December 15 – 21, 2020 | Press Review Tunisia

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Photo: John S. on Flickr

December 21, 2020

New strain of COVID-19: All transport between Tunisia and three countries banned until further notice

The Tunisian Ministry of Transport and Logistics announced the suspension, as of Monday, December 21, 2021, of all outbound, return and transit flights between Tunisian airports and those of the United Kingdom, South Africa and Australia, following the emergence of a new strain of the COVID-19 virus in the United Kingdom.

In a press release published on Monday 21, it is specified that Tunisia will not receive people coming from these countries, or having transited through these countries. This decision will be applied until further notice.

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

Tunisia: Emergency meeting of the scientific anti-coronavirus committee

The Scientific Committee for the Fight against Coronavirus is holding an urgent meeting on Monday 21 December, under the chairmanship of the Minister of Health, Faouzi Mehdi.

This meeting comes within the framework of the permanent monitoring of the epidemiological evolution of the COVID-19 pandemic at the national and global levels. It follows the advent of a new variant of the Coronavirus in Great Britain.

Tunisia has just announced the suspension of its air links with the United Kingdom, South Africa and Australia, following the discovery of this new strain of the virus, which poses a new challenge to the world scientific community, and to the various countries of the world, hit hard by the pandemic.

The scientific committee will submit proposals to the national authority for the fight against COVID-19, whose meeting is scheduled for next Wednesday.

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

December 20, 2020

And yet, it’s still running!

The Carthage Film Days (CFFD) 2020 kicked off on Friday evening in Tunis, in a retrospective edition that coincides with an exceptional year marked by the COVID-19 pandemic. They bring the magic of the seventh art through the reopening of cinemas after an interruption of more than nine months under strict sanitary conditions.

The Tunisians focused their gaze on the famous red carpet, a tradition that has been established for several years now, and their comments were reserved for the artists’ parade and the outfits they wore.

This has raised concern that the CGC is deviating from its fundamentals as a festival militating for auteur cinema. Yet this event offers us a few decades of film footage from a festival that has always talked about its era in which the camera is a witness to history and current affairs and in which films reveal the concerns of authors and go beyond convention. It is a festival that has grown, that has become bigger and more assertive and continues to gain a little more freedom with each of its editions. It is a festival that has played an important role in the building of modern Tunisia and has contributed to the emergence of new talents and the development of the taste of citizens, in addition to raising awareness of the major issues of society and the concerns of citizens in Tunisia, Africa and the Arab world.

At a time when colonisation evacuated all forms of national expression, it was also in Africa one of the means among many that participated in the liberation epic of the colonised countries and in the work of civilisation that these countries experienced.

It was also a festival that pushed men, who quickly embraced the seventh art, to fight against the phenomenon of acculturation and to play an important role in the preservation of national identity. Over several decades, we can be proud to have counted among our Tunisian, Arab and African filmmakers, illustrious men who have shaped the film industry, which now plays in the big league.

Admittedly, the JCCs have sometimes experienced a few setbacks, but their path has remained consistent in large part due to the wisdom of its visionary founders. And today, the JCCs bring us the magic of cinema at a time when the morale of Tunisians is quiet low. They remind us of the joy of living in these hard times.

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

10th anniversary of the outbreak of the Revolution: Tension, social discontent and political tensions

On 17 December 2010, Mohamed Bouazizi, this young street vendor, set himself on fire in Sidi Bouzid to protest against police corruption under the Ben Ali regime. A gesture that was to kick off what has been called the Arab Spring, which quickly turned into chaos in many countries. But today, ten years later, in post-revolutionary Tunisia, the population is left to despair, oblivion and disillusionment. Incapable of realising the aspirations of Tunisians, the entire political class that emerged at the end of this unprecedented popular uprising continues to multiply missteps and bad choices.

A decade has now passed while Tunisians are still at the heart of interminable social and political crises. The commemoration of the 10th anniversary of the outbreak of the Revolution comes, as it does every year, in an atmosphere of tension, social discontent and political tensions. Ten years have gone by without Sidi Bouzid, bastion of the popular revolt that put an end to the totalitarian regime of Ben Ali, finding a smile again, nor the path to the realization of his aspirations.

Ten years ago, a young street vendor desperate and oppressed, like many of his fellow citizens, by the police regime under Ben Ali set himself on fire as a sign of his rejection of social conditions and police corruption. A devastating fire had then reached the Palace of Carthage. The mythical Habib Bourguiba Avenue where the Ministry of the Interior and the different governorates of the country are based, there people shouted basta!

Overthrown, the Ben Ali regime has certainly left its mark on a society governed for 23 years through fear and repression. If, at the beginning, the demands of this revolution, which fascinated the whole world with its courage and determination to bring down the dictatorship, were social and concerned in particular freedom of expression, a few years later, it was political things that took centre stage, moreover, one has the impression that a social revolution has not yet taken place. Admittedly, this popular revolt was able to overthrow one of the most totalitarian regimes, but so far, few social achievements have been made.

In Sidi Bouzid, stronghold of the so-called Dignity Revolution, the commemoration of the outbreak of the revolution is pale, without a taste of triumph or the smell of jasmine, symbol of a revolution still unfinished in the eyes of the inhabitants of this governorate that has unfortunately been consigned to oblivion. Indeed, in Mohamed Bouazizi’s native town, the festivities of this occasion have no taste, everything refers to simple protocols to avoid falling into oblivion.

A decade after this popular uprising that drove the Ben Ali clan from power, the demands are still the same in Sidi Bouzid: employment, development and dignity, but these social aspirations are overshadowed by endless political quarrels. High-ranking state officials, including the President of the Republic, were absent from these timid festivities, certainly for fear of facing the popular anger and the expectations of thousands of hungry bellies. While the President of the Republic apologised in view of “certain urgent commitments”, other officials and political parties willingly ignored this occasion which had become, for the local population, devoid of any meaning.

An angry population!

By the way, not only in Sidi Bouzid, the unfinished taste of a revolution that promised prosperity and equity to Tunisians is shared almost everywhere. Moreover, Tunisia lives at the rhythm of general strikes, protests and the taking of production sites hostage. In fact, social crises can no longer be counted, they grow like mushrooms, no governorate is spared. This social effervescence has its origins in unsatisfied popular demands, in degraded relations and relationships between rulers and governed, but above all in forms of impunity that affect practically all sectors. By resolving the Al-Kamour crisis, which marked a turning point in the protests in post-revolutionary Tunisia, the government thought it had turned the page on the destabilisation and blockade of production sites. But in fact, it was only opening the way for new citizen movements demanding employment and development that had paralysed other production sites, notably in Gabes, Kasserine, Sfax and others.

Moreover, this social discontent has resulted in unprecedented regional general strikes in Tunisia. In the space of a few weeks, four governorates declared a general strike as a sign of their refusal to see their demands marginalised. After Béja, Kairouan and Jendouba, Sfax, in its turn, announced such a strike. Indeed, the steering committee of the Regional Labour Union in Sfax has decreed a general strike scheduled for 12 January to call for the development and implementation of outstanding projects.

The multiple social crises certainly refer back to the darkest face of this revolution. These young people who sacrificed themselves for the benefit of this avant-gardist popular uprising, unprecedented in the Arab context, think that this historic moment was stolen from them by a political class incapable of realising their social aspirations. If the observation is political or economic, the reality is social and is being felt more and more in the eyes and on the face of an exhausted, desperate but above all revolted population.

In the absence of a political elite

Certainly, the sad record of a decade after the revolution can be explained above all by the inability of the entire political class to find the adequate political and legislative mechanisms to respond to these popular demands. Ten years after the revolution, Parliament is still unable to install the Constitutional Court, or to reform a failing electoral system. Ten years after the revolution, the political parties have failed to present a new development plan to bring the country out of a crisis that has lasted too long. Certainly, as domestic observers point out, Tunisia is still awaiting the emergence of a political elite capable of taking control of a country whose democratic transition process is threatened. If, ten years later, the Tunisian revolution is still at a standstill, it is because the interminable political quarrels have largely damaged the stability of the country which, as soon as it emerges from one crisis, sinks into another.

Moreover, the sad images of an eroded and uncontrollable Parliament are a perfect testimony to this irrevocable observation. In this context, the Second Vice-President of the Assembly of People’s Representatives Tarek Ftiti did not mince his words when he referred to “a powder keg rather than a Parliament that works for the benefit of its constituents”.

Undeclared bankruptcy!

And to crown this sad assessment of ten years of revolution, there is talk of an increasingly stifling economic crisis, aggravated by the coronavirus pandemic. The economic situation is so serious that Tunisia is still struggling to make ends meet in the absence of foreign currency contributions from the tourist sector, but also because of the forced shutdown of production sites. Some economists say it quite simply, Tunisia is technically bankrupt. This socio-economic failure, aggravated, in fact, by the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on tourism, today threatens the democratic project itself, especially with the rise of certain currents with extremist discourse represented even within the Parliament.

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

December 18, 2020

The vaccination will be done by registration via SMS

As previously announced, the coronavirus vaccine, which should be available in Tunisia from the second quarter of 2021, will be free for everyone.

However, the vaccination of Tunisians will follow a protocol giving priority to the elderly and those suffering from chronic diseases.

The Director General of the Pasteur Institute, Hechmi Louzir, confirmed on Friday 18 December 2020 that priority people will be vaccinated as soon as the first batch of vaccine is delivered, the aim being to achieve herd immunity.

Mr. Louzir returned this Friday, December 18, 2020 on the details of the agreement recently signed between Tunisia and the bio-pharmaceutical laboratories Pfizer and BioNtech on the acquisition and importation of two million doses of the vaccine against COVID-19.

He explained that the vaccine will be administered in two doses in the space of 2& days and that these effects should appear from the 10th day of vaccination.

As for determining who will be given priority, the elderly and those suffering from chronic diseases will be asked to register by sending an SMS (Surname, First Name, CIN card number…) to obtain a confirmation message containing the date, time and vaccination centre.

The coronavirus vaccine will be administered in order of priority, but will not be compulsory.

Tunisia should receive a first batch of the coronavirus vaccine at the end of March 2021. Two laboratories have been approached by the Ministry of Health and have agreed to supply Tunisia with vaccines. The first should supply 2 million doses, the second should deliver 4 million doses.

A batch of 2 million doses at a rate of 7 dollars a dose will be delivered by Pfizer and BioNtech in the second quarter of 2021.

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

What is the impact of COVID-19 on Tunisian households?

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in Tunisia last spring, one of the main questions has been what impact this pandemic would have on the country’s population.

New studies suggest that the pandemic is likely to exacerbate the country’s development problems by reversing the recent trend in poverty reduction. More people are likely to fall below the poverty line and existing poverty is likely to worsen through four main channels: earned income, non-work related income, direct effects on consumption and disruption of services.

Which Tunisians are likely to be most affected by the pandemic, and to what extent can the government mitigate its effects? A new World Bank working paper focusing on labour income and consumption finds that emergency compensatory measures taken by the government could go a long way towards reducing losses on the poverty front.

The poorest and most vulnerable are hardest hit by COVID-19

Our new study combines labour and price shocks to simulate the impact of COVID-19 on household welfare under two scenarios:

Optimistic: uses recent World Bank estimates of -8.8% real GDP growth at constant factor prices;

Pessimistic: forecasts -11.9% growth (i.e. the economy achieves the same growth as in the first half of 2020). This scenario is based on the household telephone surveys conducted during COVID-19 (by the National Institute of Statistics, in collaboration with the World Bank) and the household budget survey in Tunisia in 2015.

The results indicate that poverty is expected to increase by 7.3 percentage points under the optimistic scenario and by 11.9 percentage points under the pessimistic scenario. This means an increase of more than 50 % in poverty in the first scenario and a near doubling of the poverty rate in the second – reversing the downward trend in poverty observed over the last decade. In addition, more people are expected to lose their income and thus become vulnerable to poverty. The poverty gap (the poverty deficit of the whole population) would increase from 3.2% to 4.4% in the optimistic scenario and to 5% in the pessimistic scenario.

Households with per capita consumption in the poorest 20% of the population – which are mainly concentrated in the central-western and south-eastern regions of Tunisia – would be the most affected. The most vulnerable people are likely to be women, living in large households without access to health care and employed without contracts. While 42% of those currently employed in Tunisia do not have a contract, 53% of those who have fallen into poverty as a result of the pandemic and 47% of the most vulnerable group are likely to be employed without a contract.

Government measures to mitigate the impact of COVID-19

On 21 March 2020, with the aim of mitigating some of the impacts of the pandemic, the Tunisian government announced, promulgated and progressively implemented an exceptional social and economic emergency plan, targeting the poorest and most vulnerable – covering nearly 1.1 million people (Table 1). By simulating the effects of the pandemic on welfare in the presence of all these compensatory transfer measures, our studies show that there would be a positive impact on poverty. Specifically, the increase in poverty would be 6.5 percentage points if mitigation measures are taken – while poverty would increase by 7.3 percentage points in the absence of such measures (see table 2). Similarly, extreme poverty, the poverty gap and inequality would all fare better with the implementation of these measures than without them.

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

December 17, 2020

Coronavirus vaccine: Contract signed between Tunisia and Pfizer/BioNTech

Tunisia and the two laboratories Pfizer and BioNtech have signed a contract for the acquisition of the coronavirus vaccine they have developed.

It is in any case what announces this Tuesday, December 15, 2020, the laboratory in a press release made public.

Still according to the same source, the first batches will be imported by Tunisia in 2021 after obtaining all the necessary agreements.

The representative of Pfizer in Tunisia and Libya Walid Lakhedher explained in this sense that the vaccine will be imported into Tunisia as soon as possible, without giving further details.

According to the director of the Pasteur Institute, Hechmi Louzir, Tunisia should receive the first batch of the coronavirus vaccine at the end of March 2021.

In this context, two laboratories approached by the Ministry of Health have agreed to supply Tunisia with vaccines. The first should supply 2 million doses, the second should deliver 4 million doses.

Several countries, notably the United Kingdom, have launched the first vaccination campaigns against the coronavirus.

The first side effects are beginning to appear. The UK health authorities had advised against the Pfizer and BioNTech vaccine for people who had experienced “severe allergic reactions” in the past.

This warning came after two allergic people reacted badly to the first injections.

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

December 16, 2020

COVID-19: The final stretch will be the hardest one

The choice of vaccine against the coronavirus epidemic (COVID-19) is beginning to become clearer for Tunisia, which has just signed a first contract with the American laboratories Pfizer. Should we be worried about this choice or rather welcome it?

At least 5 million Tunisians must be vaccinated.

There are, in my opinion, two elements of satisfaction. The first is that this is the vaccine that will be the most recommended by the most efficient and transparent scientific committees in the world. All Western countries have chosen this vaccine for its very high efficacy and the safety offered by the data from the phase 3 study it has published.
The second element of satisfaction comes from the delay in the start of vaccination, probably in the second quarter of 2021, giving us sufficient time to detect any problems with this new type of vaccine in the longer term or any resistant strains that could undermine its efficacy.
So I take my hat off to all those who have been behind this dual choice. But other vaccines may come into the race because we will not be able to meet the needs of at least 5 million Tunisians to be vaccinated by relying on a single firm.

It is far from being over

In the meantime, a solution must be found to avoid a resurgence of contamination on the occasion of the New Year’s Day, on 31 December, while taking care to preserve the Tunisian economy. It’s a real headache, but the cases of Germany and Great Britain, where the pandemic resumed strongly this week, prove that we are far from being out of the woods, especially if we let ourselves go. The peak of the second wave is certainly behind us, but we are in a plateau phase that has persisted for some time. A good reason not to let go of anything.

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

December 15, 2020

Slight decrease in the recovery rate in schools

4116 contaminations by COVID-19 have been recorded in the school environment since September 15, 2020 (date of the start of the school year) and up to December 11, 2010. The number of deaths linked to the virus has stabilised at 28 in schools.
This was announced by the Ministry of Education in a press release issued on Tuesday, December 15, stating that the number of recoveries has reached 2869 or a rate of 69.7%.
The 4116 infections can be broken down as follows: 1,818 among teachers, 1,814 among students, 357 among administrative and pedagogical staff and supervisors as well as 127 infections in the ranks of workers.
As for recoveries, 1299 were recorded among teachers, 1201 among students, 278 among managers and 91 among workers, according to the same communiqué.

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