopening. Indeed, the international airport of Tunis-Carthage, which saw the first thermal detection camera installed there on 27 January, in preparation for the first battle against the coronavirus, has this time just been hit in the heart by the invisible enemy. At the end of last week, there were 26 cases of infection. A situation that could very quickly get out of control despite efforts to test all airport employees, knowing that 30% of the tests carried out are falsely negative.

For more information (in French), please consult the following link.

August 03, 2020: Excellent news on births during COVID-19

Pandemic stoppages have resulted in a significant decrease in the number of prematurely born babies. There are lessons to be learned from this, writes Bloomberg. Finally, here’s some good news about the COVID-19 pandemic and the total disruption to our lives: in many places under strict quarantine this spring, there were far fewer premature births than is considered normal. The trend does not appear to be universal, but where it applies, the data are staggering. In Denmark, the number of babies born after less than 28 weeks of gestation (40 weeks is the norm) fell by 90% during the one-month confinement in the country this spring. In Ireland, the rate of very low birth weight preterm babies fell by 73% between January and April compared to the averages of the previous two decades. Slightly smaller decreases were observed in parts of Canada, Australia and the Netherlands. Elsewhere, clinics and physicians are now rushing to examine their own data. One reason for celebration, of course, is that this means that many parents have had healthier and happier babies this spring. Premature birth and low gestational weight are associated with a variety of medical complications, ranging from cerebral palsy or death in the worst cases to learning disabilities or visual problems later in life. For example, this is why Stevie Wonder, an American singer born six weeks earlier, is blind. But the biggest reason for celebration is that this phenomenon could eventually help us understand what causes premature birth in the first place, and therefore how to prevent it. For the moment, we can only speculate, as the researchers behind the Danish and Irish work freely admit – their papers have not yet been peer-reviewed.

One explanation for the decrease in the number of premature births may be the decrease in air pollution during confinement, as fewer people drove or flew and factories polluted less. Another factor could be that mothers-to-be generally had fewer infections – and therefore less inflammation in their bodies – because we reduced contact with people and germs and washed our hands obsessively. But the most obvious and plausible reason seems to be that for many, but certainly not all, mothers-to-be, confinement reduced stress. This may seem counter-intuitive, as a pandemic is itself a major stressor. In addition, containment and quarantine deprived many people of their means of subsistence and thus caused additional financial and even existential anxiety. However, the pandemic with containment was not stressful for everyone. For the lucky ones, it was more like a time to slow down. People stayed at home, working remotely or just resting, which pregnant women are advised to do anyway. The daily stressors of travel and office life were gone. We had more opportunities to take a nap. Another factor that reduces stress during pregnancy is feeling supported by partners and families. Studies have shown that the more engaged fathers stay, the better mothers feel. And during confinement, fathers in their home offices had more opportunities to do just that.

Is stress even a plausible factor affecting premature births? Maternal anxiety and depression certainly seem to hurt the fetus. Some studies suggest that “stress seems to increase the risk of preterm birth,” while others hypothesize that early delivery may even be a developmental adaptation. However, the mechanisms and details remain a mystery. Anecdotally, however, there has always been a connection. Thomas Hobbes, the English philosopher famous for his dark vision of life as “lonely, poor, wicked, brutal and short”. Hobbes was born on a Friday in 1588, when his mother, only seven months pregnant, heard about the Spanish Armada, the fiercest naval war machine ever assembled, appearing off the coast of England. She was so frightened that she gave birth immediately and, in Hobbes’ words, “Fear and I are the twins born together”. We must continue to study the precise etiology of premature births, of course. But some ideas seem to be obvious. Pregnant women should rest as much as possible and have the support of their partner. Because this is a public health issue, employers and governments should help to ensure that generous rules on maternity and paternity leave starting before birth are adopted. And as individuals, we need to apply the lessons we have learned in confinement: simplify our lives and slow down our pace. Because sometimes less is better.

For more information (in French), please visit the following link.

August 02, 2020: Infections are on the rise in Tunisia, with the first death since mid-June.

Tunisia, which reopened its borders to tourists on 27 June so as not to hamper its economy, has seen an increase in the number of COVID-19 cases on its territory in recent days. The country has just recorded its first death in several weeks. One month after the opening of the borders, the number of people contaminated by the new coronavirus has increased tenfold in Tunisia and the country has recorded its first death in several weeks, the Ministry of Health announced. Tunisia, whose economy is heavily dependent on tourism, had taken early and strict measures at the start of the outbreak in March, and had contained it relatively well. By mid-June, the country had only a few new cases a week, all of them among those repatriated from abroad and placed in mandatory quarantine, when it began lifting restrictions, including 14 days of hotel confinement on arrival.

Tunis Airport Vigilance: The borders then reopened on 27 June, without specific precautions for travellers from countries classified as “green”, including France, Italy and the United Kingdom. In July, the number of cases rose to several dozen a week, including 26 Tunis airport employees, prompting a crisis meeting of the civil aviation organisation on Saturday to reinforce health protocols at the airport and their application. The Ministry of Health announced on Saturday evening the death of a coronavirus patient, the first death since June 17, bringing the total death toll to 51 since the beginning of March. More than 1,500 cases of infected people have been reported. The COVID-19 monitoring committee is due to meet next week to consider the measures to be taken, even though almost all restrictions have been lifted since June: shops, places of worship and tourist attractions are open.

For more information (in French), please consult the following link.

August 01, 2020: Call for the closure of Tunis-Carthage Airport

This is the concern at Tunis-Carthage airport after the increase in the number of people contaminated by the new coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2 or COVID-19). In this context, the regional union of airport security called, through the voice of its secretary general Anis Ouertani, for the closure of the airport. “It must be closed for a week in order to carry out the necessary medical analyses and disinfection operations,” he said on Shems FM. This will make it possible to divert flights to other airports in the country. As a reminder, according to the latest updated assessment of the OACA (Office of Civil Aviation and Airports), 26 agents tested positive for the new coronavirus at Tunis-Carthage airport.

For more information (in French), please consult the following link.

August 01, 2020: Tunis Carthage Airport turns into a COVID-19 home?

The OACA announced on Saturday that the number of people working at Tunis Carthage airport who contracted a Coronavirus infection has reached 26, including 13 OACA staff members. This development gives rise to fears that the airport is turning into an active outbreak of the Covid, which requires the urgent taking of drastic prevention measures.

For more information (in French), please consult the following link.

August 01, 2020: A new death

The number of people testing positive for COVID-19 has reached 1,552 cases out of a total of 96,189 screenings carried out since the beginning of the pandemic, announced the Ministry of Health, in its report published on Saturday, August 1, 2020. 25 cases have been tested carrying the virus: one new imported contamination, sixteen local (nine in Tunis, four in Ariana, and eight in La Manouba) and eight old cases. Up to this time, 1,217 people have recovered, 284 actual contaminations have been treated in centers set up for this purpose, eight cases have been hospitalized and 51 deaths (1 new death in a person carrying the virus).

For more information (in French), please consult the following link.

July 31, 2020: European Union: Tunisia among the risk-free countries

Only residents of Tunisia, Morocco, Australia, Canada, Georgia, Japan, New Zealand, Rwanda, South Korea, Thailand, and Uruguay can enter EU countries without restriction, according to official sources. This is the list of risk-free countries based on criteria related to their epidemiological situation in relation to the spread of the coronavirus China has also been added to the list, but travellers will only be allowed access to EU territory if Beijing grants reciprocal rights to EU citizens. EU members decided in June to gradually open the EU’s external borders, after three months of total closure aimed at stemming the spread of the coronavirus. The list is updated every two weeks, with countries being added or withdrawn on the basis of criteria related to their epidemiological situation. This is the second update of the original list published on 30 June, from which Serbia and Montenegro were removed two weeks ago. The current rules prohibit Turkish or US citizens from entering the EU on non-essential grounds. Residents of the mini-states of Andorra, Monaco, San Marino and the Vatican are treated as EU nationals as regards entry into the territory. EU governments are free to limit or extend their list, but risk being isolated by other members of the Union if they allow the entry of travellers from non-listed third countries.

For more information (in French), please consult the following link.

July 31, 2020: Repatriation of 125 Tunisians stranded at Tunisian-Libyan borders

Dhiba delegate Rached Haddad said on Thursday, July 30, 2020, that 125 Tunisians blocked at the Tunisian-Libyan borders were repatriated the same day via the Dhiba-Wazen border post in Tataouine. In a statement granted to the TAP agency, the delegate said that during the last two days, more than 150 Tunisians have been able to cross the Tunisian-Libyan borders, thanks to organized repatriation operations. Speaking from the same source, he said that all returnees are subject to the measures of the health protocol to prevent the spread of COVID-19. The official further assured that buses have been put into service to transfer them to the compulsory containment centre in Mahdia, stating that they will wait 7 days, at the beginning of the containment, for the first results of the virus test.

For more information (in French), please consult the following link.

July 30, 2020: The Impact of COVID-19 on Migrants

Tunisia is doing well in coronavirus management, with 1,488 confirmed coronavirus cases, including 50 deaths. To contain its spread, borders remained closed for 3 months and a general containment was decided on 22 March. The first phase of progressive deconfinement began on 4 May. These measures are having an impact on the Tunisian economy (the IMF expects a 6.8% recession this year). They are also having an impact on migrants, particularly those who are in an irregular situation and often work in informal jobs. According to figures from the International Organization for Migration, 13,000 people (from Africa, but also from Latin America, Asia and Europe) have benefited from the organization’s assistance since the beginning of the crisis throughout the country.

For more information (in French), please consult the following link.

July 29, 2020: “The closure of Tunis-Carthage airport is not mentioned”

The closure of Tunis Carthage International Airport is not mentioned, after the contamination of 7 agents by the coronavirus, said Niassaf Ben Aalaya, Director General of the National Observatory of New and Emerging Diseases. At the same time, she assured that the epidemiological situation is under control thanks to the strengthening of preventive measures. She added in a statement to the TAP on Wednesday that the seven infected people were placed in a containment center to monitor their health status. The results of the analyses carried out were negative concerning the relatives of these 7 contaminated persons, Ben Aalaya said. Regarding the possibility of closing borders in the face of an increase in the rate of contaminated cases abroad, Ben Aalaya said that this decision is not being discussed since the majority of countries in the world have opened their borders by implementing the necessary preventive measures. Since the opening of borders on June 27, 18 cases of local contamination have been recorded, Alaya said. Before the seasonal flu arrives in the fall, the health ministry is looking at ways to support intensive care and resuscitation beds and COVID-19 containment centers to prevent further deterioration of the overall situation, Ben Alaya said. Strict control will also be applied at the containment centres to prevent any attempt to escape, the official added, noting that the four people who escaped from the health centre in Kef have been found and placed in a containment centre.

For more information (in French), please consult the following link.

July 29, 2020: Rigorous management of the pandemic has helped limit the damage

The country has been relatively unscathed compared to its North African neighbours. The health system “has at no time been overwhelmed” by the measures taken to curb the spread of COVID-19. It is one of the countries least affected by COVID-19 in the Maghreb but also on the whole African continent. Since the announcement of the first recorded case on 2 March, the country has been relatively spared: less than 1,500 confirmed cases, including around 50 deaths as of 27 July 2020. These figures show that the pandemic has been well contained thanks to the prevention measures put in place by the Tunisian government formed in February. “The new authorities have very quickly put in place a series of measures so that Tunisia can become an island,” Ms. Oissila Saaidia, director of the Tunis-based Institute for Research on Contemporary Maghreb, told RFI. The Tunisian health system has coped: the authorities introduced a night curfew on 22 March and banned gatherings of more than three people in public places. Only essential services are allowed to continue their activities. For the first time, the country is moving into generalized confinement. For Oissila Saaidia, all these unpopular measures have undoubtedly helped to curb the rapid spread of the epidemic in the country. As a result, the Tunisian health system has never been overwhelmed. “In Tunisia, the very strong health system that was put in place during the Bourguiba years was undermined by the major neo-liberal reforms. The public system is much weaker than it used to be. But it has coped in spite of everything, all the more so because the number of sick people was not important”. Said Ossila Saaidia, director of the Institute for Research on Contemporary Maghreb (Tunis).

For more information (in French), please consult the following link.